Waikīkī has long fed O‘ahu. The area was once fertile with rice paddies, taro patches, and fish ponds, until territorial governor Lucius Pinkham organized an effort to drain the wetlands in the 1920s, controlling mosquitoes and laying the literal groundwork for a century of resort and hotel development. Today the area is home to a California Pizza Kitchen and a Cheesecake Factory that was the highest-grossing location in the country at one point, and it has become a no-go zone for many locals who avoid the crowds of tourists and parking hassles.
But Waikīkī is still one of the best neighborhoods for eating in Hawai‘i if you know where to look. Even in one of the most touristed places in the world, there are still hidden corners among the highrises and hotels to discover, thanks in part to a slew of Japanese restaurateurs who operate everything from imported Tokyo chains to steakhouse franchises to surf shack cafes.
Many of the area’s best hidden restaurants are reminiscent of a different era in Waikīkī’s history or a different country entirely. Others offer a uniquely Hawai‘i experience, offering tastes and ambiance you can’t find anywhere else. From an alleyway izakaya serving DIY cotton candy to a takeout-only counter making incredibly fresh poke, here are Waikīkī’s best eating experiences off the beaten path.
(Then check out our list of top dining destinations in Waikīkī, which includes many tucked-away spots.)
Prices per person, excluding alcohol:
$ = Less than $15
$$ = $15 - $40
$$$ = $40 - $65
$$$$ = More than $65
Martha Cheng is the food editor at Honolulu Magazine, the author of The Poke Cookbook, and a writer for national publications.Read More