In the years leading up to COVID-19, a wave of restaurateurs from the continental U.S. and abroad were opening restaurants in Honolulu, with everyone from Japanese conglomerates to Michael Mina setting up shop. This was nothing new — outside interests have been looking to make money in Hawai‘i for centuries — but simultaneously, Honolulu’s homegrown businesses were riding that wave of excitement to expand themselves. Tiny mom-and-pop restaurants opened second locations, while established local chains expanded their reach. More and more chefs over the last decade worked harder to learn about Hawai‘i’s history and culture and respectfully incorporate aspects into their restaurants. That is to say, diners in Honolulu were a bit spoiled for choice.
COVID-19 hasn’t entirely dampened that momentum. New restaurants continue to open. Both local and foreign eateries continue to fight to stay open, even as many places close around them. The city’s famed King Street is a reflection of the times: The doors are closed forever at famed spots such as Alan Wong’s. Yet others, like M by Chef Mavro and Sushi Sasabune, are facing the challenge, repackaging their high-end fare for some of the most luxurious takeout on the island (at relatively reasonable prices, too). Elsewhere, fiercely loyal diners have helped sustain enduring icons like Helena’s Hawaiian Food. Some restaurants have found success by pivoting to weekly takeout-only menus, like the rotating prix fixe option at elegant Senia, while others have doubled down on the comforting malasadas, noodles, and stews that diners are craving, now more than ever. And if there is a silver lining in the pandemic, it might look like the new outdoor dining areas that have popped up outside restaurants. Temporary city permits have made al fresco dining an option in a city once surprisingly averse to the practice.
Pre-pandemic, there were many ways to enjoy a meal in town, from industry haunts popular with chefs to cheap eats to a full-blown eating tour through the Hawaiian islands. While the spots in those guides still very much deserve patronage, it’s worth looking at the Honolulu restaurants that are surviving and even thriving during this trying year. From stellar sushi to poke by the pound, from the Ritz-Carlton to roadside shacks, here’s where you should be eating right now.
Note: A number of Honolulu restaurants have resumed dine-in service, but their inclusion here should not be taken as an endorsement for dining in, as there are still safety concerns. Studies indicate that there is a lower exposure risk when outdoors, but the level of risk involved with patio dining is contingent on restaurants following strict social distancing and other safety guidelines. For updated information on coronavirus cases in your area, please visit One Oahu.
All the restaurants on this list offer takeout. Those with outdoor dining are indicated.
Prices per person, excluding alcohol:
$ = Less than $10
$$ = $10 – $20
$$$ = $20 – $40
$$$$ = More than $40
Martha Cheng is the food editor at Honolulu Magazine, the author of The Poke Cookbook, and a writer for national publications.