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5 Days In Honolulu/Kailua/Kaneohe - Itinerary Feedback Requested

Hello there Hawaii CHs!

My husband and I will be going back to Maui and visiting some favorites from our last trip (Kihei Caffe, Mama's, Local Food, etc) but also stopping into Honolulu for 5 days on our way back to Manhattan. This will be a little after the New Year in 2013.

Previous trip report is here:
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/829797

Note that we are big cocktail fans but have very high standards (think artisanal cocktails made from fresh juice, handmade syrups, good ingredients, custom bitters, hand carved ice, etc), so I think a lot of the happy hours recommended on here will be unsatisfactory, especially to my husband. We're too used to drinking in Boston, DC, Chicago, NYC, I think. :) Wiling to pay for a high quality drink.

He is also not a fan of shrimp that you have to peel to eat -- so shrimp trucks are probably not in the cards for us. We do, however, love shave ice, poke, plate lunches, and want to eat lots of local food while we're here, as well as some Chinese and Japanese food.

We will also not have a car but will probably rent one for one day. Staying at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikuku.

My tentative itinerary:

- FRIDAY 1/4

Flight lands around 11am

Lunch at Ono Seafood - is this the best poke in the neighborhood?

Leonard's Bakery for malasadas afterwards

Shopping at Bailey's Antiques and Aloha Shirts

Shave ice at Waiola if there's room!

Drinks and snacks at House without a Key - to watch the early evening entertainment

7:45pm Fireworks from our room at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, Rainbow Tower, Oceanfront Room

Drinks and snacks at the Mai Tai Bar at the Royal Hawaiian - I'm thinking we just fill up on pupus this night?

Or Lewers Lounge at the Halekulani?

- SATURDAY 1/5

Early breakfast at the KCC Farmer's Market - BBQ abalone, chicken and waffles at Soul, kimchee fried rice with eggs and meat at Grandma G's? Or whatever the Pig & the Lady has on offer, though their menu doesn't seem very breakfasty. Any other standout vendors at the KCC Farmer's market? We plan to get there before it opens.

Hike Diamond Head

Plate lunches at Diamond Head Grill & Market after - plate lunches and a scone or two if there's room!

After this I think we'll need a nap on the beach.

Cocktails at Pint and Jigger before dinner? - Has anybody here been?

Dinner at Chef Mavro - strongly recommended by a friend who is from Honolulu, over Alan Wong or Roy's

SUNDAY 1/6

Brunch at Orchids at the Halekulani - I already booked for 9:30am, is this a good time? I rarely eat at buffets these days.

Leisurely drive to Lanikai Beach/Kailua/Kaneohe

Lunch at Fresh Catch - Or is Tamura's better for poke? JJ's? Or should we do something different like Dean's Drive In?

Shave ice at Shimazu Store before returning the rental car in Waikuku

Dinner at Nanzan Giro Giro - for their 7 course kaiseki for $50

MONDAY 1/7

Breakfast at Whole Ox Deli - foie gras eggs benedict sounds amazing!

Shopping at Ala Moana

Snacks at the Shirokiya Food Court

Dinner at Sushi Izakaya Gaku on King Street

TUESDAY 1/8

Dim sum at Tai Pan - recommended by a friend, how are their cheung fun or char siu bao?

Shopping on Nuuanu Ave / Chinatown

Grab some snacks for the plane in Chinatown

Our flight leaves at 5:30pm that evening.

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  1. Pretty ambitious itinerary food wise, but generally well thought out. My family and I just had the Sunday brunch at Orchids, and I can tell you it is my favorite brunch in all of Honolulu. Lots of nicely prepared, tasty food options, including salads, poke, sashimi, an omelet station, fruits and desserts, whole roast sucking pig, prime rib and roast turkey.

    So Sunday brunch at 9:30 am should fuel you for the day. I doubt if you will be hungry for lunch at noon, perhaps an afternoon snack would suffice. My son swears by the burger at Whole Ox and I'm hoping to try the hash and eggs one day myself. I love the food at Gaku, everything we've tried there has been delicious and carefully prepared, well worth the cost IMO. Have a great trip.

    1 Reply
    1. re: curiousgeo

      As soon as I told my husband that there was all you can eat poke at Orchids for their breakfast buffet, he was sold!

