Contrary to popular belief, it is not impossible to find affordable places to eat in the Waikiki area. Yes there are very pricey and touristy restaurants but locals have to eat somewhere too, right? There are 3 great places I eat at every time I am in the Waikiki area that cost less than $15 a meal.
The Rainbow Drive-In is located on the eastern end of Waikiki about a 10 minute walk north of the zoo. You may recognize it as Guy Fieri featured it in his Hawaiian edition of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives tv show. The type of food they serve are iconic Hawaiian plate lunches like loco moco, kalbi short ribs, fried mahi, shoyu chicken and lots more for under $10 a plate! The 2 best items, in my opinion, are the mix plate and the loco moco. Almost all plates come with 2 scoops of rice and mac salad, I find the portion sizes are generous and I often have a hard time finishing an order by myself. It's a great place to eat at during lunch and dinner. They also have a breakfast menu but I've never had anything from it.
If you're craving a poke bowl and are on the Waikiki strip, I would suggest going to a convenience store (yes, a convenience store!) called Coco Cove. It is very close to Duke's Lane, where all the souvenir stands are. The Poke bar is right at the front entrance, usually there are more than 6 types of poke you can choose from. For those not familiar with Poke, it is raw fish (usually Ahi tuna in Hawaii) that is flavoured in shoyu, or spicy mayo, and so many other sauces. You can get a Poke bowl for about $10 and can definitely fill you up. What I like to do is order a scoop of 2 or 3 types of just poke (no rice), usually limu, masago and something else that I've never tried. I head back to my hotel room with a beverage and sit on the balcony and just relax.
The last place that I always visit multiple times when I’m in the Waikiki area is Marukame Udon which is located on Kuhio Ave which is a block north of the main strip (Kalakaua Ave). This is one of those restaurants that you always see people lined up out the door and the queue is often 2 to 3 rows deep. In my opinion, the reason Marukame Udon is so busy is because they make an excellent bowl of udon at a very good price point. You order a bowl of udon which starts at around $5, and if you don’t want to add anything else to it like tempura or a poached egg, that’s all it’ll cost you. The add ons start at around a dollar each so it can quickly add up.
Marukame makes their own udon noodles daily and often. Right when you enter the door you will likely see someone feeding flour into the machine. It is quite an interesting process to watch to kill time while you are waiting to put your order in. I often come here at odd times in between regular meal times like around 10am or 3pm to beat the crowds. They have a 2nd location in downtown Honolulu but I have never been to that one.
If you are more of a ramen lover, I recommend Ramen Nakamura which is located on the west end of Waikiki, kiddie corner to the Hard Rock Cafe where Beach Walk branches off of Kalakaua Avenue. Like Marukame Udon, Ramen Nakamura can get pretty busy during the lunch and dinner hours but a tip I learned from the servers at the restaurant is to come during "sunset" hours to beat the dinner rush. The restaurant has a large U shape bar with about 20 seats so it is often difficult to seat large groups of people together.
My favourite here is the ox tail ramen with gyoza combo which is around $18. I find the price to be a bit high for ramen but then again, you're in Waikiki. The ox tail is fall off the bone soft without being flavourless and the broth is excellent.
A restaurant that is on my list of must eats in Waikiki is Hana no Sato (Japanese website). It is not a cheap place to eat but it is one of the best Japanese meals I've had in Oahu. I stumbled upon this restaurant completely by happenstance. It was pouring rain in Waikiki one night and I had already waited about an hour and a half already to see if the rain would let up. When there was a little break in the weather, I left the hotel to go to Ramen Nakamura which was on the other side of Waikiki. All of a sudden, the skies opened up again. I was too hungry and too wet to keep going so I ducked into the first restaurant I passed which was Hana no Sato. Right when I entered this quaint restaurant, I was welcomed by the owner and his wife who saw that I was drenched. Luckily, they had room at the sushi bar and seated me right away. They gave me towels to help dry me off and some hot tea. I was given a menu and my attention was brought to their white board which had today's fresh sheet. My very first meal in this restaurant was a Chirashi don, it was excellent. The fish selection was very fresh and very generous (I'm pretty sure they didn't just pity me being soaked)!
Ever since that first time dining here, this has become my go to in Waikiki for Japanese food. The seafood is always fresh and portions are very generous. Staff are very friendly. They do not serve alcohol but you are welcome to bring your own, they dont charge a corkage fee. One thing that I noticed was they include a 15% service charge to your bill even when you're dining solo.
If you're looking for a great place for an açai bowl, go to Island Vintage Coffee. There are a few all over the island and in Waikiki, it is located in the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Centre. My first time having an açai bowl was at IVC and since then, I have tried a number of other places but feel that IVC is the best one for my taste.
I had been going to Hawaii for 8 years and I had my first açai bowl just last year. I have seen them advertised a lot but I just didn't know what the hype was all about. You know that feeling you get when you've eaten so much the few days before and just felt like something light? That was what I was feeling when I came across IVC in the mall. When I got to the counter and ordered, I mistakenly pronounced it as "akai" and the cashier repeated my order but pronounced it as "asai". Great, I was just tagged as an açai bowl n00b!
Being my first time, I didn't know what to expect other than it was highly recommended by a number of friends. After taking my first bite of it, I was hooked. IVC's açai is a perfectly blended smoothie consistency with crunchy granola and fresh fruit (bananas, blueberries, strawberries and a star apple slice) topping. I didn't find it overly sweet and I ate it fast enough (while avoiding brain freeze) that the granola didn't get soggy.
When comparing IVC's açai bowl with the Honolulu Coffee, IVC's version is a lot like a thick smoothie whereas HC's is more like a sorbet. If you look at the pictures below, you can see that you get more toppings from IVC's version (on the left) for about the same price point.
If you have any must eat places in the Waikiki area that I should try, let me know in the comments below.
- Mahalo nui loa
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