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Help with Aulani (Ko Olina) Trip

We are going to be staying at Aulani for 6 nights. I've heard the food is pretty weak (okay, that might be an understatement!) at the resort, and really no better at the Marriott next door. We will definitely make some trips to the Island Market/ABC Store across from the hotel, and know that there are grocery stores in Kapolei. So here's what I'm looking for:

- Someplace casual and kid-friendly to stop for dinner on the way from HNL to Aulani. My 4 year old will be tired after a long flight, so please, nothing fancy :-)

- Family-friendly dinner recommendations in/around Ko Olina so that we don't have to eat at the resort every night.

- One special-occasion type restaurant for an anniversary dinner without the 4 year old, also near Ko Olina (but we will have a car, so any reasonable distance will work). Note that we are from Los Angeles, so a reasonable drive could be 45 minutes or so.

The kiddo likes Japanese, Italian, and American...but is not too adventurous with much of anything else.

Thanks for your help!

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  1. I have no knowledge of Aulani food. There is a Japanese buffet in the Marriot that is OK IF (1) you want to eat a lot (or let the kid eat a lot of desserts), and (2) you have a half-price coupon. Also in Ko Olina is Roy's, but the weakest link in the chain. The only big grocery stores in Kapolei are Costco and Safeway until 10/17, when Foodland opens, plus Down-To-Earth and Target, both off the H-! at the first Kapolei exit.

    What day and time will you land?

    There is a good lunch place in a biodynamic farm up the Waianai Coast. If you see people grilling chickens (Huli-Huli chicken) by the road, STOP and buy some. Kapolei has all the usual suspects e.g. Chili's plus Boston and Brick Oven pizzas and some local rests. discussed below.

    The best rest, in the Western half of Oahu probably is Thai Lao in Kapolei. It is family/child friendly and offers what I am sure is pleasing fried chicken (and breaded, deep-fried calamari strips) as well as excellent Northern Thai cuisine (if you're into that sort of thing). It is also small, occasionally crowded (so take-out), and upscale e.g. linen napkins and real flowers the last time I looked. Also notable in Kapolei is Julie'Z Filipino.

    In 45 min. you should be able to get into town e.g. Alan Wong, Mavro, etc. nearly any time of day (except A.M.), but probably not over to Le Bistro in Hawaii Kai.

    Any questions?


    1. I agree that the buffet (only certain nights of the week) at Ushio Tei is fine/OK but when are you going? The Ihilani is currently closed for renos until mid-November.

      Recent reports of that Roys indicate a possible improvement in food quality.

      Monkeypod Kitchen is supposed to open later this year.

      It's pretty slim pickin's out here. I'll be at Beach Villas later this month and will report back.

      Is this the farm? http://kahumanafarms.org/

      What does everyone think of Highway Inn?

      1. Thanks for the info. We will be visiting the first week of November, so it sounds like the Ihilani is not an option.

        Our flight arrives on a Saturday at about 2:00PM local time. While it will be in between lunch and dinner times, it will be 5:00 for us...and my son will be getting hungry! So if there's something anywhere in between the airport and resort, that would be great.

        Unfortunately, Thai and Filipino won't work with our group. I know about Roy's. Every time I go (at least in California), I wonder why I just spent so much money on food I didn't really enjoy. I was hoping it would be better in HI!

        So...still looking for the Saturday meal, and maybe Italian, Japanese or American near the resort.

        I've been to Alan Wong...could go back, but was thinking maybe we'd try someplace we haven't been. Mavro? I'll look into that one :-)

        4 Replies
        1. re: WestsideLisa

          I'm with you on mainland Roys. Every time I go to one, I leave wondering why I just ate there. I would say that the Ko Olina one is or used to be on par with mainland ones. However recent reports have led me to be hopeful :)

          We've enjoyed our meals at Mavro but it's been a few years since we were last there.

          1. re: WestsideLisa

            For quick family dinner, there is Denny's at Kapolei Commons - just off the freeway before Ko Olina.

            In Aulani, there is Ama-Ama fine dining, expensive. Then there is Makahiki with Disney character, Smaller casual ones are by the pool and beach area with some lounges for your tropical drinks.

            In Kapolei (6 miles away) there are Chinese rest. (4), Thai, Vietnamese (2), Italian, Filipino, Japanese noodle house, Japanese curry house, several restaurant and fast food chains, local grinds (at least 3) and several pizza place, organic deli (Down to Earth) and several smal take outs -- endless place to eat.

            Hope this helps and welcome to West Oahu.... :)

            1. re: WestsideLisa

              I don't know of any really good Italian rests. on Oahu, and all of the good Japanese rests. are East of the airport. Mavro is a good choice for an elegant dinner.

