Expect most of the Asian restaurants in Honolulu to be busy at mealtimes, so make reservations if you can or arrive before the crowds. Most are also fairly budget-friendly, offer delicious and unique menu items, and are not really tourist-focused, which helps contribute to their popularity with the locals.
On Kapahulu Avenue are three noteworthy Japanese restaurants. Irifune (563 Kapahulu Ave., 808/737-1141, 11:30 am-1:30pm and 5:30pm-9:30pm Tues.-Sat., $10-15) is a curious hole-in-the-wall with some of the best ahi on O‘ahu. The entire menu consists of some combination of garlic and ahi, served with local-style sides. This restaurant is very popular, and on the weekends you can expect a wait. They do have a bench outside. Park across the street in the pay parking lot, or there is street parking in the neighborhood behind the restaurant.
Tokkuri Tei (611 Kapahulu Ave., 808/732-6480, 11 am-2pm and 5:30pm-midnight Mon.-Fri., 5:30pm-midnight Sat., 5pm-10:30pm Sun., $4-50) is a popular izakaya restaurant offering traditional Japanese food with French and local influences. It takes several visits to sample the wealth of food on all 13 pages of the menu. It’s located on the second floor of Hee Hing Plaza, and there is valet parking under the plaza. Reservations are necessary.
At the opposite end of Kapahulu Avenue, just off the main drag, is another top-notch izakaya establishment offering traditional Japanese fare. Izakaya Nonbei (3108 Olu St., 808/734-5573, 5pm-11:30pm Mon.-Thurs., 5pm-1:30am Fri.-Sat., 5pm-10:30pm Sun., $6-25) is a small restaurant with a sushi bar and shared and private seating. They have a vast selection of sake and beer, but they are known for their frozen sake.
Sometimes the restaurants that are the hardest to find turn out to be the best. This is the case at Imanas Tei (2626 S. King St., 808/941-2626, 5pm-11:30pm Mon.-Sat., $6-10). Tucked away behind the 7-11, the traditional Japanese menu is a favorite with locals, as well as the chanko nabe, a hearty seafood stew. There are only a few designated parking stalls for Imanas Tei, so if they’re full, you’ll need to park at Puck’s Alley around the corner off University Avenue; the plaza has a paid parking lot.
Himalayan Kitchen (1137 11th Ave., #205, 808/735-1122, 11am-2pm and 5:30pm-10pm Tues.-Fri., 5:30pm-10pm Sat.-Mon., $11-22) serves Nepali and Indian cuisine in a small restaurant with indoor and patio seating. This second-story BYOB is a local favorite and often packed with those seeking their variety of vegetarian and meat dishes. The entrance to the restaurant is in an alcove between a gift store, a barbecue joint, an Italian restaurant, and a salon. There is a paid parking lot with ample parking.
Cafe Maharani (2509 S. King St., 808/951-7447, 5pm-10pm daily, $14-16) is an award-winning casual restaurant blending natural ingredients and a host of spices to create some of the most sought after Indian food in Honolulu.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.