Aloha! I’m back with another post in my three-part series recapping my trip to Waikiki Beach, Oahu, Hawaii earlier this year. As a reminder, you can also read my posts about where to stay in Waikiki and what to do in Waikiki.
I’ve been lucky enough to travel to many places and eat many great meals along the way, but trust me when I say, I have never been somewhere that has food as amazing as what I ate in Hawaii. Everything was so fresh—from the fish to the juices—and so many of our Hawaiian waiters and waitresses were excited to share their culture with us. Food really brings people together in a way nothing else can, no matter what walk of life you’re from.
Since we were only in town for a week, and Waikiki has so many wonderful restaurants, we couldn’t get to them all. I did most of the research for our meals for this trip—which was so much fun, and got me even more excited for our trip, especially in the midst of an East Coast February—so I’ll also share some of the other places that looked like great options we just didn’t have time to get to at the end of this post. And, a huge shout out to all my friends who have been to Waikiki and gave us awesome recommendations for the best of where to eat and drink.
One of the nice things about this trip to Waikiki was that Emma and I got on a great routine when it came to our days. We’d usually wake up around 8am, and grab breakfast from the bakery at the hotel or the nearby smoothie shack. For lunch, we’d eat at a restaurant right off the beach. And then for dinner, we’d usually grab a drink somewhere before or after our main meal. Most nights, we were in bed by 10pm, and so I felt like this was one of the rare vacations where you actually leave feeling rested. We didn’t have a kitchenette in our room, so we ate out for every meal—but since we were only in town for a week, and we knew we wouldn’t be back to Hawaii anytime soon, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
DINNER AT MAI TAI —
When Emma and I landed in Honolulu, it was about 8pm local time, and we hadn’t eaten in a solid eight hours. We were also ready for a tropical drink after a very long travel day. We were also exhausted, so we didn’t want to venture very far from the hotel or have to get too dressed up. Given all that, once we checked in and dropped our bags off at our room, we headed down to the Royal Hawaiian‘s beachfront restaurant, Mai Tai.
It was the perfect first meal for us in Hawaii—we sat outside under the palm trees and pink umbrellas, there were lit tiki torches everywhere, and they had a live Hawaiian band serenading all the guests. When they brought us our aforementioned tropical cocktails, they even came with mini umbrellas. The ambiance and experience really made me feel like we were on island time!
For dinner, we split the fries and then I did the Cobb salad—omg, it was so good and everything was so fresh. I knew I would be ordering it again throughout the week (and I did!). Even if you’re not a guest at the Royal Hawaiian, Mai Tai is a spot I recommend you check out for a casual lunch, dinner, or happy hour while in Waikiki.
BREAKFAST AT THE SUNRISE SHACK —
While on this trip, I typically stuck to a healthier breakfast since we were indulging at lunch and dinner—and with some cocktails in between. The Sunrise Shack became one of my go-to breakfast spots during the week we were in town—they serve up great smoothies, smoothie bowls, and coffee. I tried several throughout the week and they were all great!
This place was only a short walk from the Royal Hawaiian, and usually I’d grab my smoothie and then head straight to the beach for the day. A heads up that there was usually a line, but it moved fast.
LUNCH AT THE MOANA’S BEACH BAR —
Since we considered staying at —and originally booked—the Moana Surfrider, we knew we wanted to go over there one day for lunch to check it out. The best meal I had while in town was at their Beach Bar under their world-famous banyan tree—a delicious shrimp stir fry served up with a side salad and rice. Such a simple meal, but just so, so good. We went back a second time for lunch because I just had to eat it again before we left Hawaii. The poke nachos were highly recommend to us, and we also loved the onion rings—because #vacation.
This would also be a great place for a pre-dinner drink! They had ample seating, great service, and stunning views of Waikiki’s clear blue waters.