              1. re: WestsideLisa

                We walked by the Ihilani today and were surprised to find people by the pool. Found out they re-opened this week (Sun to Sat) for a group of 500. After Sat they close again until Nov 17. I also found out that Ushio Tei never closed and Azul is open on sporadic days (mainly weekends). The spa never closed either and is offering special prices through Nov 20. If I'd known that, I wouldn't have gone to the spa at Aulani yesterday although I have to say their spa was very nice.

              2. I would definitely stop at Nico's or Helena's on the way to Ko Olina from HNL. Both will be open when you get into town. Nico's is about 3.5 miles from the airport and Helena's is about 4.5 miles from the airport. They are both necessary stops for us every time we are in HNL.

                Nico's is know for their seafood and all of their dishes we have had are great but their Chicken Katsu and Loco Moco are some of the best we have ever had. This is a very casual place but our meals there have been more satisfying then many Fine Dining meals we have had.

                Helena's is "Hawaiian" style food and several must not miss dishes they have are the Pipikaulau and Chicken Long Rice with several dashes of fire water tossed in.

                If you will be spending any time in Waikiki during your trip, you must stop at Diamond Head Market for their blueberry cheese scone. Unlike any scone you have probably had before and just awesome.

                1 Reply
                1. re: HNL

                  I'm not sure the 4-YO would like Helena's.

                2. What? You didn't believe me over on TripAdvisor? :)

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: scottca075

                    Hey, are you following me?! Ha ha. I just like to cover all of my bases.

                  2. I lived in Hawaii for the first 32 years of my life and now reside in LA. I go back to Hawaii at least once a year so I still know the cuisine. The last time I went home was Apr of this year and it included at stay at Aulani.

                    We were at the Aulani for 4 days and actually ate at the resort twice. Once at the Makahiki dinner buffet and another time just poolside. The rest of the meals were off property.

                    The Makahiki buffet was wonderful. There were many choices both local style and American. The selection was fresh and replenished frequently. We were there with a large party and there were no complaints. The service wonderful as well. The food we got at poolside was something you could get anywhere but it was okay because it was convenient. A must try on the property is the Shave Ice Shack. So refreshing!

                    In the immediate environs (Kapolei) try Chun Wah Kam for a Hawaii experience with Chinese food unlike anything you can get here in LA. It's setup is Panda Express in serving style only meaning: walk up counter, you choose what you want on the plate, etc. I dream about going to this place when I'm not at home. Also try the Manapua there. It's a steamed or baked bun with all different types of filling available. http://www.chunwahkam.com/

                    If you want something only in Hawaii you also must go to Zippy's in Kapolei. It's a much beloved Hawaii Style diner. It is loved so much that many former Hawaii people go there straight from the airport when visiting home. http://www.zippys.com/

                    For your special meal I'd make the 45 minute (or 1 hr depending on the traffic) trek to Alan Wong's or Marvo's. Other than those two places you can get the same special event food experience here at many places in LA. http://www.alanwongs.com/honolulu/hom...

                    Now for your airport arrival meal I'd like to suggest Big Kahuna Pizza. It's literally 1 minute from the airport. Yes you can get pizza here in LA but not with these toppings: Kalua Pig, Portuguese Sausage, etc. It's one of the best pizza places in Hawaii. Don't forget to get an order of their Cheesy Garlic Balls! http://bigkahunaspizzahawaii.com/menu...

                    Hope this helps! Have a wonderful trip!

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: dahulagirl

                      You had to go there with the Cheesy Garlic Balls. Oh, so good.

                      Chun Wah Kam was a great suggestion, I'd lke to add Brick Oven Pizza just across the parking lot. I'm not a New Yorker or Chicagoan, but for Hawaii it's great pizza.

                      As a couple of people mentioned you aren't going to get great Italian (or Mexican) in Hawaii. Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai (not on the OP's list) there is a long list, but not much in Kapolei.

                      1. re: KaimukiMan

                        Dear KMan,

                        Don't knock Kapolei if you haven't tried it!

                        Any time KMan, any time. At your earliest convenience...


                        P. S. I thought CWK closed, but could be wrong.

                        1. re: Joebob

                          Chun Wah Kam is open--they had some renovation and closed for a short time. Next to it is The Cupcake store for dessert....

                          1. re: Joebob

                            no intention to 'knock' Kapolei. There are more and more places to eat over there - including zippy's, but not the variety you find in more established neighborhoods. There must be twice as many decent or better places now than there were 5-7 years ago. There used to be a pretty good Japanese restaurant out there too, can't remember the name.

