Eating on an island means seafood — and lots of it. Maybe you’ve heard of the fish auction in Tokyo? Well, Honolulu is home to the largest fish auction in the U.S. If you wake up super early, you can take a tour and snag the freshest catches. Not an early bird? Not a problem. The city’s restaurants are there for you, stocking up on seafood that’s fresh, sustainable, and incredibly delicious. Skip the touristy joints, and find the spots where the locals go for ono kine grindz (that’s local speak for good eats).
Sushi and Poke
You’re in Hawaii, so at least trying sushi and poke is a must. If you haven’t won the lottery, head to Kozo Sushi for a no frills experience at the to-go counter. It’s not fancy, but it’s delicious and fresh. Donburi rice bowls are way under $10 a pop, and you can’t beat the $6.99 price on the 15-piece box of sushi. Yep, $6.99.
Poke is available all over the country, but you find the real deal on Oahu. Check out the positively old school Alicia’s Market in Kalihi, where you find a staggering 15 different kinds or more, including wasabi sea asparagus ahi, miso squid, and spicy king crab. Get some to go, and head to the closest beach for a picnic.
At Ala Moana shopping center, the Shirokiya Village Walk has 32 food kiosks serving everything from sushi to tempura and even octopus pancake balls. Deciding what you want to eat will be your biggest challenge because everything looks so good.
At Shirokiya, you also find a huge amount of Japanese street food and cheap eats like ramen, soba, yakitori, and curry. If you’re not in the mood to break the bank at a fancy sushi bar, head to a super affordable neighborhood joint that’s popular with families instead. Mr. Ojisan on Kapahulu, for example, has been a local favorite for ages. Dinner specials and combos include tempura and misoyaki butterfish. It’s a friendly spot, and the prices are way better than in the touristy area of Waikiki.
Shrimp trucks are unique to Oahu. Drive up the coast toward the North Shore to see shrimp lagoons that tell you good eats are close. One of the most popular spots on the North Shore is Giovanni’s. Just look for a truck with crazy graffiti. It’s not hard to spot. The thing to order is shrimp with garlic and lemon butter, served up with no pretense on paper plates. You can’t beat the combo of buttery shrimp, a picnic table, and a cooling sea breeze.
Nico’s is located just steps away from the seafood auction site on pier 38. The furikake pan-seared ahi with ginger garlic cilantro sauce is a top seller for good reason. Another top pick is the fried ahi belly, the richest part of the fish deep-fried and topped with a spicy tomato salsa. Seafood salads and sandwiches are excellent, and it’s all served quickly.
For an inexpensive, quick, delicious meal, you can’t beat a plate lunch. Rainbow Drive-In has offered local style “grindz” for more than 50 years. For less than $10, you can get ono — also known as wahoo — with tartar sauce along with two scoops of rice and macaroni salad, or order it as a sandwich.
You may have heard of Ethel’s Grill, a hole in the wall featured on “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” and in Saveur magazine. Now the family has opened Red5 next to the pool at the Oahu Club in Hawaii Kai. If you’re looking for ahi, this is the place. Signature dishes like the ahi tuna tataki and the garlic ahi plate are available along with lighter salads and poke bowls. It’s the kind of place you can go in your bathing suit and flip flops — no club membership required.
Have you found great seafood in Honolulu? Head to our Facebook page to share your favorite spots.