My husband and I are not fans of long extended stays at resorts on secluded private islands, a weekend is about all we can take of peace and quietness. Don’t get me wrong, we love serene beaches but we need action! Mingling with locals, exploring/experiencing island local life and dining at different restaurants at every meal is so much more fun! Which is why Oahu is our favorite island in Hawaii. Not only are the beaches pristine and the surf tame enough for our son, there are dozens of luxury beachside resorts with a fun and thriving city night life to boot! The island also boasts some of the best shopping and restaurants in the world– best of both worlds? You bet!
We recently stayed at the The Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort, in Waikiki beach for a foodie filled fun week over spring break and ate our way through the island, literally! From north beach food trucks to a glorious beach side luau and Michelin star restaurants- I’ve put together all our favorites! Next time you plan a Hawaiian vacation, you must try Oahu if you’ve never been!
We absolutely loved the The Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort, also known as the Pink Palace in the heart of Waikiki beach. Our ocean-view suite with portrait windows from every room was the perfect spot to watch the sun rise each morning though I must admit we usually were at the bar enjoying the sunset by evening, ha! The boy surfed right in front of the hotel while hubby and I enjoyed exotic cocktails poolside (I’m obsessed with the Skinny Lava Lava made of freshly muddled strawberry and mint, kai coconut pandan vodka, fresh sweet and sour, pineapple juice, and coconut water). The iconic property celebrates 90 years this year (90 years ago a round of golf set you back two dollars and dinner was about the same!) and has recently undergone a multi-million dollar renovation! Whether you’re single or you have kids, I highly recommend staying at the Royal– it it is centrally located with multiple restaurants on property, but also walking distance to everything from Hermes to local restaurants and you get access to the fun pool next door with water slides etc- a kid haven!
You can’t go to Hawaii without booking a night at a traditional Luau. I’ve been to many throughout the years but the Aha Aina beachside Luau at the Royal Hawaiian was definitely the most fun! When we arrived (three hours late after severe delays) we went straight to the Luau after being greeted with orchid leis and beads (and a much needed Blue Hawaiian cocktail!). Fire eaters, hula dancers, and a yummy traditional Polynesian buffet was just what we needed after our hellish 7 hour+ turned 10 hour flight from Dallas. This dinner show is a must if you’re ever in Oahu on a Monday or Thursday (the Aha Aina luau is only served twice a week!). The boy enjoyed the story teller who shared the significance of the lei and legends about the sea. At times we felt like we were in a movie, it is truly magical. After dinner, there were spectacular performances celebrating the history of the islands, the folklore of the Hawaiian people, and of course, Hula dancers! Choose from cocktail seating ($89), Standard ($176) and Premium ($200) per person. Book here.
Dukes- You can’t get more touristy than surf legend Duke Kahanamoku’s namesake restaurant but it is a must for us each trip to Oahu. We love the vibe on the patio in the late afternoon with a Li-hing margarita (photo below) and live music! The food is not very memorable, however, so go for drinks and appetizers and head else where for dinner.
Pig and the Lady- Vietnamese food with Hawaiian influence. The phos are most popular, with a vegetarian option. I loved Hanoi Cha Ca spicy scallop noodles! Chinatown is the original location downtown on King St. this is comfort food at its best. 83 N. King St (Piggy Smalls is the offshoot location in Ala Moana, just as good but try the original first!)
Heavenly (Waikiki – a few blocks away from Royal Hawaiian) the best breakfast spot for organic and locally sourced healthy yet tasty fare. I had my very first Acai bowl here and I’m now addicted. My husband got local farm eggs benedict and our son Hawaiian honey french toast, it all tasted too healthy for them I think but I loved it! Sadly they refused to return with me but I returned several times for the Acai bowl to go. 342 Seaside Ave.
