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The best restaurants in Oahu right now

From classic Hawaiian fare to Japanese omakase, these are the best restaurants in Oahu

Written by
Martha Cheng
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Without stating the blindingly obvious, there are some spectacular restaurants dotted around Oahu. Hawaii’s most-visited island is a haven for the hungry, and the breadth and range of cuisines available will surprise you. The menus in the island's restaurants are informed by the many generations that have come before, offering visitors everything from Japanese to Portuguese cuisine. Tradition here comes in many flavors. Eating until you can eat no more is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Oahu.

Oahu’s restaurants offer a host of different culinary experiences. Visitors looking for a down-to-earth homely dinner will find themselves surrounded by new friends before they know it, while Oahu also has more than its fair share of fine-dining opulence. What we’re trying to say is that dining in Oahu is a delight. The island has become a pilgrimage spot for celebrity chefs, so make sure to book your tables at fancier places well in advance. These are the best restaurants in Oahu.

Best restaurants in Oahu

You’d be hard-pressed to find food made with such impeccable technique on Oahu, as at Senia. It’s also extremely affordable when you eat in the main dining room, with a moderately-priced a la carte menu, on which humble ingredients like cabbage are elevated to luxury status and bone marrow is served with beef cheek marmalade and tiny house-made Hawaiian rolls. However, if you want to see the full craftsmanship of chefs Chris Kajioka and Anthony Rush, make a reservation at the chefs’ counter, facing the immaculate open kitchen, at $185 per person.

In an industrial neighborhood by the docks, hole-in-the-wall Ethel's Grill is dedicated to sumo wrestlers (check out the pictures on the wall—and the portion sizes) and the mishmash of cultures that make Hawaii so great. There’s a hamburger steak, topped with grated daikon to cut through the richness; a kimchee poke bowl; and the playful taco rice (incidentally, an Okinawan concoction). Don’t worry too much about what it is, just get it. Do bring cash though, because card won't get you much at Ethel's. 

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Visiting celebrities – from President Obama to Ben Affleck – all stop by for at least one meal at the Pig and the Lady’s boisterous dining room, where the menu melds Vietnamese and southeast Asian flavors with modern sensibilities. Come for lunch, and you must order the pho French dip—meltingly soft slices of brisket paired with a Thai basil chimichurri and bean sprouts, served with a side of pho broth for dipping. The dinner menu constantly changes, but make sure to finish off with a swirled soft serve, which often comes in funky flavors like black sesame custard and mango sorbet.

At Mahina and Sun’s, chef Ed Kenney focuses on local, sustainable seafood, which is a surprising rarity on the island. Cheery with its midcentury-modern-meets-aloha vibe, for the best experience, order the Mahina’s Family Feast, a whole fried fish served with fixings including buttered ulu (breadfruit) and pohole (fiddlehead fern) salad, and for dessert, a tropical fruit pavlova.

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Enjoy the utter lack of pretentiousness at this much-loved casual eatery where flavor and fill-ups are the focus. This is pure Hawaiian comfort food that happens to draw a crowd. Fatboy’s is famous for its plate lunches: a combo platter of white rice, mac salad and your choice of savory entrée. When you’re craving garlic shrimp, loco moco or teriyaki chicken, Fatboy’s has your fix. 

Hawaii is a melting pot of Asian influences, thanks to the Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Filipino laborers who were brought in to work on the sugar and pineapple plantations from the 1850s onward. In a cozy neighborhood diner space, Koko Head Cafe pays homage to these cultures with refreshingly contemporary takes, such as a breakfast congee (rice porridge) with pork three ways, cheddar and cinnamon croutons, or miso-marinated fish served with custardy-soft scrambled eggs.

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Entering Sushi Sho is like entering a stage set for an audience of just ten. Seats flank the dramatic sushi bar, where Keiji Nakazawa and two assistant chefs hold court. A few years ago, Nakazawa, one of Japan’s great sushi masters, left his restaurant in Tokyo for the challenge of Hawaii. Here, he creates a 30-course omakase of playful, bite-size renditions of Hawaii classics like laulau and poke interspersed with esoteric Edomae-style sushi. Be sure to make reservations far in advance—there are literally just ten seats, and they are quickly snapped up by sushi aficionados both local and visiting.

At this no-frills, fluorescent-lit restaurant, you’ll find Hawaii’s classic soul food, which Helena’s has been serving since 1946. The menu is based around native Hawaiian staple dishes and those influenced by the island’s waves of immigration up until the ‘50s. Highlights at Helena's Hawaiian Food are kalua pig (smoky pulled pork, Hawaiian-style), poi (taro milled and thinned into a pudding-like consistency) and Helena’s legendary pipikaula—meaty short ribs dried and then pan-fried.

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Kailua, on the Windward side of Oahu, is the island’s brunch destination, with every breakfast spot offering its own twist on pancakes. Over Easy’s take might be the simplest, but it’s also the best—fluffy and tender with crispy edges. On the savory side, don’t miss the Kailua eggs, or a take on the comforting Japanese ochazuke in which a bacon and cabbage broth is poured over rice. Be prepared to wait—the restaurant is small and extremely popular.

A joke on Oahu is that the only vegetable you’ll find is the parsley garnishing your plate. Great vegetarian food can be surprisingly hard to find, despite Hawaii’s hippie surfer stereotype, so the Beet Box Cafe on the North Shore stands out like a beacon of light and goodness. The plates here, from the portabella sandwich to a curry vegetable scramble, are so delicious that even carnivores make Beet Box a regular habit.

More of the best in Oahu

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People come from around the world to experience Oahu’s sun, surf and sand—not to mention plenty of hikes with marvelous views, beaches to laze on, and activities above and below the ocean’s surface (you can even swim with sharks, if you’re adventurous enough). 

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