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The Best of (My) Oahu: Restaurants and Nightlife

Posted by on May 30, 2012
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Last week I shared with you my favorite beaches and activities on the island, but today, I’ll fill your bellies with tips on the best places to eat, drink and be merry.

I didn’t expect much I didn’t expect anything out of Honolulu’s food scene when we arrived. Coming from New York, we’ve essentially become food snobs and feel that no place can really compare to what our old home offered. Well, after three months, I’ve realized that yes, it’s true that New York reigns food king, but I was very surprised by how much good stuff we found here.


Peace Cafe. In New York City, I hated vegan food. It was dry, bland and always gave me a stomach ache. But I’ve been bowled over by the vegan options in Honolulu. Peace Cafe, a small and quiet restaurant in the Moilili area, has some of the best. (The grocery store Down to Earth, with its vegan buffet, comes in at a close second.) They offer salads, sandwiches that can also be served with rice instead of bread, bibimbop and the best iced matcha green tea latte on the island. I love so much about this place — from the miso-tahini spinach and tofu sandwich (“The Popeye”) wrapped in a crisp brown paper wrapping to the zen-like atmosphere and lovely playlists.

JJ Dolan’s. People told me there wasn’t any good pizza on the island. That was like a dagger to my heart because this girl loves her pizza in the if-I-could-eat-only-one-food-what-would-it-be-yes-definitely-pizza way. But we went out on a limb and tried JJ Dolan’s in downtown Honolulu. And you know what? There is good pizza in Honolulu. In fact, this New York-style pizza is downright excellent. Get the spinach and garlic pizza pie. You can thank me later.

Cafe Maharani. After growing up in New Jersey, where Indian restaurants abound almost as much as Starbucks, I gave up on finding a North Indian restaurant with actual flavor a long time ago. But at the prodding of an Indian food craving one day, I sucked it up and tried Maharani in Moilili. Who knew an Indian restaurant in Hawaii would so swiftly blow the ones in New Jersey out of the water? The ambiance is straight out of the motherland — thanks in part to the steel plates and chalice-like wine cups — and the food is superb. Major props to the chef for the papri chaat and tandoori chicken, which just so happens to be the best chicken I’ve ever tasted.

Bogart’s. Breakfast/brunch is a very sacred thing to me. Some people fly right through it, but I absolutely love a big breakfast of pancakes, eggs, toast, jam, coffee, orange juice, the works and I love taking time out of my day to really enjoy it. Honolulu isn’t big on brunch, but you wouldn’t know it if you went to Bogart’s, located in Diamond Head. Fluffy pancakes, giant cups of coffee, beautiful acai bowls — it’s all delicious. Just know that the wait — made up of mostly locals — can be a bit heinous on weekends.

Kalapawi Market. Headed to Kailua or Lanikai Beach? Stop at Kalapawi to pick up some lunch to go. This small, neighborhood market offers a small, but fresh and tasty selection of made-to-order deli sandwiches and salads, along with all the usual grocery store needs. (I love a good jalapeno Kettle potato chip on the beach.)

Spices. Eating at this restaurant was a nice primer for us before we leave for Asia. They combine the cuisines of Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia into some of the most flavorful food on the island. And its popularity has traveled largely by word of mouth. We heard about it from my cousin, and on his way back from a short trip home to Oklahoma, Eaman recommended Spices to a family sitting next to him on the plane. The next day, we ran into them there! Make sure to try the ice cream and sorbet, which come in crazy cool flavors like kaffir lime and lemongrass, chili pepper lemongrass, durian and banana cinnamon.

Buddha’s Delight noodle entree:

Kapiolani Community College (KCC) Farmers’ Market. I didn’t get to explore all of the markets on Oahu, but I don’t feel too bad about it because many say the KCC market is one of the best. Some of my favorites there are the mangoes, pineapples, asparagus and Vietnamese coffee. I do love the pesto pizza topped with Hawaii-grown tomatoes and mozzarella, and homemade pesto but have a hard time getting on board with its $7 per slice price tag. Jesus. That exorbitance should tell you something: This place is popular — both with locals and tourists. Go early. Like 7:30 a.m. early.

On our first visit, we found a woman selling exotic fruits like mangosteens and star apples. But each visit after, she was nowhere to be found. Bummer.

Doraku. I found it hard to believe that Honolulu’s best sushi was to be found in Waikiki, but lo and behold, my friends were right. Doraku, which also has locations in Miami and Malaysia, is a sleeker, more fancy alternative to some of the more hole-in-the-wall restaurants you’ll find outside Waikiki. But this time, you can judge this book by its cover. The sushi rolls are fresh and inventive, and the poke — a local Hawaiian dish similar to tuna ceviche — is out of this world.

Bubbies. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. The mochi ice cream is stuff dreams are made of, the names of the sundaes and cakes are wildly inappropriate, and the banana turtle ice cream — dotted with caramel-filled, turtle-shaped chocolates — rivals my passion for mint chocolate chip. Hands down, Bubbies‘ famous mochi ice cream is what I’ll miss most about Hawaii after our friends and the beaches. In fact, I’m eating one right now as I type this!


Honolulu is a city, but it’s a small one. That, paired with the fact that people here are more of the early to bed, early to rise-variety, means nightlife is far more low-key in Honolulu. Still, even with my lack of a nocturnal gene, two things came to mind when I thought about the best in nightlife: Art After Dark and 39 Hotel. (Not on the list is karaoke. It’s found in spades here, so go to the diviest spot downtown, and you’re guaranteed to have a good time.)

Art After Dark. This is my kind of nightlife. Held in the beautiful Honolulu Academy of Arts, this monthly art party takes place the last Friday each month with a different theme each time. It shows you a completely different side of Honolulu, one whose inhabitants indulge in designer bags and high heels, but what’s thankfully missing is the attitude that usually comes with such luxuries. People dress up in costumes to go with the theme, the weather is delightful and it all wraps up at 9 p.m. Like I said, my kind of nightlife.

39 Hotel. If you’re unlike me and like to stay up past 10 p.m., then you should head to this stylish bar, located downtown and a 20-ish-minute walk from Art After Dark. I love that they offer yummy virgin cocktails (in addition to real cocktails, of course) and a tapas menu that isn’t your average bar fare. Smoked serrano wrapped cantaloupe, anyone?



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5 Responses to The Best of (My) Oahu: Restaurants and Nightlife

  1. Tanner

    OMG I need that sandwich right NOW!!! Looks so good. Food porn!!!

  2. Shilpa

    Great post archy!! I just looked up doraku for my upcoming trip to MIA cuz of you. When are you leaving Hawaii?

    • Archana

      Doraku is so good! You’ll love it. We head out on Monday for Hong Kong. Really bummed to leave, but I think we’re ready for the next adventure. Sadly, we didn’t have any of the local specialties here in Hawaii that only you seemed to know about.

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