    2. Nice list of many of my favorites. What a way to feast! I usually don't end up hitting all the restaurants on that list in a single year although I wish I could!
      Just a few notes:

      Ono Seafood - definitely the best poke in that area.

      KCC Farmer's Market - Pig & the Lady's menu isn't breakfasty, but I can never seem to say no. I eat there pretty much every week as they always have something different on the menu. Can't go wrong with the chilaquiles or chicken and waffles at Soul either though. Kimchee fried rice with eggs and homemade hash are also a good tasty option from Grandma G's. The hardest part of my week is deciding what's for breakfast on Saturday's although Pig & the Lady usually wins out.

      Diamond Head Market & Grill - plate lunches and a scone are great, but you might have a hard time turning down a slice of one of their many cakes/pies as well!

      Chef Mavro - Can't go wrong here or Alan Wong's, but depends on what kind of atmosphere and type of food you are looking for. Mavro is more white linen intimate/formal, while Alan Wong's is more bistro casual/noisy but both deliver great food.

      Orchids - like curiousgeo says, it is the best brunch on Oahu.

      Fresh Catch - it's okay, but Tamura's & JJ's are both definitely better for poke. JJ's is probably the priciest of the bunch, but they do let you sample everything. Sometimes their case looks empty but just ask as they can make it fresh, although go too late and they may have run out. Easier to just go to Tamura's as you can pick up some liquid refreshment to go with your poke. If you are looking for an actual meal though (starch & main) Dean's Drive Inn is a good choice.

      I'm sure you'll have a great trip, or at the very least a great feast!

      4 Replies
      1. re: killersmile

        Might end up moving the trip to Kaneohe/Kailua to Monday, but JJ's is closed then.

        Does Tamura do poke bowls or just by the pound?

        1. re: kathryn

          Both depending on location.
          King Crab Poke, da bomb..

          1. re: russkar

            Do you happen to know if the Tamura's in Kailua does poke bowls? It's takeout, no seating, right?

            1. re: kathryn

              Tamura's is only Take out. But their quality is always high level.

      2. Wow, that's a lot of eating packed in a short time! Your Saturday looks especially full. Just wanted to mention that Diamond Head isn't a really big hike and won't make you ravenous -- in case you were factoring that into your three big meals for that day.

        Made in Hawaii is there at the KCC Market selling their mochi stuffed with red bean paste and strawberry. Haven't had their version, but I just love that stuff (and this is coming from someone who really isn't a big fan of mochi and red bean paste).

        I think that poke after your Orchids brunch may be overkill as they do have unlimited poke at Orchids.

        I'm sure Steve R would disagree but my opinion of Tai Pan is that it's just OK. I personally really wouldn't make a special trip out of it, especially as I think there's better dim sum in Flushing. The cheung fun was all right -- just a bit clumsily done with noodle sheets that were thicker than I would have liked. Never had the char siu bao as I find it too filling. I try to order the items that fill my stomach the least so I can try more variety. When I went there once, they were also out of 1/3 of their menu -- and I was there during a busy weekend around 11:30A. The thing that Tai Pan has going for it is that prices are cheap.

        No Ono for Hawaiian food? I prefer Helena's (especially for their pipikaula ribs!) but will probably be closed for the holidays on the days you'll be in Oahu. And I would think about renting your car for a weekday as the Windward beaches are so much nicer during that time. Weekends can get pretty crowded.

        11 Replies
        1. re: Miss Needle

          Thanks for the tips!

          After KCC Farmers Market & Diamond Head, we may end up just splitting a plate lunch.

          I now think we'll probably do Kaneohe on Monday, instead, so it won't be right after Orchids.

          For our last day, I wanted to check out Chinatown anyway (stores and sightseeing), so I'm not really sure what to do. There doesn't seem to be any really great breakfast places in Waikiki.

          Helena's is only open Tuesday through Friday, anyway. It'll be hard to squeeze in even if it is open.

          1. re: kathryn

            You're welcome!

            Too bad you're not renting a car for your entire stay. That would probably open you up to some breakfast places outside of Waikiki (and other tourist-related destinations). I'm not really a traditional breakfast person. Last time in Oahu I stayed at a condo and reheated leftovers for breakfast. But I can picture you liking something along the lines of Cinnamon's (chiffon guava pancakes, kalua pork eggs benedict, Hawaiian omelet), Liliha Bakery or Morning Glass Cafe. I know Eggs n Things in Waikiki seems REALLY popular with Japanese tourists. I don't know if it's popular because it's good or because it's in all the Japanese tour guide books. I'm sure others here would know better.

