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chow worthy eats in Honolulu for solo chowhound on the cheap

I have a last-minute trip to Honolulu for 5 days at the end of the month. I have to seriously budget for this trip!!! I don't want to be relegated to tourist chains for my meals. My needs are pretty simple:
2)no chains
3)fish or vegetarian fare
4)comfortable for a solo female diner

I am open to all kinds of food as long it falls under #3. Not a red-meat eater and I can eat chicken/turkey anywhere.

I won't have a car, so access to dining needs to be either walking distance from Hilton Hawaiian Village or access via The Bus. I didn't want to rely on TripAdvisor suggestions since I usually don't like their recs, anyway. I'm an independent traveler and TA seems to be more Herd-oriented tastes. I've always liked my CH recs, so I'm hoping I can get some more for this last minute, on a serious budget trip. I really don't want to eat Saimin at Mickey D's everyday :-)

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  1. Go to thebus.org and learn the routes and special deals. The system is relatively efficient. Then you can get to a wide variety of non-chain, cheap, good places over most of the island, as described in many other posts. I don't know of any places that serve good food where a single woman would be unsafe. Just plan your trips carefully.

    1. Nothing is really cheap at HHV, but if you're not really fussy about your coffee you can forego the 2 on-site Starbucks and get a passable cup for $2.00 at the ABC Store by the parking garage elevator; the coffee tastes wonderful when sitting by the ocean. ABC also carries a variety of prepared sandwiches and bentos which are reasonably priced. The Wailana Coffee Shop accross Ala Moana Blvd. from HHV is very popular with tourists as well as locals.

      Any bus that stops on Ala Moana Blvd. will get you to the shopping center in minutes so you can try the food court downstairs or the interesting offerings of Japanese dishes on the second floor of Shirokiya. It's also an easy walk.

      1. Nico's at Pier 38 is about a 30 minute bus ride, but should fit all of your needs. Fatty's Chinese in the back (sort of) Intl Market Place should offer vegetarian choices in Waikiki...don't recall them, but most Chinese restaurants do...that is certainly walkable. A longer walk from HHV is Diamond Head Market and Grill on Monserrat..."healthy" plate lunches featuring fresh fish options. Sat morning at KCC market many choices, and stock up on fresh fruit, etc. Same produce options at Ala Moana shopping center FM Sat morning and Tues afternoon, but not as much prepared stuff.

        Agree with Honu about Shirokiya, but the only choice I like in the main food court is the Don Don donburi. On the opposite side of the center, Foodland Market has a salad bar and lots of deli salads to go.

        2 Replies
        1. re: macaraca

          Poke bowls are also available at Foodland. Given the high market price for island fish, I think ahi poke is probably the cheapest way of eating fresh island fish.

          Also would recommend Tango Market, which is an offshot of Tango restaurant, in Ward Center for salads and bread.

          1. re: honu2

            Thanks all! When this trip presented itself, I knew it had to be done on an absolute shoestring. I appreciate the tips. I always believed that there is a way to have quality food cheap, so I think this will test that theory for me!

        2. Happy hours in Waikiki are some of the best and drinking $4 mai tais and eating $6 calamari at Hula Grill or Dukes at the Outrigger which is a local chain but it rocks.
          Sansei, Top of Waikiki, Duke's, Hula Grill, Rumfire, Shorebird are my fave's.
          You can eat at the International marketplace across from Moana which has tons of small kiosks to eat.
          The bus is an awesome deal and you can go and dine at Giovanni's in North Shore for the best garlic shrimp with 2 scoops.


          1 Reply
          1. re: Beach Chick

            I just did the Sansei Sun/Mon 1/2 price food yesterday. It was great. We got there about 5 and joined the line. They did a first group seating so as to not overwhelm the kitchen. Then we got in with the second round. We had so many things it was just amazing. The seafood pasta was just a triumph. There were 4 of us and I think we had 8 things plus drinks. They did not rush us in our ordering so the friends we were with who had never been before could read the menu and make their decisions without feeling hurried. We had this great table by the window that was one of the elevated heights with stools that had comfortable backs which was great for viewing the gorgeous sunset.

          2. If you take the cheap bus trip from Honolulu around the Saet and North shores and back, consider timing to drop you off in Haleiwa around Luibueno's Happy Hour for half-price fish tacos. Find out how long the bus transfer allows you to linger.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Joebob

              Great suggestion, but if you choose to do this, make sure you know the bus schedule for the round-the-island bus to get you back to Honolulu. The schedule has recently been cut back and you don't want to be stranded on the North Shore without a way back into town.

