Living in the middle of the Pacific Ocean has advantages and one of them is the mixing of cultures we have here in Hawaii, and nothing reflects that more than our local food scene. Honolulu has many famous chefs, Chef Chai Chaowasaree, Chef Alan Wong, Chef Roy Yamaguchi, and Chef Sam Choy. However everyday is not a five course experience, in fact most meals in Hawaii are rather casual in atmosphere but high on quality. True local eateries in Honolulu, are informal and often allow you to bring your own wine and beer with no additional fees.
Top on my list and also on my speed dial is the Olive Tree Café. Make no mistake this is not a chain restaurant. Owner Savas creates fresh and healthy Greek food at this one and only location. When I say fresh, mean fresh! I have actually been there when fishermen have backed their trucks into the restaurant to reveal tuna that was swimming only moments ago. To start, an order of hummus and pita bread is a must. They have daily specials and there is often a line snaking out the door as people wait to put in their orders. At Olive Tree, expect excellent food, but no frills in terms of ambiance. It is cash only and they do except a local check, no credit cards. The staff is great and very friendly. They have a bottle opener and wine opener at the counter, so you can bring your own to drink. The true local eatery tip – call your order in and pick it up! You can avoid the lines and wait for a table. The Olive Tree Cafe is one of the best local dining spots in Honolulu.
Another hidden gem for fresh and healthy food is Vida Food for Life. Owner and Chef, Norman Berg, was inspired to create wholesome food for his young baby girl Mia. That is exactly what you will get at Vida. The space is small, which forces Chef Norman to shop every two days to replenish his menu items so you are sure to get extremely fresh ingredients. His food philosophy is to keep it flavorful, healthy, and to support smaller local food producers whenever possible. Much of Chef Norman’s menu items are thoughtful and made with great care and aloha. My personal favorites, the Poet’s Plate and the tasty grilled Panini sandwiches. Vida ‘s relaxed beach side atmosphere makes it feel like a family kitchen which is why it is one of the best local dining spots.
The next true local eatery in Honolulu is Irifune Restaurant, it is the quintessential hole in the wall establishment but in the best way possible! This Japanese eatery is popular with visitors and residents, as they infuse Hawaiian flavors to complement their dishes. Open for lunch and dinner, the service is always friendly. For the true local experience, check out their campy restrooms and also be sure to look up at the ceiling. On birthdays, they will shut off the restaurant lights and you will see the faux glow in the dark stars. They make it a fun production. My personal favorite on the menu as a starter, are the scrumptious breaded tofu. I have tried others and Irifune’s is the best hands down. Bring your own wine and beer to enjoy without any additional charges. Pending the night, there can be a wait for a table but it is well worth it!
If Thai food is what you are craving, then check out Champa Thai Restaurant. This is one of the best local dining spots for Thai food. Their Tom Yum soup, is a great starter and it is fun to order a few dishes and share family style. The service is friendly, atmosphere is inviting, and you can bring your own to drink without any additional charges.
Another flavorsome spot is Gazen Izakaya. An authentic Japanese chain, this Honolulu spot may be the only location outside of Japan. The menu is full of delicious dishes that are great to share and they offer a full bar. This is great spot to enjoy tasty food and a festive atmosphere for a social evening out.