Local Gems: The Best Places To Eat In Oahu (2023)

By Amanda Paa – Updated October 16, 2023

I’ll admit that the eating part of vacation is what I plan first. And what I really, really look forward to. Experiencing local cuisine always gives such interesting insight to culture and history, and a chance to try new things.

Before we went to Oahu (here’s my guide to the island + best hikes and views), I created a list comprised of suggestions from this Honolulu guide, and this one, which also included hiking/great view suggestions. The one thing I couldn’t find much information on was how “gluten-free friendly” restaurants were, and I was a little worried knowing soy sauce is used in many  traditional Hawaiian dishes (poke, marinated meats, salad dressings). But even when traveling, I know that 90% of the time there are several choices on every menu that are naturally gluten-free.

Fresh Coconut On The Beach -- North Shore, Oahu

We stayed on Waikiki Beach, and because it’s the main spot for tourists, I wasn’t surprised to see chain restaurant after chain restaurant (think Cheesecake Factory, Benihana, Hard Rock Cafe) around that area. Not my style, vacationing or not.

However! With a little digging, I think I found several local restaurants hidden within those blocks (we walked a lot and used our Fitbit for tracking steps), and many of the others on my – best places to eat in Oahu – list were just a short drive away from where were staying. (I would highly suggest renting a car while you are there.)

Spots for Good Coffee in Honolulu:

  1. Arvo: This place is the cutest! It’s in a newer part of Honolulu, and runs in coordination with a plant/home store. The coffee is great, and they make several “toasts” each day too. With outdoor seating and a walk up window, I’d be here every day if I lived there.
  2. Kona Coffee Purveyors & Patisserie: They brew fancy. And make excellent coffee and baked goods. Located in Waikiki.
  3. Ali’i Coffee Co:  A Hawai’i based coffee company with a focus on light roasted coffees, delicious breakfast items, and freshly prepared sandwiches. They have some really unique drinks, like their Queen Latte – espresso, hazelnut syrup, toasted coconut flakes, and steamed milk! All of their coffees are roasted in their downtown Honolulu location.
The Best Places To Eat In Oahu: Arvo Coffee Shop - Honolulu - coffee in oahu

Breakfast in Oahu:

1. Koko Head Cafe: Think refined breakfast food that incorporates authentic hawaiian flavors at a hip and local diner, whose chef worked at the French Laundry and starred on Top Chef.

I ordered the Breakfast Congee, a slow simmered rice porridge with soft poached local egg, greens, crispy bacon, tamari glaze, toasted spices + seeds. It was incredible.

Breakfast Congee at Koko Head Cafe -- honolulu breakfast spot

2. Goofy Cafe & Dine: A strange name, a hidden location, but so worth finding. With an open-air, surfer vibe, they pride themselves on using local and organic food when possible.

Their menu is feel-good healthy without being boring. The farm fresh omelette I ordered was fantastic. Made with avocado, charred corn, spinach, local goat cheese and served with greens + brown rice. We also enjoyed dinner, but I preferred the breakfast.

The Best Places To Eat In Oahu: Farm Egg Omelette at Goofy's in Honolulu, fresh and organic restaurant on Waikiki Beach

3. Rainbow Drive-In: It’s not one bit fancy, but completely delicious. We went to this original drive-in after our sunrise hike at Diamond Head to refuel. I wanted to order the traditional loco moco, but the gravy had wheat flour, so I went with the classic egg and rice plate. And it totally hit the spot!

4. Leonard’s Bakery (pictured at top of this post): The famous home of the Portuguese donut, a soft and puffy Malasada. The friends in my group absolutely loved these, and couldn’t stop talking about the fried dough, just lightly sweet and custard filled.

Rainbow Drive-In Breakfast Plate, honolulu hawaii

Best Places to Eat on The North Shore of Oahu

This gorgeous, slow paced area is all about the food trucks and roadside stands. Definitely spend a day exploring! Haleiwa is the main town, with one road that takes you along the coast through surf country, the mountains, and ocean.

1. Matsumoto Shaved Ice: Nostalgia! Since 1953, Matsumoto’s has been making their famous shaved ice in a zillion different flavors. And honestly, no snow cone you’ve had on the U.S. mainland can compare.

It’s reminiscent of fluffy snow, super soft and icy.

10 Best Local Spots to Eat in Oahu -- Matsumoto's Shaved Ice

2. Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck: Garlic.Scampi.Shrimp and rice…. so simple, so good. And the constant line of people is there to prove it. The shrimp is incredibly juicy and flavorful.

You’d be wise to get there as soon as they open at 11am for an early lunch, otherwise you’ll probably wait about 40 minutes, but worth every minute.

The best shrimp truck in Oahu is Giovanni's! The scampi is the way to go, with lots of garlic butter.

3. Sunrise Shack {roadside}: In case you were wondering if bullet proof coffee and all the superfood trends like collagen, maca, ashwaganda, etc. the answer is yes – but only here. Pull up to the stand and you’ll see a few Vitamix’s, fresh fruit, and coffee accessories ready to make you something deliciously healthy.

We went for these papaya bowls, with local honey + granola, bananas, nut butter, cacao nibs, goji berries, and blueberries. Ultra refreshing.

Papaya Bowls - Sunrise Shack, North Shore Oahu

Lunch and Dinner Restaurants in Honolulu:

1. Helena’s Hawaiian Food: As you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, you shouldn’t judge a restaurant by it either. Off the beaten path, amongst a Honolulu neighborhood you’ll find Helena’s, she’s been serving authentic Hawaiian plates since 1946. And in 2000, she won a James Beard Award. I ordered the Kalua Pig with cabbage and Luau Chicken (like a slow simmered green coconut curry}. Amazing. Do not miss this spot. Cash only, most likely a wait.

