The Olive Tree(4614 Kilauea Ave.; 808-737-0303, no website) I don't think the menu has changed in more than a decade at Oahu's favorite Greek place, and yet, it's still consistently fresh and delicious. Get the fish souvlaki, served with the catch of the day and slathered in a tangy, herby yogurt sauce; it's one of the few places around where you can get fresh, local fish for under $15 (despite being surrounded by the ocean, this is surprisingly rare in Honolulu).
The Pig and the Lady(83 N. King St.; 808-585-8255, thepigandthelady.com) The Pig and the Lady, the popular farmers market stand, has opened a new brick-and-mortar space, where the menu has expanded from its soulful Vietnamese noodle soups to include modern Southeast Asian-inspired fare. What you need to get: the pho French dip banh mi. It's like pho in sandwich form, with fat, melting slices of beef brisket in a baguette and a cup of pho broth on the side. Other creative comfort food: the Dutch pancake topped with kaya jam, lychee and basil, available for Saturday brunch. [Full disclosure: Cheng started the Pig and the Lady as a pop-up with chef-owner Andrew Le, in 2011, but is no longer involved with the restaurant.]
Food court at Shirokiya(1450 Ala Moana Blvd. #2250; shirokiya.com) Like the department stores in Tokyo, Shirokiya in Honolulu has a floor devoted to food, where you'll find takoyaki—griddled octopus balls—made hot on the spot at the Takoyaki Yama-chan stall; tonkotsu ramen from Menya Ifu Do Do, a bowl of rich and creamy pork-bone based broth and noodles; fresh-from-the-fish-auction sashimi by Take's Fish Market; and affordable chirashi bowls at Maguro Zanmai.
Liliha Bakery(515 N. Kuakini St.; 808-531-165, lilihabakeryhawaii.com) One of Oahu's most beloved diners, Liliha is open round the clock. It's been here since 1950, and the young and old alike still come. I can never decide, so I always get the pancakes and the waffles: The pancakes are the lightest and fluffiest in town, and the waffles are crispy and seriously buttery.
(655 Keeaumoku St. #109; 808-942-5350, no website)
This little, tucked away sushi bar is where Izakaya Gaku chefs go on their nights off. I love it because you can get seasonal, less-common fish for sashimi and sushi, live (!) baby abalone, and other eye-opening seafood, but the sushi chefs don’t look down on you if you also want to order an inside-out roll or salmon skin salad.
Highway Inn Kakaako
(680 Ala Moana Blvd. #105; 808-954-4955, myhighwayinn.com/location-kakaako)
The original Highway Inn in Waipahu opened in 1947, serving Hawaiian food such as laulau and kalua pig. For decades, it remained a snapshot of food in post-war Hawaii. But when its new downtown spot opened a few months ago, it introduced some return-to-the-land dishes like the fish and poi: fried whole akule or opelu served with fresh-milled, sweet Waipio Valley poi, unlike at other Hawaiian food restaurants which tend toward the bagged poi. Add on a side of pipikaula (a cross between short ribs and beef jerky) and don’t forget dessert: The pineapple upside-down cake is caramelized and crisp around the edges thanks to kiawe bean flour (made from the pods of mesquite trees).
12th Ave Grill
(1120 12th Ave.; 808-732-9469,12thavegrill.com)
By the same owners as Salt, 12th Ave Grill has recently acquired expansive new digs. Eat at the bar, both for the stellar cocktails and the contemporary American bar menu (available from 5:30 to 6:30 and 10 to 11 at night), with highlights like the twice-cooked duck wings, which taste like duck bacon, and the meatloaf sandwich. Or if you happen to be there on a Sunday, order the Sunday Supper, a family-meal-style dinner that changes every week. In the past: buttermilk fried chicken with coleslaw, baked beans and chocolate cake, and barbecued ribs with toffee cheesecake for dessert.
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