Musubi & Bento IYASUME – I am no musubi expert (and in fact find spam disgusting, it’s like dog food to me!?) but there is a tiny hole in the wall next door to Heavenly that had a long line so of course we had to stop and try it or risk FOMO for the rest of time. It became my son’s favorite thing to eat on the trip. I had kept spam from him all the other trips to Hawaii but this time it was hard to deny him. Get there early as the good musubi will sell out before 11am. The boy would also like me to share with you that they make the best Japanese cheesecake (an oxymoron if you ask me but we’ve been home now for weeks and he is still talking about it.) 334 Seaside Ave
Side Street Inn: Great local food like kim chi fried rice! Just make sure you bring your friends and appetites with you as the portions are huge! The perfect sports bar, too. It’s where I sent my hubby when he wanted to watch the play off games (of what sport I don’t remember because when you say sports or ball my mind goes blank unless it’s golf and only if my son is playing). 1225 Hopaka St
Lucky Belly: We could not leave the island without stopping for ramen and fusion Chinese at this casual and yummy spot. If you’ve had a late night, you can also walk by the take out window and bring ramen back to your hotel to satiate the late night munchies that inevitably follows a night of dancing and imbibing. 50 N Hotel St
Ono Seafood for the best poke in Hawaii! Ok, that’s their slogan but I found it to be true. At first I questioned its cleanliness (it’s a hole in-the-wall Hawaiian deli) but my reservations were unfounded. The made to order Poke with as many flavors as you can dream of is a poke lover’s heaven! 747 Kapahulu Ave.
Azure at the Royal Hawaiian – Best Beachside location for Brunch or Romantic Dinner. One of the great things about resorts located in bustling cities is the restaurants are usually exceptional as they’re competing with other restaurants in the city. When you’re on an isolated island trapped with no where to eat but your resort, we find the food to be less imaginative (in our opinion!). We started our first morning at the Azure with a beachside table– the buffet had everything from Japanese breakfast favorites, spicy sausages, fresh island fruit to pink pancakes (photo above) not to mention the most friendly and engaging waiter. I’m not a traditional continental breakfast person (I don’t love baked goods and jam and I don’t drink coffee!) so it was a treat for me to have all the Asian options!
We also dined at the Azure for dinner one night, starting with the freshest abalone (above) I have ever had on a triple tiered seafood platter with fresh oysters, clams, crab and prawns caught locally. It was enough for me as a meal but my son had lamb chops which rivaled that of any fine French restaurant so you meat eaters can rest assured there are options! 2259 Kalakaua Ave
Sushi Sho- According to my dear friend and fellow foodie Kristopher Dukes, this is the best sushi experience on the planet. Located in the new Ritz Residences, its sushi bar seats only 10 guests at a time. The 10 seat restaurant will set you back $300 each, that is if you can even get a table! I was not able to go this trip as children are not allowed but believe me I will plan better next time for a babysitter! 383 Kalaimoku Street
Senia– East meets West in a collaboration between Chef Chris Kajioka and Chef Anthony Rush to showcase the bounty of Hawaii. Locally sourced ingredients re-imagined with three options to dine: the main dining room for casual, à la carte menu. Closer to its open kitchen, chefs Kajioka and Rush will host six to 12 people at the Chefs’ Counter. Offering a multi-course tasting menu, the Chefs’ Counter will take guests on an extensive gastronomic journey. Upstairs, you can book the private dining room for a more intimate gathering for parties of eight or more. 75 N. KING ST
Alan Wong’s – we first ate here when my son was six years old, he proclaimed the hamachi sashimi appetizer (seasonal) the best he’s ever had in his six long years on earth and proceeded to order three more. My husband indulged him with delight until he got the bill. Regardless, worth every penny and it is always on our list when we return to the island. There is an Alan Wong’s now in Shanghai but I find the original to be the best though it lacks island ambiance as it is located in a random office building on the third floor with no ocean view. You come here for the food, obviously. 1857 S. King Street Third Floor
Sushi Sasabune: an oldie but goodie and one of the local favorites for daily fresh fish. Definitely get the omakase (trust me) and sit at the sushi bar. Just don’t ask for anything different from what they’re serving or the sushi chef might ask you to leave. We were lucky they let our son sit at the sushi bar with us even though he had just had a surfing accident and didn’t want to eat. I of course promised to eat his portions if he didn’t (which I made good one) and he was allowed to stay. 1417 S King St, Honolulu
Chef Mavro– A spot I have yet to go to but is high on my list as it is highly recommended by so many foodie friends. The restaurant boasts unique flavors of Hawaii influenced by Chef’s native Provence. Great place for a special occasion! Chef Mavro is a founding member of Hawaii Regional Cuisine and was recognized by Wine Spectator as one of the eleven most important French chefs working in America in the company of Alain Ducasse, Daniel Boulud, Joel Robuchon, and others. 1969 S. King St.
