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Jan 9, 2009 07:03 AM

Best Chinese Restaurant in Honolulu Chinatown?

Please offer your suggestions. My wife and I are staying in Waikiki for two nights in May. We are going back to Alan Wong's but want to hit up Chinatown for the other night.

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  1. I suggest you consider doing chinatown some afternoon and having lunch rather than dinner. With the open markets, lei stands, galleries. and other stores open only during the day it is a much more interesting place before 5pm. Frankly, it is not someplace I would send the average tourist on a typical weeknight. If you happen to be there for "First Friday" (the first Friday evening of every month), its a different story, but then the restaurants are packed.

    In any case my recommendation would be Little Village Noodle House, one of the best Chinese restaurants in Honolulu. if not that, then Legends in the Cultural Plaza. Legends also has a restaurant in Waikiki.

    Other considerations would be Royal Garden in the Ala Moana Hotel, Happy Days in Kaimuki, and Hee Hing in Kapahulu. Unlike many cities, good Chinese food is found outside Chinatown in Honolulu.

    1. As KaimukiMan advised, Chinatown is best visited during the daylight hours. There are actually several good spots to eat there but the more favorable thing to have is dim sum at either Legends or places on Maunakea Street near King. Note that Legends closes at 2PM but opens up later for dinner. Happy Gardens in Kaimuki would be my choice for good local Chinese cuisine at reasonable prices. The food and service are excellent and parking is convenient in the back public lot. They also serve OK dim sum at lunch but not as good as Legends.

      1. If you are sensitive to MSG, be aware that Hawaii is a place where you will still find MSG in the food of many restaurants, so it's always a good thing to ask about. Two places popular with locals and ilocated n Mo'ili'ili which is very convenient to Waikiki are:
        OnOn, located on the corner of McCully & Young Street;
        Maple Garden, located on Isenberg St.

        OnOn - Corner of McCully & Young Street. If you are sensitive to MSG

        1. I suggest a dim sum lunch at one of these restaurants in Chinatown: Legends, in the Chinese Cultural Plaza; Mei Sun at the corner of Pauahi and Smith Streets and Good Luck Cafe, at the corner of Maunakea and Beretania St.

          All three serve dim sum from carts so you can just point to what looks interesting to you.

          12 Replies
          1. re: honu2

            Thank you for the suggestions and tips regarding Chinatown. I am familiar with a majority of dim sum offerings so it sounds like this would be the best thing to do instead of dinner.

            1. re: honu2

              How would you say dim sum on Oahu compares to dim sum in other places (Bay Area, LA, etc) or any other places you've had dim sum in terms of quality and price?

              1. re: kc72

                In my opinion the better dim sum places in Honolulu, like Legend and Royal Garden rate a solid B quality wise. This is compared to the best places in Vancouver, BC or the South Bay area such as Millbrae or Daly City. Happy Days, Hee Hing and Mei Sum would rate a grade lower than that, maybe a C or C+. Totally agree with the Little Village Noodle House recommendation in Chinatown for a meal.

                1. re: curiousgeo

                  Thanks for your ratings -- how about price-wise?

                  1. re: kc72

                    I don't think Honolulu has anything comparable to the best dim sum places in Vancouver or in the San Gabriel valley. Legends and Royal Gardens are expensive, comparable in price and quality to Yank Sing in San Francisco. Mei Sun and Happy Day are medium range in price in my opinion, but are good value. Good Luck cafe is a find, in that the prices are very reasonable for the quality. My aunt and I had 4 kinds (leaf wrapped mochi rice; shrimp dumplings; chive dumplings, fish fllet and fake crab wrapped in bean curd) on Saturday and the price was $10. Chinese is the main language spoken; no tourists and just a sprinkling of other locals.

                    1. re: honu2

                      wow... Yank Sing prices?

                      I'll add Good Luck Cafe, Happy Day and Mei Sum to my list of restaurants. Chinese won't be a problem for me as long as its Cantonese. Is it true Mei Sum serves dim sum until the evenings?

                      Any other non-dim sum recs for me?

                      1. re: kc72

                        Mei Sum only has cart service till around 2, but you can order off the menu after that.

                        I pretty much agree with all the various comments above, now I have to go find Good Luck Cafe. Honu2, where is it located?

                        1. re: KaimukiMan

                          Diamond head-makai corner of the Chinese Cultural Plaza, on the corner of Beretania and Maunakea. Can't miss the red lanterns on the outside.

                          Joyful Gardens in Kaneohe is also good, by the way.

                          1. re: honu2

                            Will have to try GOOD LUCK CAFE and get back to this thread. Recently went to Joyful Gardens in Kaneohe, some dishes good, had shrimp/veggies, house crispy noodles, taro basket. NO to custard, baked egg cream and steamed egg cream, the filling was disappointing. The chinese chicken salad was cabbage with thin thousand island dressing. I am used to chinese chicken salad with white vinegar dressing and iceberg lettuce and wonton strips with lots of shredded chicken.

                            1. re: Cousin Anna

                              Our favorite chinese chicken salad on the Windward side is at Pah Ke's in Kaneoehe...dressing is made with orange juice, ginger and a touch of peanut butter to thicken. Delicious.

                              Thanks for the steer to Good Luck Cafe -- will have to try it next time in Honolulu.

                              We would also recommend lunch (had best results at Legends) over dinner. Have enjoyed Little Village for dinner.

