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O’ahu Restaurants

Thanks to its blend of cultures and the increase in locally grown produce and meat, my island home, O’ahu, has truly come into its own as a culinary destination. From Ala Moana and downtown to the beachy ‘burbs of Kailua and Kaneohe, great-tasting—and reasonably priced—local cuisine abounds. Here are some new and old favorites discovered during my recent visit.

Hawaii Kai, Kailua, and Kaneohe

In and around town

Queen’s Surf Cafe & Lanai, Kapiolani Beach Park. The best value & atmosphere in Waikiki for plate lunch. Special touches, like wooden platters instead of styrofoam plates and a fruit and flower garnish, elevate this beachfront, outdoor eatery. You can’t beat the location, which comes complete with salt spray from Queen’s Surf and sunset views. Weekend barbecues are reportedly a bit insane; try a weekday breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Kapiolani Beach Park, beachfront, between Kapahulu Avenue and the Waikiki Aquarium.

Queen’s Surf Cafe and Lanai

Yataimura Food Court, Shirokiya, Ala Moana Shopping Center. Japanese specialty store Shirokiya’s in-house bakery, St. Germain, has long been the source of the finest bread and pastries in town. Now, the 2nd floor Yataimura food court is a destination in itself. With weekly food festivals, a beer garden, and everything from bento to ramen, curry to the homey vegetable-based crepe okonomiyaki, Yataimura offers a unique alternative to the mall’s generic fast-food court. Shirokiya store, 2nd floor, Ala Moana Shopping Center.

Cafe Julia. Hidden in a graceful courtyard in the historic YWCA building, Cafe Julia offers a pleasing respite in downtown Honolulu. Most cafe goers are employees of neighboring businesses, but the restaurant’s location across from I’olani Palace attracts visitors as well. Admire the soaring arches and original grillwork and the light and tasty Asian-Pacific fare. 1040 Richards Street, downtown Honolulu.

Cafe Julia, in the historic downtown YWCA building

Diamond Head Market and Grill. With a convenient location near Kapiolani Park and Kaimana (Sans Souci) Beach, Diamond Head Market and Grill is still a mainstay for tourists and locals alike. With scrumptious baked goods and only-in-Hawai’i grab-and-go deli items like Japanese sweet potato and beef stew, the Market remains my favorite part of this winning establishment. For lighter fare, skip the long line for plate lunch and burgers and grab a salad from the refrigerator case topped with mochiko chicken (chicken tenders coated in mochiko flour and fried), spicy ahi, or grilled salmon and tofu. 3575 Campbell Avenue at Monsarrat, Diamond Head.

Tamashiro Market. When I was growing up in Honolulu, buying fresh fish from Tamashiro Market was as much of a weekend tradition as going to the beach. This flourishing grocery also stocks farm-fresh produce and prepared food items, such as ten different kinds of poke and grab-and-go sushi, fried fish, and boiled edamame. 802 North King Street, Honolulu.

Poke at Tamashiro Fish Market

Sushi, high and low. In the Safeway Center on Kapahulu Avenue, very good quality sushi and other light Japanese food can be found at Ninja Sushi, where the super helpful and patient staff explain the dazzling array of menu items. For a higher end Japanese experience, try the unassuming but excellent Sushi Bistro on King, an authentic sushi and izakaya restaurant frequented by both local and visiting Japanese community. Ninja Sushi, 870 Kapahulu Avenue; Sushi Bistro, 1914 S. King Street, Moiliili.

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Hawai’i Kai, Kailua, and Kaneohe Restaurants

Uahi Island Grill, Kailua town. This small, casual restaurant serves inventive Asian-Pacific cuisine. The ahi salad and Jawaiian-style chicken were tasty, but what really sent me into a tizzy were the desserts. Chef Nick Yamada calls his burnt caramel tart, coated with Waialua Estate dark chocolate and macadamia nuts, a grown-up Twix bar, but I call it pure buttery chocolate heaven. 131 Hekili Street, Kailua town.

Pah Ke’s Chinese Restaurant, Kaneohe. A longtime favorite of Kaneohe residents, Pah Ke’s distinguishes itself with its Asia-Pacific menu items and its stellar desserts. An ahi chopped salad was tangy and flavorful. Peking Duck was served with the crisp skin tucked in house-made buns dabbed with plum sauce and the meat piled on a separate platter, a service that many Chinese restaurants in the States forgo. I’ve never been one for guava chiffon cake, but Pah Ke’s is the best I’ve ever tasted. Creamy lilikoi cheesecake is light and lovely, and the soymilk custard (far better than it sounds) was a nondairy revelation. 46-018 Kamehameha Highway, Kaneohe.

Yummy Korean BBQ. True to its name, this is freshly made and delicious Korean BBQ, with a choice of four vegetable sides—ranging from various kim chee to noodle salad—to accompany your smoky char-grilled meat and two scoops of rice. Meat jun, thin slices dipped in egg batter and fried, is the Korean answer to chicken-fried steak. Those with small appetites or no fridge to save leftovers may wish to opt for the mini-plate. With outdoor seating overlooking the marina, what better way is there to fuel yourself after a morning at the beach? Koko Marina Shopping Center, behind Cosmopolitan Sun Shop, as well as other locations.

Bubbies. Still the best and most creatively named ice cream on the island, with two locations: the original spot in Honolulu, with its blush-inducing, racily named sweets, across from the Varsity Theater, and a second location in the Koko Marina Shopping Center, where the desserts have family-friendly monikers. It’s not listed on the chalkboard menu, but you can get your ice cream dipped in chocolate coating for extra indulgence. 1010 University Avenue; Koko Marina Shopping Center near Zippy’s, 7192 Kalanianaole Hwy.

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