            I know planning an itinerary can be tough -- already went through a gazillion changes for my trip! Have you thought of doing Monday breakfast at a place like Cinnamon's (Kailua) followed by the windward beaches and doing The Whole Ox on Tuesday morning before heading out to Chinatown?

            1. re: Miss Needle

              Both Liliha Bakery or Morning Glass Cafe look like a 30 minute bus ride, unfortunately. Not sure I can stand that long to eat in the morning....

              For the Kailua day, we were planning on leisurely driving up there, stopping at any scenic places along the way (Oahu Revealed had a nice looking itinerary) so that's why I was thinking it would be more of a lunch stop.

              1. re: kathryn

                Just remembered, but for something a little different, Arancino di Mare is offering breakfast now. You can see a short sampling here: http://www.nonstophonolulu.com/blogs/...
                Also, Tango Cafe between Ala Moana & Ward Centre does a pretty good breakfast as well. You can check out their offerings on their website.

            2. re: kathryn

              Breakfast can be found@ Original Pancake House (Kapioloni & Dillingham) Apple Pancake or Dutch Baby, Omelets are wicked.
              Cafe' Kaila , Sweetie E's , Liliha Bakery, not to mention Dim Sum Places like Royal Garden (Ala Moana Hotel)

              1. re: russkar

                Thanks!

                I'd prefer to avoid chains unless they are Hawaii specific chains.

                1. re: kathryn

                  Original Pancake House is a very small chain of amazing breakfast foods that is no relationship to INTERNATIONAL House of Pancakes (which is horrible) . If you haven't tried it your missing out.

                  1. re: russkar

                    Umm. The Original Pancake House is a national chain with locations in over 25 states. The list of locations on their website is 3 pages long of 3 columns/page! That said, it is pretty good.

                  2. re: kathryn

                    Koa House in Kaneohe has great omelets and pancakes. Cinnamon's in Kailua is my favorite for breakfast (they do a salmon, tomato and spinach Benedict to die for), followed closely by Eggs and Things for their omelets. Michel's at the Colony Surf does some wonderful things for breakfast, and you're looking right out at the surf along Waikiki's Gold Coast. The Orchids Buffet is one of the best deals in the state.
                    I think one of the most overlooked places for great poke and Hawaiian food is Ruger Market. You get to make up your own ahi poke: what grade of tuna your want, what you want mixed in (from limu kohu to inamona, sesame oil to chili pepper water, etc.), and it's the freshest you can hope to find. They also make great lau lau and pipi kaula. Get some of their boiled peanuts for snacking, but make sure you get a lot of them because they're addictive!
                    If you're going to be in Kaneohe for lunch you might consider Masa and Joyce takeout (good okazuya and poke, some sushi, etc.) and going up the road to Ho'omaluhia Botanical Gardens for a picnic. There's a little 7-11 type market next door where you can get some beer to take along. Ho'omaluhia is beautiful and very quiet, nestled up against the base of the Ko'olau. The plants, all tropical, are representative of different places around the Pacific.
                    For Kailua beaches I recommend Kalama Beach Park (not to be confused with Kalama Beach Club, next door, which is private) on the grounds of the old Boetcher Estate. It's about halfway between Kailua Beach Park and Aikahi Shopping Center. There are only about 20 parking spaces there (if that many) so you might have to park on one of the side streets and walk there, but it is very quiet even on weekends and almost like a private beach. It has outdoor showers and bathrooms, but the estate house is closed to the public. I grew up one street away on the beach front and that remains my favorite beach in the entire world.
                    Have fun! I left Kailua and moved to an outer island a couple years ago but miss it so much! I'm officially jealous! :-)

                    1. re: KailuaGirl

                      Unfortunately Masa & Joyce look closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, when we'll be there (revised itinerary below).

                      Thanks for for the tips!

                      1. re: KailuaGirl

                        Thanks for the Kailua beach tip! Loved Kalama Beach Park. Very tranquil.

              2. The brunch at Halekulani should keep you full til midnight!!!!!

                1 Reply
                1. re: UES Mayor

                  If we're feeling lazy, we might just end up there for breakfast on a weekday, I'm thinking.

