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Eat your way around Waikiki
Chowing down like a local in Oahu
Throughout the year, thousands of visitors flock to Oahu to enjoy the island’s beautiful weather, white sandy beaches, and mouthwatering dishes. While Waikiki is jam-packed with hotels, shopping malls, and stunning views, it’s the restaurants that are not to be missed. We’ve scoured the island and sacrificed our taste buds and our waistlines in order to serve you up the best that Waikiki has to offer.
Named after Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, the “Father of international surfing,” Dukes is the perfect place to sample island fare. Located inside The Outrigger Waikiki, this seaside restaurant offers a superb island ambiance accompanied by some of the best people watching on the island. Drinks at the bar pack a punch and their pupu options include fresh island poke and sashimi. One of their staple drinks, “The Tropical Itch,” will scratch you in all the right places, featuring passion fruit juice, orange curaçao, vodka, and rum. If that’s not enough, they also offer an allergy-free food menu for everyone to enjoy. Shaka brahs all around.
If you want to eat like a local and not fork over a ton of your cash, make a stop at one of the many Zippy’s found around the island. This is the most golden piece of advice we can offer. Located just on the outskirts of Waikiki, the Kapahulu Zippy’s is the best place to pick up a bowl of the diner’s famous original recipe chili. The most bang for your buck comes in the form of a plate lunch, meaning a tray piled high with two scoops of macaroni salad, rice, and an entree of your choice. If a plate lunch is too much to tackle, simply go for a bowl of chili. Be careful, it’s addictive. With over 110 tons of chili sold every month, you know it’s got to be good. It’s also rumored to be made with a healthy dose of mayo.
Not yet satisfied? We understand. The crown jewel of Hawaii’s desert scene is Leonard’s Bakery. This family-run bakery is renowned for a sweet, puffy treat, called malasadas, which have their origins in Portugal. These Portuguese doughnuts are made-to-order and are served piping hot. Originally served with only a light sugar coating, Leonard’s has stepped up its game by offering a variety of fillings and toppings. We recommend the custard-filled malasada. It’s like a lightly fried, sugar-kissed dough ball with a creamy, gooey surprise inside. The adventurous eater should try the li hing (salty, plum-based powder) malasada, a great pairing of sweet and sour.
Viewfinder Tip: Go to The Corner Kitchen at night and you may catch local music.
If you want to eat like a local and enjoy live music at an incredible price, look no further than The Corner Kitchen. The menu boasts exotic treats like oxtail soup (way better than it sounds) and crunchy fried ribs, though the true pride and joy of the Corner Kitchen is their extensive sushi menu. You can watch behind the glass as the sushi master crafts your perfect ahi roll. As you know, the best thing for sushi is a cocktail. The Liquid Ecstasy (yes, that’s the real name) is a blend of sake, li hing, and other secret ingredients. You may be lucky enough to catch the guys from the local band, Holunape, playing on a balmy Hawaiian night. Be sure to say hello to Kanai’a, Kama, and Kekoa. They’ll be happy to dedicate a song to you while you enjoy the ono food.
The next time you find yourself in Oahu, do what the locals do and eat well. Don’t worry, you’ll be able to work off all that food in between the swimming, hiking, and waterfall hunting.
What are your favorite Hawaiian meals?
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Chris and Tawny have had articles and videos published on USA TODAY TRAVEL, BBC Travel, Matador Network, as well as appeared as guest stars on TLC Asia's Fun Taiwan television series. When not on the road, you can find Chris and Tawny nestled in their home in Tacoma, Washington fueling up on coffee and cat cuddles while planning their future adventures. You can follow their travels on their blog, Instagram, and YouTube