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Reporting back following my inquiry here:
Was in Waikiki for 5 days with two friends and we ended up having meals at a mix of touristy spots (hard to avoid when one is indeed a tourist in Waikiki) and more off the beaten path locations. We stayed at the Trump International (long story how that came about) in a condo with a full kitchen so we picked up groceries at Foodland and fixed our own breakfasts at the condo, which worked out well for me in particular since I was up at 5:30 every morning to go surfing :-). I don't eat any seafood, one friend eats very little meat and the other eats everything, so we had to do some negotiating over menus when choosing restaurants. Places we ate and drank, in no particular order other than how I'm remembering them:
Wai'olu Lounge at the Trump – nothing earth-shattering, but the sunset view is spectacular and the happy hour food and drink prices are quite reasonable. Friends had a few sushi rolls and poke, and I enjoyed some fancy nachos. This is where we discovered that Hawaii (or at least Honolulu) has a law that prohibits serving a person more than one drink at a time. So no rushing in 5 minutes before happy hour ends and ordering 2 drinks at once.
Sunset drinks at House Without A Key, Mai Tai Bar at the Royal Hawaiian, and Duke's Beach Bar – all full of other tourists and yet fun and totally worth doing. I'm not a Mai Tai drinker – I stuck with white wine and the occasional beer – but friends liked the ones at the Mai Tai Bar best. We ended up ordering dinner at Duke's and I was pleasantly surprised by my Korean steak tacos. Seriously spicy sauce, good quality beef, and cooling crunchy vegetable slaw for contrast.
MW Restaurant – definitely the highlight of the trip food-wise. Appealing space once you find it in the back of the shopping center and excellent service. I thoroughly enjoyed my pickled beets and goat cheese (both local) and pork shank, along with a taste of my friend's pork belly buns. Friends were very pleased with various seafood dishes, and we shared a chocolate banana cream pie for dessert. Oh, and they sent us home with little bags of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. I definitely want to go back there – there were so many items on the menu that I wanted to try. Highly recommended for a great meal away from Waikiki.
North Shore Tacos (Hauula) – we stumbled across this place during our day trip to see the big wave surfing on the North Shore while we were starving and discovering that a lot of local places were closed on Sundays. Very good beef, pork and fish tacos (although honestly I was so hungry I would've been happy with Taco Bell) and some interesting South American desserts made by one of the owners.
Giovanni Pastrami – I know, I know – what were we thinking? All I can say is we needed someplace with a bunch of tvs to watch college football, and the menu here appealed more than the Yard House. Decent drinks and over-priced but edible omelets and salads. And they didn't mind that we hung out for 4 hours watching the games.
Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin – we happened across this place while returning to our condo and were intrigued by the menu and the vibe, so we came back for dinner a few days later. I have to admit that Tonkatsu was a totally new concept to me, and I really enjoyed both the cutlet and ground pork versions. And grinding our own sesame seeds to make the sauce was fun.
Arnold's Beach Bar & Grill – no view, no fancy appetizers, no hula dancers, just cheap drinks and a young mixed local and visitor crowd down a little alley half a block from the Trump. Probably not a place I would've wandered into on my own, but a friend took me there the last time I was in Honolulu so I had to go back this trip for a nightcap.
*Footnote re: Maui – I also spent 5 days in Paia solo where I pretty much cooked all my own meals (love the Kahalui Whole Foods!) other than a trip to the Flatbread Company for some of my favorite pizza anywhere and a couple stops at local bars for happy hour and football viewing.
Thanks everyone for all your input. I'm already planning for my next Hawaii trip!
2259 Kalakaua Ave
1538 Kapiolani Blvd
54-296 Kamehameha Hwy
1215 S Beretania St
226 Lewers St
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