                2. Aloha..
                  When you hike Diamond Head, the food truck in the parking lot of the crater has the best $3 sliced fresh pineapple that is off the chain good..before and after..the last set of stairs you curse all the way up!
                  Halekulani for drinks and apps is lovely
                  Roy's Waikiki is outstanding..not your Mainland Roy's whatsoever.
                  Garlic Shrimp at Giovanni's North Shore is one of my faves.
                  I like to hit up the Top of Waikiki for old school happy hour and pupus.
                  Rum Fire at the Sheraton Waikiki has a great happy hour.

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: Beach Chick

                    Thanks for the pineapple tip.

                    As I mentioned above, husband is not a fan of shrimp that you have to peel to eat.. I assume that is what Giovanni's is.

                    We'd rather pay extra for excellent drinks (fresh juice, no sour mix, good liquors) than less for mediocre drinks, so we will be probably skipping happy hours. A view also doesn't matter that much for us.

                    1. re: kathryn

                      Gosh, I've been going to the islands for over 40 years and I never heard of the happy hours I've suggested using inferior product..I'm sure some do, but the places I referred you to, from what I have seen, do not.
                      The beloved Royal Hawaiian with their mai tai uses a little splash of simple syrup...the horror of it all.

                      1. re: Beach Chick

                        Do you know what rums they are using? Sour mix or not?

                        This is the recipe I use at home:

                        Mai Tai (Hawaiian)
                        * 1 oz. orange juice, fresh
                        * 1 oz. pineapple juice, unsweetened (preferably fresh)
                        * 1/2 oz. lime juice, fresh
                        * 1/4 oz. lemon juice, fresh
                        * 1/4 oz. orange curacao (Senor Curacao)
                        * 1/4 oz. orgeat syrup (Trader Tiki brand)
                        * 1/4 oz. simple syrup
                        * 1 oz. Demerara rum (El Dorado 15)
                        * 1 oz. dark Jamaican rum (Appleton Estate V/X or Extra)
                        * 1 oz. light Puerto Rican rum (on the recommendation of Beachbum Berry, sub in a light Virgin Islands rum like Cruzan white)

                        1. re: kathryn

                          I find it interesting to note you labeled your recipe a Hawaiian Mai Tai as most I ordered in Hawaii were some variation of this recipe/these juices as opposed to a classic, original Mai Tai, which, to me, should have only one juice, lime. They really are not the same drink at all and I didn't really enjoy any of the Mai Tais I had on my trip last week. The best Mai Tai I had was at House Without A Key at Halekulani Hotel which is supposed to have only lime juice, but I'm not so sure the ones we got didn't have a splash of pineapple juice. They were strong (too many others were weak in my estimation), but I still prefer the ones I made in our condo, which were a 7 count of Old Lahaina gold rum, a 4 count of Disarono, a 4 count of rock candy syrup, and a 6 count of fresh lime juice. i would've done a float of dark rum, but didn't want to buy a second bottle. I like mine pretty tangy, as you can see, but I like it balanced with quite a bit of sweetness and a strong rum flavor.

                          I didn't do an exhaustive search, but I think its pretty hard to find a really excellent Mai Tai in Hawaii, at least according to my tastes, even at the fancy restaurants and bars.

                          1. re: mwest9

                            Correct, it is a different drink. From Beachbum Berry's books, about the Hawaiian Mai Tai variation:
                            "From the Surf Bar of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Waikiki Beach, where Trader Vic introduced his original Mai Tai to the islands in 1953. Over the ensuing years, this recipe (which dates from 1971) evolved from Vic’s into its present form."

                        1. re: Miss Needle

                          Interesting, thanks for the heads up.

                          1. re: kathryn

                            Keep this in mind at at L'Aperitif "Long-sleeved collared shirt or jacket required for gentlemen" and Lewers Lounge "Attire: Evening attire for the ladies. No t-shirts, shorts or beachwear. Dress shirt, slacks and covered shoes for gentlemen."

                            I remember being chased out of Lewers by a lounge dragon many years ago when I was wearing shorts. Probably the only time I've experienced anything less than a welcoming attitude anywhere at the Halekulani.

                            I've witnessed them being a bit more discrete when they enforce their dress code now.

                        2. re: kathryn

                          Don't forget sunset under the banyan tree in the Moana Hotel's courtyard!
                          Lewer's Lounge is one of my favorite places to just hang out and listen to jazz. They can get kind of snooty, but that's not the norm.