I was lucky enough to get a break from the cold weather this Christmas, visiting my younger brother who is stationed in Oahu. When we first started kicking around the idea of visiting Hawaii for the holidays, the first thing I did was compile an extensive list of places where I wanted to eat (#priorities). And while we didn’t get around to every spot on my list, we did hit many of my top picks and they did not disappoint. We stayed in Waikiki so many of the places I’ll mention below were relatively close to our hotel. One last note before we start talking details, my family isn’t big on fine dining, so many of our meals were spent at quick and inexpensive restaurants.
Here are a few of my favorite bites from our visit to O’ahu.
933 Kapahula Ave | Sunday – Thursday 5:30 a.m. – 10 p.m. Friday – Saturday 5:30 a.m. – 11 p.m.
If there’s one thing I’ve been dreaming about since I left Oahu the fresh malasadas from Leonard’s Bakery are it. Two important pieces of information to know about this bakery: there’s always a line and be careful these babies are HOT. Malasadas are Portuguese donuts without a hole and the ones at Leonard’s are made-to-order so they come out piping hot. There are a variety of fillings that you can choose from such as custard, dobash (chocolate) and haupia (coconut). Or if fillings aren’t your thing they also come unfilled but covered in your choice of sugar (the original malasada), cinnamon sugar or li hing (dried plum – which is sweet, salty and sour). You know I love donuts, this probably won’t surprise you but I ate three in one sitting, with the custard being my favorite.
3045 Monsarrat Ave | Open daily 6 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Fortunately for my health, I did not eat donuts every morning for breakfast on vacation. And when I found Bogart’s, which was about a mile away from our hotel, I think I hit the breakfast jackpot. During our eight-day trip, we came here three mornings for breakfast, including Christmas morning. The first morning of our vacation I had the popular bagel breakfast sandwich, which comes with egg, cheese, spinach and tomato. I added bacon because you can treat yourself on vacation right? And honestly, it rivaled some of the bagel sandwiches I had in New York City.
The other menu item that Bogart’s is known for is its acai bowls. These are gaining popularity in Richmond now, but they were all over the place in Hawaii. The acai bowl, which is basically a super thick smoothie served in a bowl, comes topped granola, strawberries, bananas, blueberries and a drizzle of honey. The perfect breakfast when you’re on an island. Note: Bogart’s is a cash only cafe so plan accordingly.
The Pig and the Lady
83 N. King St | Lunch: Monday – Friday 10:30 a.m. – 2 p.m., Saturday 10:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. | Dinner Tuesday – Saturday 5:30 – 10 p.m.
While my brother and Dad were at the Hawaii Bowl, I treated my mom to lunch at The Pig and the Lady, which serves up Vietnamese flavors, with a bit of a twist. I had came across this particular restaurant on a few lists when I was doing my initial restaurant research and was immediately intrigued when I learned that The Pig and the Lady started as a farmer’s market booth. And this is embarrassing but I had actually never had pho before! We quickly (aka I quickly) decided that we share the pho bac and the P&L pho french dip. Both were extremely flavorful but the french dip stole the show. 10/10 would fly back to Hawaii for this sandwich. Pro tip: Make a reservation online ahead of time if you can.
2310 Kuhio Ave | Open daily 7 a.m. – 10 p.m.
After a few days of seeing a line that seemingly went around the block at Marukame Udon — and after seeing that the restaurant has more than 5,000 reviews on Yelp — I couldn’t leave O’ahu without seeing what all the hype was about. This sort of cafeteria style eatery, which is an offshoot of a franchise that started in Japan, serves mainly Sanuki-style Udon, tempura and musubi. Things move quickly, so even with a that snaked around towards our hotel, our wait was about 45 minutes before we were able to place our order. The udon noodles were perfectly cooked, the broth was packed with flavor and the tempura shrimp were surprisingly light and flaky. Oh, and it didn’t hurt that this might have been the cheapest meal of our entire trip!
Rainbow Drive Inn
3308 Kanaina Ave | Open daily 7 a.m. – 9 p.m.
One of the most recognizable dishes to come out of Hawaii is the Loco Moco — white rice, a hamburger patty smothered in brown gravy and topped with a fried egg. I tried the dish at the Rainbow Drive-In and while it doesn’t seem like it would be anything to write home about, I have to admit the combination just works. It’s like the Hawaiian version of the Salisbury steak, quick, filling, cheap and delicious. To be honest I’m not sure what else you need in a lunch, maybe a cold beer?
Giovanni’s Garlic Shrimp
66-472 Kamehameha Hwy | Haleiwa, HI | Daily 10:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.
The garlic shrimp plate might be my new favorite beach meal. Giovanni’s Garlic Shrimp has been serving up its famous shrimp, in Haleiwa town (on the North Shore) for 20 years now and I don’t think they’ll be going anywhere anytime soon. The truck serves three things, shrimp, hot dogs and rice. There are three shrimp flavors — shrimp scampi, hot and spicy and lemon butter. A full serving is $14 and comes with a dozen jumbo shrimp. Be warned the line to order can be a little long, but once you place your order it won’t be long before they’re calling your number.
Matsumoto Shave Ice
666-11 Kamehameha Hwy Suite #605 | Haleiwa, HI | Open daily 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.
One thing I learned in Hawaii is snow cones ≠ shaved ice. Shave ice is so so so much better. Matsumoto Shave Ice has been around for more than half a century in Haleiwa town. Opened in 1951, by Mamoru and Ogi Matsumoto as Matsumoto Grocery Store, today the store just serves shave ice. Unlike traditional snow cones, shave ice never hardens into one solid piece and is not crunchy. Instead, shave ice resembles fluffy, powdery snow.
When you’re ready to cool off from the beach there are more than 30 flavors to choose from. We went with the tropical (lilikoi, guava, papaya).
One final note, I’d be remiss to not mention a small little ice cream shop called Henry’s place which serves up $5 styrofoam cups of sorbet and ice cream. If you’re staying in Waikiki I’d recommend stopping in for a different flavor every day.