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Best Cheap Eats in Honolulu, Hawaii

Taste the cross-cultural cuisines and cooking styles of Honolulu’s restaurants on a reasonable budget.

 

Adventurous diners will find much to discover and learn about local-style Honolulu cuisine on their Oahu vacation. The Hawaiian Islands’ cosmopolitan capital city presents a veritable buffet of cross-cultural cuisines and cooking styles. If you like the excitement of sampling exotic foods from around the Asia-Pacific Rim, you won’t be disappointed by Honolulu’s dining scene. What’s more, you can find the best Honolulu restaurants on a limited budget.

Backstory to Hawaii’s Varied Cuisine

Hawaii’s diverse cuisine reflects its melting-pot population. Many of the exotic flavors and dishes have their origins in the thousands of immigrant laborers who came to Hawaii from the 1850s onward. Along with native Hawaiians, these Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Portuguese and later Southeast Asian immigrants, all lent their influences to the evolvement of Hawaii’s regional cuisine.

One staple, the ubiquitous Hawaiian plate lunch, is an institution. It consists of two scoops of rice, a scoop of macaroni salad, and a meat or fish entrée. The variations are almost endless but reflect Hawaii’s unique cross-cultural blending. Plate lunches are generally inexpensive, ranging from $5 to $7 and up, and are available at take-out lunch counters and restaurants around Honolulu.

Here is a Honolulu restaurant guide featuring favorite plate lunch and island-style eateries, where you can sample genuine Hawaiian cuisine that makes Honolulu a diner’s delight.

Waikiki

Ono Hawaiian Foods

Ono Hawaiian Foods, a small hole-in-the-wall place, serves up authentic Hawaiian-style plates including kalua pig, lau lau, chicken long rice or combinations. “Ono” means delicious in Hawaiian. It’s well worth the wait for a table.

Ono Hawaiian Foods, 726 Kapahulu Ave., tel.808-737-2275. Hours: Mon. to Sat. 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. www.geocities.com

Kapahulu Poi Shop

This is a small unpretentious place—take-outs only. Choose from combination plates with kalua pig, lau lau, chicken luau, pipikaula, chicken long rice and more. Create your own plate and enjoy some real Hawaiian food.  

Kapahulu Poi Shop, 3110 Winam Ave., tel. 808-737-8014. Hours: Mon. to Sat. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Rainbow Drive In

Rainbow Drive In is an old-fashioned drive-in that has a lengthy menu of island favorites like beef teriyaki, boneless chicken, roast pork, shoyu chicken and more. There is limited table seating outside, or opt for take-out.

Rainbow Drive In, 3308 Kanaina Ave., tel. 808-737-0177. Hours: daily 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. www.rainbowdrivein.com

Next: Restaurants in Kaimuki

Kaimuki

Big City Diner

Big City Diner is a busy sit-down diner that boasts a menu of many famous local creations. Try Uncle Danny’s fried rice, or sample the spicy savory Grandma’s incredible kimchee fried rice, Chinatown chow mein noodles or baby back ribs with guava barbecue sauce. There are many more choices at this popular combination sports bar and local-style eatery. Other locations around Honolulu include Kailua, Waipio, Pearlridge and Ward Warehouse.

Big City Diner, 3565 Waialae Ave., tel. 808-738-8855. Hours: Sun. to Thu. 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., Fri. and Sat. 7 a.m. to midnight. bigcitydinerhawaii.com

Grace’s Inn

This small lunch counter offers a large variety of local-style plate lunches. Choose from things like chicken katsu curry, mahi mahi, shoyu roast pork, mochiko chicken, Teriyaki beef and many daily specials. Eat in or take out. There are other locations in Makiki and Aiea near Pearl Harbor.

Grace’s Inn, 2919 Kapiolani Blvd., tel. 808-732-0041. Hours: Mon. to Sat. 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sun. 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Ward Center

Kaka`ako Kitchen

This local-style eatery transforms the humble plate lunch to upscale and gourmet. Try the Korean kalbi ribs, mixed island barbecue plate, sweet chili chicken or any of several daily plate specials. This is casual fine dining in a Styrofoam takeout box, however table seating is available.  

Kaka`ako Kitchen, 1200 Ala Moana Blvd., tel. 808-596-7488. Hours: Mon. to Thu. 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., Fri. to Sat. 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sun. 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Haili’s Hawaiian Foods

This lunch counter is in the busy Marukai Market. Hawaiian plate lunch choices include lau lau, kalua pig, stew, fried fish and combination plates, or create your plate from several items. Eat in or take out.  

Haili’s Hawaiian Foods, 1020 Auahi St., Ward Farmers Market, tel. 808-593-8019. Hours: Mon. to Sat. 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Sun. 7 a.m. to 12 p.m. www.hailishawaiianfoods.com

Chinatown

Little Village Noodle House

Among all the eateries in Chinatown, Little Village Noodle House stands out. The menu of more than 100 selections combines the flavors of Northern, Hong Kong and Szechuan Chinese cuisine. Try the signature dishes like orange chicken, eggplant with garlic sauce, sizzling scallops, black pepper beef and Chinese chicken salad. Enjoy take out or table seating.

Little Village Noodle House, 1113 Smith St., tel. 808-545-3008. Hours: daily, 10:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. www.littlevillagehawaii.com

[Read our Honolulu Chinatown article for more information on this neighborhood.]

Around Honolulu

Tsukenjo Lunch House

There is nothing particularly fancy about this small lunch counter operation, but the lunch fare is top notch. Standard menu features include kalua pig and lau lau, pork adobo, meat loaf, shoyu chicken and more. Daily specials vary from curry stew to Korean style chicken to beef tomato, tripe stew, fried noodles and more.

Tsukenjo Lunch House, 705 Cooke St., tel. 808-597-8151. Hours: Mon. to Fri. 4:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Zippy’s

With several locations around Honolulu, this chain restaurant has a menu of local favorites. Try Zippy’s signature chili and rice or a plate lunch special ranging from chicken katsu or loco moco to hamburger steak or mahi mahi. There are also daily special plates and much more on the menu. Eat in or take out.

Check the Web site for restaurant phone numbers and locations at www.zippys.com.

 

[If you have a hankering to eat with the pros, check out our Where the Chefs Eat on Oahu article.]


Destinations: Hawaii, Honolulu, Oahu

Themes: Culinary

Activities: Eat


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