hawaii restaurants

In some Hawaii restaurants, you’ll see guidebook recommendation plaques, guidebook door stickers and signed guidebooks, but you won’t see ours. The reason? We never tell them when we’re there. We review everything on the island anonymously. We’re more interested in being treated like everyone else than in copping a free meal. How could you trust our opinion if the restaurant knew who we were and gave us special treatment in the hopes of a better review?

By their reviews, many guidebooks lead you to believe that every meal you eat in Hawaii restaurants will be a feast, the best food in the free world. Frankly, that’s not our style. Hawaii, like anywhere else, has ample opportunity to have lousy food served in a rotten ambiance by uncaring waiters.

In our guidebooks and app, Hawaii Restaurants that stand out from the others in some way are highlighted with an ONO symbol. The following restaurants have all earned an ONO in our books, and our descriptions let you know why.

Maui Hawaii Restaurants

Leilani’s on the Beach

leilani's on the beach
Leilani’s on the Beach

Two totally different menus and two totally different experiences at these Hawaii restaurants. Downstairs, the Beachside Grill menu is a bargain, considering the location and setting vs. the price. The bar is popular and gets loud. The sriracha-guava chicken wings are a tasty, if overpriced, appetizer at the beachside setting. (Killer Hula Pie dessert.) You can order this menu at lunch or dinner. $16–$27. For the regular dinner menu upstairs at Leilani’s on the Beach, it’s mostly steak, seafood and ribs for $23–$55. Usually good service and fairly good food, but with a tasty view, hence the ono. At Whalers Village. Often busy, reservations recommended, though they do reserve some space for walk-ins.

Kimo’s

Kimo's
Kimo’s

Dreamy location along the water’s edge for lunch. Dinner is upstairs and slightly away from the water. (Some of the otherwise excellent dinner views are cut off by the roofline.) Lunch items are hit or miss, but mostly pretty good. Good burgers (need better fries, though). Their Hula Pie for dessert is worth the accolades. At dinner you can eat downstairs (which at night is designated as the bar) where some cheaper items are available. Otherwise, dinner is steak and seafood, usually with good results. Kimo’s has a good atmosphere and usually good food. $14–$22 for lunch. $25–$50 for dinner (except the cheaper burgers). Good place for a sunset cocktail.

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Big Island Hawaii Restaurants

Beach Tree

Fantastic beachside setting with expansive ocean views at the Four Seasons Hualalai, 14 miles north of Kona. Mixed menu of gourmet pizza, sandwiches, burgers, a few grilled items, and salads at lunch. Dinner is steak, seafood and pasta. Lots of locally sourced ingredients (including wild boar hunted on the Big Island). Impeccable service. $20–$40 for lunch, $20–$70 for dinner. They get an ono because of its great food and setting. But we’re talking painfully expensive. If you’re after seafood and the above prices seem trivial, check out the Four Season’s other restaurant, ‘Ulu Ocean Grill & Sushi Lounge.

Jackie Rey’s Ohana Grill

jackie rey's
Jackie Rey’s Ohana Grill

The majority of customers are local, in part because it’s not on touristy Alii Drive, but mostly because Jackie Rey’s excels in every detail, from well-made drinks to decadent desserts. (Except, avoid the dessert drinks.) The appetizer portions are small but tasty and the dinner entrées—fish, steak, pasta and ribs—are attractively presented. The chef here definitely knows how to combine flavors, such as the kalua pork springrolls. Lunch is also good with an array of smart salads and sandwiches, burgers and some odds and ends.

Oahu Hawaii Restaurants

Hy’s Steak House

hy;s steakhouse
Hy’s Steak House

A wonderfully elegant steak house that serves the best steak on the island, bar none. They clearly use top-notch ingredients, and their preparation skills are superb. The excellent steak selection is augmented by some seafood, including lobster. The staff seems happy and relaxed, not stuffy. (They wear tuxedos, but you’ll be fine in collared shirts and long pants—or dresses, if you prefer.) The glassed-in grill room is a beautiful addition to an upscale yet comfortable atmosphere with music some nights. Overall, though the price is almost as high as Morton’s, we don’t feel gouged here and look forward to re-reviewing whenever we can justify the price. $35–$60 for dinner, with a few pricier items.

Top of Waikiki

top of waikiki
Top of Waikiki

Every table here gets the best views—eventually. That’s because the whole restaurant slowly turns to give you a 360-degree view of the city, ocean and Diamond Head. It takes one hour to make a full revolution, and the views are excellent, though a small number of people will find the movement unsettling when suddenly looking up. They advertise sunset specials, but, unfortunately, the sunset view isn’t as spectacular as they would have you believe. (There are a couple buildings that block the horizon where the sun sets during parts of the year.) $40–$65 a plate—more for surf and turf—with top-notch service and expertly prepared seafood, beef, poultry and some vegetarian options. The ginger pesto crusted monchong with soy mustard sauce literally melts in your mouth. We also like the kurobuta pork chop. The centrally located bar is a great place to come for $5–$9 happy hour drinks and $8–$16 pupus. Look around for the exit before you leave. It’s probably going to be in a different spot than when you entered, and you may end up doing a lap before you leave. Dinner only. No beach attire, and reservations recommended.

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Kaua‘i Hawaii Restaurants

Art Café Hemingway

art cafe hemingway
Art Café Hemingway

An old school, artsy atmosphere unlike other Hawaii restaurants on Kauai. The menu changes twice a week, depending on which owner is cooking. (Mon.–Thurs. is owner A, other days is owner B.) They have a brunch from 8 a.m.–2 p.m. that brings some cool egg dishes as well as a few surprises. For instance, the kabocha (squash) coconut curry stew, which includes edible hibiscus flowers, is worth trying. Coffees are tasty but a bit pricey, and they have a nice selection of black and herbal teas. Dinner might bring the curry, a fresh catch, a steak, prawns, scallops, lamb chops or mushroom risotto. Flavors here might not be for everyone, but it’s fun to experiment, hence the ono. Some portions are fine; others such as the vegan muesli are ridiculously small, and this almost cost them their ono. So inquire about portions before ordering.

Oasis on the Beach

oasis on the beach
Oasis on the Beach

They have an awesome, breezy location next to the beach in front of the Waipouli Beach Resort with a thatched, woody atmosphere. Small but well-chosen menus using fresh local ingredients with clever preparations. Breakfast has lots of recognizable favorites with a local twist (love the Oasis Hash made with short ribs). Lunch has local beef burgers, fish tacos and a few other items. Their drink called okolehao is tasty and potent, and we like their beer selection. Prices ain’t cheap, but most of the entrées can come as a half portion for less money, and the results work for us. Dinner brings a small menu of steak and seafood plus many pupus. Service is usually (but not always) good. They have a pretty cool catamaran bar in back. You’ll have to park on either side of the resort and stroll along a beachside path to the restaurant.


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More things to reveal in the app:

  • Reviews on Hawaii Resorts with their locations
  • Reviews on every single beach on the islands
  • Interactive maps of Kauai, Maui, Oahu and the Big Island
  • Details to help plan your visit to Hawaii’s best sights, tours, activities and more
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