DRINKS AT THE RITZ-CARLTON RESIDENCES —
One of Emma’s friends suggested we head to grab at a drink on the rooftop of The Ritz-Carlton Residences—there’s a whole restaurant, but we just ordered drinks from the bar and then enjoyed some of the seating near the pool. This was an incredible place to catch the sunset and see beautiful watercolor skies over the beach. I had a strawberry vodka lemonade and it was delicious. The vibe here was also very calm and quiet, yet cool—it would be a great place if you’re looking for something a little more relaxed where you can have a great conversation.
DINNER AT TOMMY BAHAMA —
Of all the places we ate, Tommy Bahama is the one that I would probably not go back to—it wasn’t bad by any stretch, in fact, I quite liked my meal, I just think there are other places with a more authentic Waikiki vibe. That being said, if you’re looking for a very family-friendly place with a lot of cuisine options, this will definitely fit your bill.
We were lucky enough to get a spot on their rooftop, which was really cool as it had a sand floor with fire pits, and if that’s not your thing, there’s also an inside portion of the restaurant. (I did request to sit on the rooftop via our reservation because I had read online reviews that said that was the best place to sit.) It didn’t have a view of the ocean, but it did offer a great view of Waikiki, especially as the sun was setting. To start, we split the coconut shrimp, duo of dips, and Brussels sprouts, and then I did a parmesan crusted chicken for my main. The portion sizes were very generous—I was definitely very full leaving this meal.
DINNER AT DUKE’S WAIKIKI —
If you make one dinner reservation while in Waikiki, make sure it’s Duke’s. It was recommended to us by everyone—both all our friends before we left for the trip, and then everyone in Waikiki said we had to go. (They also do lunch, but I think it was the perfect dinner spot given it feels more like an ‘upscale’ spot for a beach vacation!) They also have an outside bar with a more casual menu if you aren’t able to get a reservation, but the wait for that while we were there was two+ hours. So, book your reservation—and make sure you plan ahead on this one! I booked ours about a month and a half before our trip and still could only get an 8:30pm reservation on a Tuesday for two people.
Because the restaurant is so popular, they have such an efficient check-in system and amazing service. We got there about 30 minutes before our reservation and grabbed a drink upstairs at the Hula Grill, another restaurant in the Outrigger Resort where Duke’s is located. We had a great time at their bar and would highly recommend it—we also had a shrimp appetizer that was delicious.
At Duke’s, they have a full menu of delicious options, but they also have an amazing salad bar that you can do as an add-on to your entree. I haven’t hit up a great salad bar in a while and everything was great—they had pre-mixed salads, ingredients to make your own salad, and things like pasta and potato salad. I did a white fish in a lemon sauce with rice for dinner and it was so good. Everyone told us we had to the hula pie for dessert, but I have to admit—we were so full we could not stomach another bite. Next time, we’ll start with dessert!
LUNCH AT MAI TAI —
After Emma and I went to Pearl Harbor, we came back to the hotel and grabbed lunch at Mai Tai—ever since I had the Cobb salad the first night, we both had it on our minds. (I also ate it for lunch the last day we were in Waikiki, it was that good!) Paired with a strong margarita, it truly was my perfect vacation lunch.
This place is casual enough that you can also enjoy lunch here while in your coverup from the beach. They also have an area of the bar where you can walk up and grab drinks to-go to bring back to the pool or your umbrella on the beach—the bar opens each day at 11am each day, in case you were wondering ;).
SUNSET DRINKS AT HOUSE WITHOUT A KEY —
Throughout my Hawaii research, one place that kept coming up over and over again was to watch the sun set at House Without a Key. So the Wednesday night of our trip, we went over for happy hour to take in the stunning views during golden hour. It was such an elegant and peaceful spot, with incredible views of Diamond Head and the sun setting over the ocean. To top it off, they had a traditional Hawaiian band to entertain the guests, with a former Miss Hawaii doing traditional Hawaiian dancing. It was incredible and I’d highly recommend House Without a Key—but make sure you get a reservation as this is a very popular spot.