            2. For vegetarian meal, catch any bus from Waikiki to Downtown Honolulu (No. 2, 13) and stop in Chinatown where you can find an array of cheap eats; vegetarian or fish. Safe for single diner as long as you get out of the area before it gets too dark. Or, catch any bus to Ala Moana -- kinda touristy, but close eto Waikiki. If adventurous enough, find a way to Down to Earth for vegetarian / vegan take outs - nice environment; next to it, Maharani, Indian restaurant where you can easily get vegetarian meal. Enjoy your stay.

              1. Peace Cafe and Loving Hut are both easily accessible via the #2 bus from Waikiki. Very decent vegetarian fare at reasonable prices. There are a few thai restaurants in Waikiki, and while they won't be cheap, you can get some really good vegetarian dishes.
                Just beyond the other end of Waikiki Check out South Shore Grill, some of the best fish tacos ever.
                Teddy's bigger Burgers does a decent job on the fish and chips. They also offer a Veggie Burger, a fish sandwich, and a "create your own" salad bar. Not bad for a burger joint, it's near the bottom of Kapahulu in the Waikiki Grand
                If you take the #4 out of Waikiki toward the University of Hawaii and get off in Moiliili you have Falafel King, Down to Earth Health Foods (with a 'deli), Spices Thai/Lao, and a Japanese grocery with some nice bento's. Not as big a selection as shirokiya, but if you are in the neighborhood...
                Nico's as mentioned has some of the best fish around, and in the same area is Uncles. Neither is as cheap as it used to be, but both are excelent and still reasonable. Nico's fish market has some great pokes. if you like Poke, almost any supermarket here does a good job, including the Foodland at Ala Moana Center. A little harder to get to is Young's Fish Market, which is more restaurant than fish market any more. You can get to it from either Dillingham or Nimitz highway (from nimitz get off at Waikamilo road, walk a block inland (mauka) and a block east (diamond head.) A light industrial neighborhood, but fine at lunch time. Along the way you will pass Sam Choy's Breakfast Lunch and Crab. A former favorite, they are still good, just a lot more competition than they used to have. Not cheap. Which reminds me, right next to Sam Choy's is one of the Many Zippy's restaurants around Oahu. The fresh fish special is usually very nicely prepared, something different every day. I know a couple of people are shuddering, but for fresh fish at a reasonable price, its quite decent. There is a zippy's at Ala Moana Center at Sears, and one on King near Piikoi.
                In general people in Honolulu won't put up with bad seafood, and almost any place you go that has fish on the menu will do a halfway decent job on it, most places a very good job.

                As for TheBus, I t hink they still have 3 day passes, one or two of the ABC stores in Waikiki sell them, and maybe Foodland at Ala Moana.

                1. Take the 13 bus in front of HHV towards UH (Diamond Head) -NOT Liliha-, get off at Kapahulu and Campbell and walk into Irifune. I go there about twice a month to have their dinner special #3, Garlic Ahi. About $18 and it includes soup and salad. Tuesday through Saturday after 5:30PM.

                  1. Another thing I do every now and then is to go to the Kakaako Kitchen, take out some food and eat it at the Ala Moana Beach Park beach (a short walk) at sunset time. My favorite there is the Furikake Catfish ($11). To get there, take the 19, 20 or 42 bus in front of the HHV towards downtown -NOT Diamond Head-, get off at Ala Moana Blvd and Kamakee and walk a block inland.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: AlEridani

                      reports are that Kakaako Kitchen has eviscerated their menu, they are using cheap ingredients (lower quality), and they only kept the worst of the servers (presumably the 'cheap' ones.) Three good friends have each told me they will never go back again. I haven't felt compelled to verify this.

                      1. re: KaimukiMan

                        I cannot comment on the servers, as I only get food for take out. Yes, they have reduced the menu, but the Tempura Catfish and the Kobb Salad are still there, so I'm OK. And I haven't noticed any difference in taste, but that may be lack of discern on my part.