2. Waiahole Poi Factory: All the dishes available at Waiahole Food Factory are inspired by the food you would find at a traditional Hawaiian Luau. They’ve created a place that shares Hawaiian culture through food while supporting farmers by maintaining an agricultural presence to nourish vital Hawaiian agricultural traditions. Their works plate has it all; Laulau, Kalua Pig, Chicken Long Rice, with choice of Beef Luau OR Squid Luau and choice of Rice OR Poi. Includes Lomi Salmon and Haupia.

3. Mud Hen Water: Hawaiʻi-born chef Ed Kenney’s modern interpretation of traditional Hawaiian food, and it’s fabulous. The biscuit + mapo gravy is a delicious brunch item they feature, and their version of a charcuterie plate called a “Seaboard”, featuring an assortment of locally caught fish. And don’t miss the Miso Butterscotch Rice Pudding!

4. Moku Kitchen: Great locally-sourced restaurant where their specialty is cooking over an open fire, rotisserie style. Including the most amazing “roasted vegetable” plate ever. It had cauliflower, brussels sprouts, corn, peppers, butternut squash…. just perfect. The burger was also excellent, with grassfed Hawaiian beef. And most importantly, crispy fries.

5. Dean & Deluca: Definitely not a local restaurant, as I’m sure many of you know of them here on the mainland, but their prepared foods, cheeses, and deli are amazing. Located just a short walk from Waikiki Beach, we picked up dinner and had a picnic as we watched the sunset. It was absolutely perfect.

And…….. with that, you can probably see that you won’t go hungry in Oahu. I know I didn’t cover everything, but this is what we were able to make it to in 7 days. Seek out local food, your tastebuds will thank you!

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March 8, 2017


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  1. Joele

    Leonard bakery,rainbow drive in ,matsumoto shave ice all over rated! Pipeline malasada,kaimuiki is bomb,shimizu shave ice school st and ice garden aiea is bomb, Grace’s drive in beretania is bomb,coffee and scones sure shot on wilder, hambugers cubbies wagon ward,Daley’s hambuger on nuuanu is bomb,kokohead grill for moist big scones,Lynn’s okazuya and plate lunch in pauoa cheap and good and fresh bake cookies to take home. For soup shabu shabu green apple on keamoku all you can eat. Sidekrock on keamokuthey have several locations shabu shabu all you can eat mests with side veggies is also bomb.

  2. Mija Ku-Sakata

    Some of eateries like Giovanni shrimp truck & Matsumoto shave ice are over rated. Been living here for 40 yrs. Suggest for shrimp Guieb cafe either in Kalihi or Wahiawa. For shave ice Island Snow in Kailua. They have both real & artificial syrup. 😋 Yummm.

    • Amanda Paa

      thank you so much for this tip and your local insight!

  3. Rich Swanson

    You left out Eggs & Things. Never left that place hungry.

    • Amanda Paa

      thank you for letting me know!

  4. Travis

    The only place I ate more than once on Oahu was Diner’s Upscale. Excellent comfort food and open 24/7

  5. Kim

    Thank you for taking the time to write this post. I have Celiac and am going to Oahu and Maui in a couple weeks. I’m a bit nervous about finding great things to eat and this made me hopeful!

    • Amanda Paa

      enjoy your trip!

  6. Kait

    Jorges Tacos and Ceviche in Haleiwa is one of my favorite spots!! Beer batter fish tacos at to DIE for!

  7. Del A

    Thank u for the suggestion on our trip to Oahu…We will definitely enjoy our trip there…Thank u again

  8. AU

    Don’t let a Hawaiian catch you calling it “shaved” ice. It’s “shave” ice. Just like in the name of the business, “Matsumoto Shave Ice.”

    • Jesus

      Hi! Just a heads up. Gorilla in the Cafe has closed. Not sure when. Yeah! I miss it too!

  9. Lisa

    These were such great suggestions! I’m not sure I would have found Goofy, even though it’s down the block from our hotel. We ate there several times. And loved Bills, kona and Sunrise Shack also. Thanks for doing recon for us all! :-)

    • amandapaa

      Yes, Goofy’s is so hidden! I’m really glad the suggestions were helpful. So fun to hear that you used them and enjoyed! xo

  10. Emily

    I don’t know why I find seeing all of what you ate in Hawaii so much fun, but I do. :) We absolutely love love Hawaii and would go there every year if we could. (Wouldn’t that be so great?!) We’ve spent most of our time in Maui and Kauai so it’s interesting to “explore” Oaha through your posts. So happy that you are able to go on this trip!

    • amandapaa

      omg, it would be so great to go every year. i tell brian’s dad that he needs to do that, as he is retired and they have the hotel for him because he is an airforce veteran! and then of course invite us to go again. :) i’ve heard so much about Kauai, and i’m putting it on our list. xo!

  11. Sandy@RE

    I’ve been to a few of those places, loved Leonard’s Bakery – a classic. And of course Matsumoto Shaved Ice – the BEST! Great post Amanda!

    • amandapaa

      that shave ice, if only they could make it like that in the mainland!

    • Catherine Pitts

      That bakery is so yummy. Right down the road from there is a cafe called Kings Pizza Cafe….they have huge slices of pizza for cheap! It’s the perfect combo with a doughnut. Well was for me anyways. :)

  12. Alison @Foodbymars

    This food looks fabulous!! Hawaii is on my list… so I’ll be bookmarking these places <3 xoxo

  13. Andi

    I want to jump on a plane just for that congee! I have done an eating vacation in Hawaii, in Hilo for a week! I researched, made a plan, and ate my way through! I absolutely love Hawaii, the food is out of this world!