These are the places that have left an unforgettable impression on our taste buds, and in many cases, made my husband and I regulars at these must-try spots.
Best Breakfast: Crepes No Ka Oi
This husband-and-wife owned spot in Kailua used to draw long lines out to the street for their famous Ultimate Breakfast Crepe, only available until it sells out – which it does. The wait was always worth it, but now they’ve upgraded to a bigger space on Hekili Street. While there is some serious competition around when it comes to breakfast, Crepes No Ka Oi stands out with their unique menu. Healthy options are easy to find, and their elegant tea list is a hot selling point. My personal favorite? The Vegetarian: melted Jack and Cheddar cheese, mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes, sautéed sweet onions, and black olives.
Best Pancakes: Koa Pancake House
When talking about breakfast, we can’t overlook the pancake competition here. There are some serious contenders that lure tourists and locals alike: Cinnamon’s, Mokes, Boots & Kimo’s. I’ve tried them all and I’ve loved them all, but I keep going back to Koa Pancake House in Kaneohe. Maybe it’s because this was the first breakfast spot my husband took me to when I moved here, adding sentimental value, but it also scores brownie points for never having a wait greater than 10 minutes. My usual order? Blueberry pancakes in coconut syrup.
Best Cafe: Morning Brew Kailua
This Kailua favorite is one of the more established spots on our list, opening back in 1995 by two local high school sweethearts. They’ve grown from serving the quaint small beach town that Kailua used to be to today’s growing mix of tourists and locals, moving into a bigger location in 2008 from their original spot next door. The atmosphere rocks, staff is always smiling, and anything you order is going to be awesome. My favorite is the Funky Monkey Latte paired with their hearty Breakfast Burrito or Havarti and Spinach Scramble.
Best Acai Bowl: Lanikai Juice
Acai bowls are a weekly craving for my husband and I. We can’t stop going back to Lanikai Juice in Kailua for the Acai Extravaganza Bowl, topped with strawberries, blueberries, banana, granola, coconut, and honey. It’s just so perfect, and now that they’ve renovated and expanded their shop it has significantly helped with the long lines – which were always worth the wait anyways.
Best Smoothie: Jewel or Juice
Have to give this one to Jewel or Juice. You won’t find your typical strawberry banana smoothie here; they’ve got a serious menu of juices and smoothies with your health top of mind. There are so many smoothies to choose from, it is broken down into major categories: Dairy free, Specialty, Refreshing, or Soy-Creamy. The pink papaya from “Soy-Creamy” is a favorite of mine, made with papaya, strawberries, organic soy milk, honey, and fat-free yogurt. But seriously, you have to check out this impressive menu for yourself.
Best Lunch: Aloha Salads
My most frequented lunch spot, Aloha Salads was founded by a husband-and-wife duo who left careers in law and finance to start this farm-to-table concept. They use fresh, local ingredients topped with homemade dressings; it’s no wonder they’ve grown from one location in 2006 to now five. Most restaurants make salads an afterthought, and here, it is their focus – and they do it right. Getting my greens has never tasted so amazing. My favorite? I have FOUR! I’ll share one: The Goddess – papaya, avocado, almonds, mixed greens, goddess dressing. Note* don’t mind the extra avocado pictured, I’m slightly obsessed.
Best Plate Lunch: Mike’s Huli Chicken
Honestly, any food truck you stop at along the North Shore is delicious. But we catch ourselves stopping more frequently at Mike’s Huli Chicken, where my husband gets the garlic shrimp and I love the Kalua Pork plate. Their mac salad is made just right, and any meat you order is consistently grilled to perfection, flavored with traditional Hawaiian sea salt. It’s no surprise they’ve made it on the Food Network.
Best Shrimp Tacos: North Shore Tacos
When we pulled off the Kamehameha Highway to break up the long North Shore drive one day, we were lured into North Shore Tacos from their outdoor signage proclaiming best tacos around. After trying their shrimp tacos, fresh island fish quasedilla, and gnarly nachos, we’ve since been back too many times to count. Located in Hauula, a good hour drive from our home, we will make the trek JUST for this food. The best part is their casual indoor/outdoor location where we can bring our dog. They also have a food truck in Haleiwa.
Best Nachos: Ola at Turtle Bay
This deserves its own category for me because I’m a nacho fanatic. Too often restaurants fail to serve up nachos properly. Either the proportions are off or the toppings are boring. I usually make my own nachos at home because of the repeated let down when we’re out, but I’m so glad I tried Ola’s Kalua Pork Nachos for an appetizer one night. This order comes with Kalua Pork, Goat Cheese, Asian Guacamole, Maui Onion Sour Cream, and Ginger Plum Sauce. Sadly, Ola is closing this year so you better try them soon.
Best Dinner: Mama’s Fish House
We didn’t hesitate to give this title over to our friends on Maui. The accolades and reviews lured us in – Open Table names it second-most popular restaurant in the country, and Trip Advisor names it among the nation’s top 10 fine dining restaurants. We have to agree. Everything was spot on from the food, service, to the overall experience. We started with their lobster guacamole appetizer served with taro chips, which was simple but delicious, followed by fresh seafood caught locally by Maui fishermen. What we ordered may not be on the menu anymore, as their menu evolves based on what’s in season. It was so delicious we ate it before we could take a picture – that’s when you know it’s good.
Best Fancy Night Out: Roy’s Original Hawaii Kai
This place never disappoints, and their original location in Hawaii Kai is beautiful at sunset. Any time I’ve needed a fancy date with the husband, this has been our go-to spot. We adore this place so much so that we’ve spent our New Years with them, splurging on their delectable holiday fixed menu. I can’t stay away from Roy’s Classic Roasted Macadamia Nut Hawaiian Opah for dinner, followed by the most magical dessert on island: Melting Dark Chocolate Soufflé with Vanilla Ice Cream.
The Hidden Gem: Kalapawai Cafe & Deli.
As its name implies, it’s an adorable cafe and deli by day, (not to be confused with
its sister market down the street on S. Kalaheo) but it took me two years to realize that it completely transforms by night. Come back for dinner and you will be wined and dined, wondering if you’re at the same place where you grabbed a
muffin and latte earlier. Chef Jason Iwane has a mouth-watering menu. One of my favorites? House made Okinawan sweet potato & goat cheese ravioli w/asparagus, roasted grape tomato &Lemon- thyme brown butter sauce.
Best Dessert: Otto Cake
Yup, hands down, Otto Cake serves the best dessert in Hawaii, but you must love
cheesecake because that’s his specialty. For $5 a slice, you’ll find out just how heavenly this classic cake can be when influenced by the flavors of paradise: banana coconut, lilikoi, and kona macadamia nut are just some of the flavors that will change your life.
Best Ice Cream: Lucy’s Lab Creamery
While our minds wandered to dessert, it didn’t seem right to overlook ice cream, so we gave it a category. Though better known for shave ice in Hawaii, yours truly still prefers ice cream to cool off on a hot summer day. It took me three years to find this place, but it has certainly left an impression. What makes them so good? Their flavors! Bacon whiskey for me, and nutella for the hubby.
Best Chocolate: Manoa Chocolate Hawaii
Did you know Hawaii is the only state in the nation that can grow cacao? This Oahu-based bean-to-bar chocolate company uses premium cacao both locally and from around the globe, offering the highest quality chocolate bars that come in the most innovative flavors your taste buds will ever come to know. The Alii Kula Lavender, Goat Milk, and Hawaiian Sea Salt are our usual temptations.