                            1. re: KaimukiMan

                              The good Japanese place must have closed before we arrived in 2007. What is one divided by zero? More than twice, I believe.

                              Zippy's? I don't know...Never heard of it...

                          2. re: KaimukiMan

                            A little warning - do not go to Brick Oven Pizza on Friday night--it's a nightmare, unless you can get a outside table. Inside the restaurant, it's very crowded and noisy wit so many people and , it's very crowded---with the Sports TV blaring ever so loudl; you can't hardly hear yourself talk. Price is pricier that the "regular" pizza place; but they serve wine!!

                        2. Aloha! One thing to keep in mind also is traffic on Oahu from the airport to Ko'olina. If you are arriving at 2 pm, renting a car, then you will be hitting the highway out to Ko'olina at the beginning of afternoon/evening traffic. If you do not hit the road until 4 pm or later, you can run into a lot of traffic. We go to Aulani about every 8 weeks (we live on the Big Island) and we base our eating around the traffic (seriously - it took us 2 hours once to get from the airport to Ko'olina - normally a 30 min max trip with no traffic). So if you have a hungry kid with you - you may want to consider going into Honolulu for food before hitting the road IF you arrive during bad traffic time (ask them at the rental car place...traffic accidents, stalls, etc. can really clog things up, too). There is an outlet mall in Waikele on the way to Ko'olina - usual fast food around there if you start out on the road and find that you have to feed the little one along the way!

                          We usually eat in Kapolei for dinner. We keep food in our room at Aulani for breakfast (the breakfast buffet smells great but is spendy). Dinner buffet there is even more spendy! We usually eat lunch out by the pools. We either take lunch or snacks down with us in a small travel collapsible cooler. But if we don't have "provisions" then we order from the waiters out by the pools OR there is a new snack shack - serving hot dogs, chicken strips, fries. And, of course, a shaved ice for dessert is available right next door. There are salads, wraps, sandwiches available from the coolers in the gift shops. You can buy a refillable mug for sodas, coffee, tea, etc. - a good value as you can use it for coffee in the am, sodas or tea, etc. throughout the day. The poolside dining menu is not bad (or you can order from the bar) - sandwiches, wraps, salads, etc. TIP - kids meals give generous portions so if you are a light eater, a kid's meal for an adult makes a nice light meal. The turkey wrap for instance with fries or fresh fruit can be an excellent light meal and much less spendy than the adult meals.

                          Across the street from the resort is a small "mall" with an ABC store - this is one of those higher end ones (Island Gourmet) so they have salads, sandwiches, sushi, soups, etc. There is a Mexican restaurant - good but can be slow if busy. There is also a plate lunch place (that is where you get a choice of 1, 2 or 3 entrees, rice, mac salad on one plate. Last we were there, there was a yogurt place as well.

                          Ate once at the Ihilani's Japanese restaurant - was ok but on the trendy side - less "real Japanese style" food and spendy. Ate also once at a buffet at the Marriott Beach Club on the opposite end of the Ko'olina resort - not sure if it is still the same - was ok. Paradise Cove Luau is in the area for a "luau" experience.

                          Hope this helps. BTW someone said they didn't know what Zippy's is....it's a local "institution"....basically TONS of variety on the menu - almost like a local, Hawaiian style Denny's??? but not really. They have everything you can imagine - plate lunches, spaghetti, saimin (noodle soup), fried chicken, fish, burgers, chili, etc, etc, etc. - also Napolean's Bakery at Zippy's has tons of great sweet treats including malasadas (sugary donuts). Great place to pick up treats for breakfast or dessert. Located in Kapolei.

                          Kapolei restaurants:
                          Genki Sushi
                          Panda Express
                          Pizza Hut (slow.....)
                          McD's (one by the Home Depot is best...)
                          Taco Bell
                          Jamba Juice
                          Taco Del Mar
                          Burger King
                          Subway (one out by Target is good and easy to get to)
                          several local style restaurants like
                          Chinese Buffet
                          Noodle Houses
                          (many located in strip mall near Safeway)

                          Have fun at Aulani - we'll be there just before you! You'll have a great time - beautiful!! Aloha!

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: tkhawaii

                            I'm from Los Angeles, and yet I didn't consider the traffic :-) Thanks for the tip. It almost sounds like I might be better off hitting the road and driving straight to Kapolei to get something to eat. Then, once we're not hungry anymore, we can do a little grocery shopping there, and then check in at the resort.