                              1. re: MRMoggie

                                Actually in my view the best salad at Pah Ke's is his spinach salad, with Kau orange segments and candied walnuts and a no-fat dressing. (Like the desserts, which are more Halekulani than Chinatown Chinese --think soy panne cotta -- his salads are very creative.)

                                2199 Kalia Rd, Honolulu, HI 96815

                                1. re: honu2

                                  <<Like the desserts, which are more Halekulani than Chinatown Chinese --think soy panne cotta -- his salads are very creative.)>>

                                  Funny you should mention that.....

                                  2199 Kalia Rd, Honolulu, HI 96815

            2. I'm an old timer who lived on Oahu in 1952. Finally left in 1972. Then the best Chinese restaurant I found was King Tsin. I visited many time through the 1970s and King Tsin suddenly became, not just poorer, but BAD. Since then I have visited less often. But my family and I are coming back this summer. What we are looking for is a Chinese restaurant that is as good as King Tsin in the late 60s and early 70s. Can anyone help?

              6 Replies
              1. re: linfreeman

                Trying to get people in Honolulu to agree on really good chinese food is like asking what the best beach is. None the less, among the best or best known for being good, each of them have fans and detractors I have listed a few. I have enjoyed meals at all of them. At all of them I find both the food and service are better if you go with regulars, especially if they speak the language and order somewhat off the menu.

                Royal Garden at the Ala Moana Hotel. good selection, very good food, not 'outstanding'
                Happy Days in Kaimuki. really good dim sum, well above average food, reasonable service
                Hee Hing on Kapahulu. used to be very very good, not the same location you remember
                On-On at McCully & Young. really really good, but again never had an outstanding dish there
                Little Village Noodle House, Downtown: very popular, great atmosphere, good service
                Kirin on Beretania near University: popular among former Hong Kong residents

                Duk Kee, Kaimuki: an old hawaii standard, still really good everyday chinese.
                Dew Drop Inn, Makiki on Beretania, another really good but not fantastic
                Asia Manoa; some people really love this place. chinese food for old manoa japanese
                Mini Garden (I prefer the downtown location): basic, better if you speak chinese, good food.

                Pah Ke's in Kaneohe the best on the windward side, some say on the island,
                Moon Garden in Kalihi, fairly new, gaining popularity (I havent been here yet)

                If nothing else this should at least get some discussion going about the places I mentioned, the places I didn't, the places i shouldn't have, and the places i should have. All in all Chinese food has Improved greatly in Honolulu since you left in the early 70's. McCully Chop Suey, if it were still open, would no longer rate among the best, and King Tsin would be among the better, but not as unique as it was at the time.

                Little Village Noodle House
                1113 Smith St, Honolulu, HI 96817

                Dew Drop Inn
                1088 S Beretania St, Honolulu, HI 96814

                Happy Day
                3553 Waialae Ave, Honolulu, HI 96816

                Moon Garden Restaurant
                578 N Vineyard Blvd, Honolulu, HI 96817

                Hee Hing Restaurant
                449 Kapahulu Ave Ste 101, Honolulu, HI 96815

                1. re: KaimukiMan

                  Another good report Kman. As I read people's likes and dislikes, I have to remind them that taste is purely subjective. What is good to someone may be terrible for another. For example, to compare LA's cuisine or Vancouver's to Honolulu's is kind of unfair in a way. Cultures are different and tastes may be different? I personally love the old local Cantonese style dishes which can only be found in the islands and I also love our San Gabriel Valley eclectic Chinese cuisine. Much has to do with what you were brought up with. To each his/hers own.

                  1. re: Clinton

                    Having grown up in the San Francisco Bay Area with it's own unique take on Chinese, I agree completely with you Clinton. Even with a smaller demographic it can be true too. The men at the church I attend are really fond of Duk Kee, much more the 'local cantonese' style you mentioned, while the women tend to prefer Happy Day, more Hong Kong influence, and somewhat fancier.

                    Happy Day
                    3553 Waialae Ave, Honolulu, HI 96816

                    Hong Kong Cafe
                    4-361 Kuhio Hwy Spc 4, Kapaa, HI 96746

                    1. re: KaimukiMan

                      Sure, tastes differ. That's why I mentioned my love of the older, good, King Tsin. That, along with Toronto's Lai Wah Heen, rank at the top according to my personal taste and experience. But, let me add that I ate lunch at McCully Chop Suey at least once a week for many years. I'm very fond of old-style Hawaiian Cantonese food. But I would argue that King Tsin, and particularly Lai Wah Heen, have a sophistication and subtlety that the McCully-type restaurants lack. And that's what I'm looking for.

                      1. re: linfreeman

                        I'd give Little Village and/or Happy Day a try, maybe Kirin. Stay away from Mandalay, and I go back and forth on Hee HIng - I suspect the food goes back and forth there too.. from really good to not so hot.

                        Happy Day
                        3553 Waialae Ave, Honolulu, HI 96816

                  2. re: KaimukiMan

                    My family and I recently had dinner at the Royal Garden in the Ala Moana Hotel. This was our first dinner there in maybe 10+ years, we usually go there for dim sum several times a year. It was a very good meal, well prepared, tasty food, definitely a notch above the usual local style chop suey houses. Prices were also a bit higher, but not exorbitantly so. A place we will keep in mind for future dinners.