The only thing I’d do differently next time is make this more of a pre-dinner spot than a dinner spot—their menu is on the smaller side and focused more on snacks and apps that mains. We still had enough to eat, but stopping by here before going somewhere else for dinner would have allowed us to squeeze one more restaurant in!
A NIGHT CAP AT SKY WAIKIKI —
After the sun set and we finished our drinks at House Without a Key, we wanted to keep the night going, so we went over to Sky Waikiki for a night cap. Emma’s friend had recommended this spot to us and it didn’t disappoint. It offered stunning views of Waikiki, including our beautiful hotel, and the water. The vibe was also super fun—it definitely had a party atmosphere.
BREAKFAST ON THE SURF LANAI —
One morning on our trip, we woke up early and went and hiked Diamond Head. Once we were back at the hotel, we treated ourselves to a big sit down brunch on The Surf Lanai at the Royal Hawaiian overlooking Waikiki Beach. This restaurant is known for its pink pancakes in honor of the hotel’s pink color scheme—so Emma opted for those, while I went for a big breakfast omelette. Our server here was amazing and taught us so much about traditional Hawaiian foods. He also brought us a sample of all of the hotel’s fresh squeezed juices—they were out of this world good, especially the pineapple juice and the passionfruit juice.
DINNER AT THE HIDEOUT AT THE LAYLOW —
Since we considered staying at The Laylow Hotel, we knew we wanted to do dinner one night at their restaurant and bar, The Hideout. It was such a fun place to eat dinner—located on a rooftop, it was an indoor/outdoor concept, and the night we were there, they had an amazing singer. He sang everything from John Mayer to Wagon Wheel, and was just so good. I had the burger here, and it was great—as was the service.
While this is definitely a cool spot to check out for dinner or drinks, we were both glad that our hotel offered direct access to the ocean—so visiting really reaffirmed our lodging choice.
BREAKFAST AT THE ROYAL HAWAIIAN BAKERY —
Many mornings before we headed off to the beach, we swung by the bakery at the Royal Hawaiian, which is located right off the main lobby, for coffee or a pastry. Upon check in, guests also receive a coupon for a ‘free gift’ from this bakery—ours were mini banana muffins that were delicious. But, my favorite part about this spot were the rocking chairs overlooking the hotel grounds where you could take a minute and enjoy the views.
A GOLDEN HOUR HAPPY HOUR AT MAI TAI —
Emma’s cousin came to hang out with us at the Royal Hawaiian on our last day in town, and top cap off our wonderful last day, we did a golden hour sunset at Mai Tai on the property to take in the sunset with a drink in hand. There’s a big lawn on the hotel right next to Mai Tai, so we grabbed drinks and then went over there since it offered stunning views of the beach and Diamond Head. It was such a wonderful way to start winding down our wonderful trip.
DINNER AT HERRINGBONE —
For our grand finale, we went to Herringbone for dinner, done by the TAO Hospitality Group. It was probably the fanciest place we went for a meal all week, and was a fun place to end our week of wonderful eating. We split a few flatbread pizzas to start, and then I did the surf and turf—steak, grilled shrimp, and mashed potatoes. I truly couldn’t have asked for more in a final meal in Hawaii!
As promised, I wanted to share some of the other restaurants that we wanted to go to, we just didn’t have time to cross off our list on this trip:
- Scratch Kitchen
- Kona Coffee
- Olive & Oliver
- Barefoot Beach Cafe
- Barefoot Bar
- Eating House 1849
- Roy’s Waikiki
- South Shore Grill
- Azure Waikiki
- Morimoto Waikiki
- Basalt Waikiki
If you have any questions about our trip, don’t hesitate to drop me a comment below or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. This trip to Hawaii was truly a bucket list item for me, and will always hold a special place in my heart—mahalo for everything, Hawaii.