                    2. You've gotten some excellent suggestions, but I highly recommend that you filter them according to bus schedules and access to well-lighted and well-populated bus stops. For example, as a solo woman, I would not be comfortable taking the bus from any stop on the Hotel Street bus corridor from about 7:30 on., which would pretty much eliminate dinners in Chinatown. Downtown clears out pretty fast after 6 p.m. and Chinatown and Ft. Street Mall get creepy fast. As a second example, other restaurants (Nicos, Uncles, Sam Choy's and the Zippys next to Sam Choys, and Youngs Fish Market) would require that you catch the bus in a the Nimitz Industrial Area, not pleasant any time of day but at night kind of isolated with infrequent buses. The number 2 bus while it services Waikiki doesn't stop in front of HHV and would require you to walk from Kalakaua to HHV or to do a convulated transfer. You can call The Bus at 848-555 for help with bus routes and schedules. I've always found them to be very courteous and helpful, but as with a lot of things in Hawaii, it helps if you know (and pronounce correctly) the street and place names.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: honu2

                        You can also go to http://www.thebus.org to see routes, timetables and maps so that you can plot out your route in advance.

                          1. re: Joebob

                            good point, but taxi's are expensive in Honolulu, they don't cruise (you have to call), and the OP is on a tight budget. still if it means going or not going someplace (say nico's) it may well be worth it.

                            1. re: KaimukiMan

                              Agree with both K-Man and Honu...the bus is inexpensive and coverage pretty good, while taxis are not an option for the OP on a strict budget. It was never clear whether the OP was looking for mainly lunch or dinner recs; obviously lunch at Nico's would work well, dinner would require caution due to the wait for the bus in the dark in a questionable location. Same goes for the other recs...dinner in neighborhoods like Ala Moana, McCully, Mo'ili'ili, Kapahulu, Kaimuki should be no problem.

                              1. re: macaraca

                                I'm looking for both lunch and dinner. Usually, lunch is my big meal of the day (I work a swing shift). I'm very used to traveling solo in the US, Canada and Western Europe, using local transportation.

                        1. I suggest you read the "Amberloo and Food" FAQ at TripAdvisor.


                          His recs are spot on and Chow worthy (mine too of course).

                          The McCully Shopping Center has several good places, Nico's and Uncle's at Pier 38 for fish, the food halls at Shirokiya at Ala Moana and surprisingly good Happy (Aloha) Hours at Morton's, Hula Grill and Roy's.

                          1. Thanks everyone soooo much!!!! Yeah, this trip is definitely on the cheap. It's a huge departure from my usual trips, where I don't have to worry too much with finances. Alas, situations and jobs change and so does the amount of money I have to keep traveling. I've always loved the recs I've received from fellow 'Hounds. I'll report back on what I do.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: chowing kat

                              When I visit Honolulu, I generally have a light breakfast (like yogurt or something else I can keep in the hotel room), one big meal (either dinner or lunch), and a smaller meal. I think you can definitely keep to a decent budget, and avoid chains or tourist traps.

                              You can get a 4-day pass for The Bus for $25 at any ABC store. If you're not in too much of a hurry, it can really get you anywhere. If you have a smart phone, you can use Google maps to plot your trips, with detailed information on where and what line to take, transfer info, if necessary, where to get off, and walking instructions to your destination. But if you don't, you can still do okay with a little research. However, as someone mentioned above, they cut back on bus service, so if you're going far afield, like the North Shore, check on the schedule so you don't get stuck. Around town, you should be okay. Also, HHV is an easy walk to a lot of places.

                              As noted above, Foodland does a great poke bowl, at a reasonable price. I like to do half ahi (limu, shoyu, or whatever) and half tako. Pa'ina Cafe, at Wards Warehouse, also does a nice, reasonably priced bowl.

                              I love to go to the Farmers Markets, and hit as many as I can. Last month at the Wednesday Blaisdell (Honolulu) Market, The Pig and The Lady had a vegetable curry for under $10, made with vegetables from the market. I'm not a vegetarian, but it looked so gorgeous (see pic) I knew it had to be good. I wasn't disappointed. I also like the Thursday market at Kailua -- a pleasant 1/2 hr. bus ride over Pali Highway. One of my favorite vendors is there, Grandma G's, which has excellent seafood, served with rice and green salad. I've had great opakapaka and ahi katsu. One time they had ahi belly. I wanted to try that, but decided to make a circuit around the two aisles of the market, and when I came back they were sold out. Still regret that. There's also the Saturday morning markets at KCC (and I think they also now have a Tuesday evening market?) and Ala Moana Center.

