It's official, Hawaiian food is literally the best kind of food that has ever existed, ever (tied with Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese, Mexican and Italian—I have no self-control). You just can't get anything like it on the mainland. So, without further ado, here is a list of all the best restaurants in O'ahu if you want to try what kama‘aina (Hawaiian for "locals") eat.

Kamehameha Bakery Inc.

I love carbohydrates of all varieties; they are all beautiful and make my life better. One form of carbs that I especially enjoy is the humble, but no less divine, doughnut. I additionally love poi: chewy, sticky and nutritious pounded taro. The glazed poi doughnuts at this little Honolulu bakery are fantastic (as well as the poi malasadas stuffed with a haupia pudding, a coconut milk-based Hawaiian dessert...mmmm) and sell out fast, so go in the morning before they're gone. 

Lion Coffee

If you’re close to Honolulu in Kalihi and looking for a caffeine fix before you explore all the fun things on the island (I recommend the Bishop Museum), Lion Coffee has reasonably-priced, tasty coffee. I tried the macadamia coffee and my mouth is watering thinking about it now, six months later.

My Cafe

Krista Keplinger

If you’re in Kapolei looking for breakfast or brunch, look no further than My Cafe. It’s a small joint in a strip mall, but that’s how you know the food is good. I like to consider myself a loco moco (rice, hamburger patty, gravy and fried eggs) aficionado, and this stuff is up there. The runny fried egg combined with their Kama‘aina fried rice with Portuguese sausage and Spam, a delicious food which Hawaiians consume literal tons of (no Spam slander allowed), sends it over the top. Their loaded French toast (pictured above) smothered in fresh fruit and a taro-haupia sauce also rocked my world, so this joint is definitely worth a visit.

Little Village Noodle House

Another place in the heart of downtown Honolulu’s historic Chinatown serving up amazing Cantonese food is the Little Village Noodle House. This is a family-style kind of place, so portions are huge, and, spoiler alert: Everything is delicious, especially the mango pudding.

Green World Coffee Farm

If you're en route to Hale‘iwa or the Dole Plantation and are trying to ward off your caffeine headache, then you might want to stop at this charming little farm and coffee bar in Wahiawa. They have a gift shop where you can sample lots of different varieties of coffee and view beans that have been roasted throughout the different islands.

#SpoonTip: The lilikoi bars and the pineapple/mango/pitaya smoothies are AMAZING.

Shirokiya Japan Village Walk

If your family is like mine and can never agree on what to eat, skip the inevitable blowout and head to the Shirokiya Japan Village Walk in the Ala Moana Center. The Ala Moana Center is a gigantic mall with almost every store you can think of, and the Shirokiya Japan Village Walk is underground and offers just as many options for food. There are choices for everyone: ramen, Spam musubi of all different kinds, Hawaiian manju (which is flakier than the doughier Japanese manju), boba and shave ice.

Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck

It's also worth visiting Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck, whose main and deserving star is their shrimp scampi made from shrimp, garlic and rice–the holy trinity of all things I hold near and dear to my heart. In the eloquent words of Eleanor Shellstrop: “Lemme get more of them shrampies.”

A warning for the wise: It is extremely popular for good reason, and parking gets crowded and hectic as it admittedly draws a lot of tourists, so I recommend going early to get a better spot or parking farther away and exploring the beautiful town of Hale‘iwa. Or, if you’re here to live life on the edge and fear is not in your vocabulary, feel free to brave parking at peak lunch hours. 

Julie’z Restaurant

Yes, the "z" is supposed to be there. If you’re in the mood for Filipino food and near Kapolei, check out Julie’z, another delicious and underrated strip mall joint. I don’t know why I was initially skeptical of my sister when she suggested the pork adobo fried rice omelet, because some deluded part of my brain was just very unsure of rice in an omelet. But, I have never been so happy to be proven wrong. The lechon kawali (crispy, fried pork belly) is also bomb AF. I left stuffed and happy, and I promptly passed out in the car at 10 am. The sign of any truly satisfying meal is a swift food coma. 


Foodland isn’t technically a restaurant, but a grocery chain in Hawai‘i with locations all over O‘ahu. I decided to include it because their poké (pronounced poh-KAY, not “POH-kee”) is better than anything you’ll find in California. A lot of poké places have popped up in California and their meals are highly customizable, but this is their major downfall–the poké isn’t allowed any time to sit in the marinade and is less flavorful as a result. Even though Foodland may not be as glamorous or as #grammable, they use fresh, locally caught fish and seafood and actually let it marinade, so it’s tastier as a result. 

You can also buy Hawaiian snacks and food here, like my favorite, kakimochi, a kind of rice cracker, and given that it’s packaged, you can take it into the mainland with no problems. I personally have a crippling macadamia nut addiction, and since mac nuts are cheaper in Hawai‘i, I bought six (or more...) bags of milk chocolate toffee mac nuts and stuffed them into my suitcase.

The Alley Restaurant at Aiea Bowl

You know how I keep talking about how the best restaurants are in strip malls? Well, we’re leveling up to a a strip a bowling alley. This isn’t just your typical greasy taquito and boiled hot dog bowling alley fare, though. The Alley Restaurant is serving up amazing Asian and Polynesian comfort food and cake–an interesting combination, but it works. Another bonus: This restaurant has the official stamp of approval from the one and only King of Flavortown, Guy Fieri.

Their tasty chicken (that's its actual name), which is dipped in Highly Delicious Secret Sauce That I Would Be Fine Drinking a Whole Gallon Of™, is crispy and juicy without being overly greasy. Their oxtail soup is also highly recommended by both me and its legion of die-hard fans (Guy Fieri included). The lemon crunch cake was coated in crumbled toffee. While I think it could have been a little more lemon-y since I prefer a very tart lemon cake, it was still very delicious, and I could have probably eaten five slices by myself. 

Island Snow Hawaii

Yet another spot on this island with a long history (it’s one of the original shave ice shops) that I can't leave off this list, is Island Snow Hawaii. Based in Kailua, Island Snow Hawaii has something for everyone with a literal wall of flavors. I got shave ice (not shaved ice, SHAVE ice) with vanilla ice cream in the middle topped with lilikoi (also known as passionfruit), orange and guava syrups. Bonus: This place is also said to be one of President Barack Obama's favorites. If it's good enough for Obama, it's good enough for me.

Like any human being with her priorities straight, I choose where I travel based entirely on the food and nothing else because 1) how are you supposed to enjoy yourself if the food is terrible? And 2) food, in my opinion, is one of the greatest, most beautiful reflections of a culture, its history and its people. Hawaiian food is no exception. It's a crime not to eat the food from the best spots in O'ahu. Don't miss out on a valuable, hands-on and tasty learning experience that both tourists and locals enjoy. Happy exploring in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, and happy eating!