                            1. re: WestsideLisa

                              traffic starts backing up around 3pm, by 4 its in full rush hour mode. clears beginning around 6 or so. with a lot of people at Pearl Harbor Hickam getting off between 3 and 4, State workers around 4-4:30, and general working stiffs off at 5, we have an extended rush hour. Although the distance is short, it can easily rival the 405 for frustration.

                              1. re: KaimukiMan

                                Actually, we are coming in on a Saturday. Is it really that bad on a Saturday afternoon?

                          2. We just got back from Aulani in August. AmaAma was perfectly fine for a nice dinner on the resort. The views are amazing around sunset. Unfortunately, we have a 2 year old and didn't eat much off the resort, but we made frequent trips to the Hawaiian BBQ place across the way, which was solid and reasonably priced. Nothing to blow you away, but hell, I enjoyed the grilled fishes I had there.

                            One thing to not miss is at the ice cream parlor in the shopping plaza - they carry Bubbies ice cream mochi. The fruit flavors are the best I've ever had in a mochi ice cream fashion. And the coffee one has a nice kick as well. We found an excuse to go there after every meal even though it was a trek with 2 young kids and no stroller.

                            1. Just finished my report which includes several places in Ko Olina/Kapolei http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/869521

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: PattyC

                                Thanks for the link, PattyC! It sounds like you didn't like either restaurant you tried at Aulani. We have a reservation at Ama Ama for our anniversary dinner...I'm on the fence as to whether to keep it, or go to Roy's instead. I have had such bad meals at Roy's here in CA that I'm really hesitant to go in Hawaii. Ah, what to do!

                                Thai Lao sounds like a winner, but 3 out of 4 in our party don't enjoy Thai food.

                                Anything else you suggest? Thanks.

                                1. re: WestsideLisa

                                  If it was my anniversary, I'd drive to Honolulu for Alan Wong. Or Mavro which we skipped this time but I'm kind of kicking myself for not going now that I'm home.

                                  If you want to stay in the immediate area, I'd pick Roys over Ama Ama.

                                  Wherever you end up, enjoy your anniversary and please report back!

                                  1. re: PattyC

                                    I've been to Alan Wong, but never to Mavro. Maybe I should look into that instead of Ama Ama or Roy's. Thanks!

                              2. Hi all,

                                Just got back, and I'm afraid I don't have much to report. Things didn't go as planned (Grandma injured her leg on the rental car shuttle from the HNL airport...and was in a wheelchair for the ENTIRE trip!), and we just didn't get out much. Because of the mobility issues, we stayed at the resort almost the whole time.

                                We ate at Makihiki twice (once for dinner, and once for the character breakfast). We ordered from the a la carte menu for dinner. Grandma had crab cakes from the appetizer menu, and she enjoyed them. We shared spring rolls, which were bland and a little over-cooked. I had the seared ahi. The fish itself was cooked just right, but had a little too much pepper and sauce for my tastes. The asparagus tempura was soggy. DH enjoyed his bacon cheeseburger; kinda hard to screw that up too badly, isn't it? The kid's meal was pretty good...nice crudite to start, then DS had pasta, and Mickey chocolate cake for dessert. There was enough pasta left over so that he could have it again the next night. The character breakfast at Makihiki was about what you'd expect. Not worth the money in regards to food, but DS enjoyed the entertainment.

                                We had 2 breakfasts at Ama Ama. The food was fine, and the view was great. I enjoyed the food much more than at Makihiki's buffet. We also had our anniversary dinner here. DH enjoyed the catch of the day (Opa with brown butter sauce), and I had the seafood platter from the appetizer menu. The ceviche was bland, and everything else (shrimp, oysters, and crab) were okay. The onion soup starter was too cheesy, and broth was bland.

                                We did a breakfast at KOA Pancake House on our way to the Dole Plantation. The food was decent if you don't mind a place serving on paper plates. But all 4 of us ate for $25, and that was a nice change from the resort. Later that day, we stopped at Aoki's Shave Ice near the North Shore. Boy, was that some darn good shave ice! I highly recommend it...it's the real deal, not like the stuff you get around here which is more like a snow cone.

                                On our last night, we went to dinner at Kazoku Sushi. It's a conveyer belt place, which I normally steer clear of since I have such great sushi options in LA. But the place got decent Yelp reviews and we were tired of the resort. Grandma had a chicken teriyaki and tempura combo, DH and I ate off the belt, and DS had a little bit of everything. A few hours later, DS was throwing up, DH and I had it coming out the other end, and Grandma had a sore stomach but no other symptoms. Needless to say, it was not a good way to end our trip!

                                Sorry I don't have more to report from outside the resort. Thanks for everyone's help!

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: WestsideLisa

                                  Too bad about grandma.. hope she's healing well and return to the islands soon....:)