Yauatcha: A new favorite of mine! We had a late afternoon snack there and loved it so much we returned for dinner. Ask your server to recommend the most popular dim sum items (mine are the pumpkin duck dumplings with stick rice wrappers and spicy wantons.
Not a day went by where I didn’t have my skinny Lava Lava drink at the Azure. Made with coconut water so it was super hydrating!
Sweets and Bakeries
Kona Coffee Purveyor with B Patisserie–This is a San Francisco bakery co-op that has great passion fruit, Guava desserts.
Shimazu Store (in Honolulu)
Waiola Shave Ice (in Honolulu)
Matsumoto Shave Ice (North Shore)- I did not think this is worth the drive or the 45min line but if you’re in the area, you should check it out!
We drove all the way to North Shore just so I could eat at Giovanni’s Shrimp Food truck. It was a hot and sticky day and we had just finished touring Pearl Harbor. My husband was chipper and game for anything we wanted until he saw the line and the outdoor tent open picnic table seating. He wanted to bolt but I, of course, am not one to miss out on an epicurean adventure and refused to leave until I got my spicy shrimp. The line was not that bad and though the half dozen live chickens running around caused a bit of health concern, the shrimp did not disappoint! I got every flavor, there are only three- 1. Lemon butter (kind of plain), 2. Scampi- sautéed with garlic and butter (you better love garlic if you order this, there was more garlic than shrimp and it was divine!) and 3. Hot and Spicy (I can take the hottest chilies of them all but this nearly killed me. Of course I asked for more hot sauce to take home!). All in all, it was probably not worth the long drive but any self respecting foodie has to try it once. 66-472 Kamehameha Hwy
Luau buffet! Loved the Hawaiian roast pig.
Aha Aina Luau!
Healthy Breakfast at Heavenly made of locally sourced ingredients!
If Heavenly is too healthy for you, stop next door for musubi.
London’s trendy dim sum teahouse now has a home in Honolulu at the new International Market place built around a century old bodhi tree (with tree house and Instagram selfie spots to boot!). I spent a lot of time eating and shopping at the International Market place! It’s open all day so you can stop by for yummy dim sum any time the fancy strikes you!
Pumpkin dumplings at Yauatcha. I could have eaten a dozen of these! Sweet and savory with just the right amount of crunch and chewiness.
One of the many days I stopped at Heavenly for this Acai bowl. Who am I?! I’ve turned into one of those lunatics who instagram their (healthy) Acai bowl with smugness.
The lush tropical garden at the Royal Hawaiian provided me endless instagram opportunities.
Possibly the spiciest shrimp on earth. Loved the sauce! The shrimp was not as fresh as I had expected.
There is a truck close by managed by a man who holds the keys to the restrooms, sells shell necklaces and make funnel cakes. It was delicious. Again, over look any health concerns and just go with it.
Hotel view from the beach, you can walk to Dukes within 3 minutes from here.
We discovered this private beach on our 8 hour island driving tour (the boy cut his face open surfing and we had to find ways to entertain him😂)