                              Honolulu Magazine recently did a feature on cheap eats:


                              I guess locals can let you know if that's a quality list, but the places I've been to I've liked and thought were very worthy. I checked out Lucky Belly this last trip, liked it, and will go back. But I guess it would depend on whether or not you're okay with typical ramen soup base (i.e. pork), I read they were supposed to be adding a vegetarian bowl, but don't know if they have. Though they do have other things, like shrimp gyoza, and salads, that might work for you.

                              Oh, and if you're there on the last Friday of the month, check out Eat the Street, the monthly food truck gathering. This month's theme is Day of the Dead. Take one of the 19, 20 or 42 buses, exit at Ala Moana and South Street, then walk two blocks up South Street to the big parking lot where it takes place. It can get crowded, but it's a fun scene.

                              Have a good time! I'm always looking forward to my next trip ...

                              1. re: Debbie M

                                Thanks Debbie. I will be there the first Friday of the month :-( But, I was planning on trying one of the farmers' markets. I'm a breakfast person. I don't eat a lot, just enough (yogurt & granola, or my own egg sandwich). On most of my trips, I do my biggest meal at lunch. The pork broth base of ramen is OK. I just don't eat slabs of red meat, broth is OK.
                                I am totally planning on taking The Bus for most of my journeys. I was going to splurge on a cheapo rental car one day to do a drive around the island and hit up Waimea.
                                I don't own a smartphone, but I do have an iTouch. I can pre-load some things on there...

                                1. re: chowing kat

                                  Don't think anyone has mentioned BaLe Sandwich shops...they are a local chain which make wonderful ban mi sandwiches (some vegetarian) from their own bakery baguettes. They have locations everywhere http://www.ba-le.com/75-bale-locations including Ala Moana.

                                  An amazing success story...Vietnamese refugees opened a tiny hole in the wall in Chinatown 30 years ago, now own an enormous building (former Weyerhouser plant) and established their own bakery there on the 2nd floor to supply all their shops and wholesale and retail...they sell the full range of breads and pastries at the KCC Sat market. They also have LaTour Cafe on the ground floor...quite close to Pier 38 on Nimitz Hwy.

                                  Most of the shops are franchised, so the pho can vary, but they all use the same bread and have basically the same menu, so are usually a good value.

                            2. Partway done with the trip. I thought I'd just give a report of what I've done so far.
                              Dukes. Yes, it's a chain. But, I went to the bar the first night, at sunset. Nicest barmen since the ones I had at Red Square in Las Vegas. Had a couple Lavaman Red Ales - nice beer. I had the plain grilled fish tacos. Perfectly serviceable. A nice piece of fish in each taco, with some veggies and dressing in the taco. A scoop of pico, sour cream, and guac. A few chips. It was good tasting and the price was right. I ended up going back the next night - I knew I would have a pleasant setting with good barmen and good tacos.
                              Marukame Udon; Oh my. Loved it. Got an order hot Ontama noodles, tempura sweet potato, pumpkin and mushroom. The mushroom was eh, but the rest was right my alley. The noodles with the sauce and the soft boiled egg was amazing. Plain, basic, but oh, so good. And, my bill was under $10!!!!! I'm going back there one more time for dinner.
                              Nico's: I ventured out on The Bus. Went to Nicos for lunch. I got the Seared Ahi Poke salad. Not thrilled. The poke could have used more seasoning - it was pretty bland. I took a little siracha and Aloha soy and made it a little spicer.
                              I walked up to the Diamond Head Market the first morning and got a blueberry cream cheese scone. Yumm!!! It made the walk from HHV up there worth it.

                              Again, thanks to all my fellow chowhounders for their info and tips. If you're ever around Park City, UT, I'll offer up my recs for there :-)

                              6 Replies
                              1. re: chowing kat

                                Wow, thats a walk and a half. sorry to hear nico's let you down, but glad you were able to make a correction for yourself. But yeah, unless you get something like spicy ahi - poke is not a spicy dish. Native fare doesn't include chilies.

                                Good to hear that most of your fooding has been successful.

                                1. re: KaimukiMan

                                  Well, I took The Bus To Nico's, the rest I did walk. The walk to Diamond Head market was a good way to start the morning. Only a few miles total.
                                  Yeah, I blew it on the poke. But, my eyes zero'd in on that word and I was stuck. It wasn't that it was not spicy, it really had no taste other than tuna. There was a little oil on it, but it didn't taste like sesame oil, just oil. Maybe they "sear" it to order and thus it doesn't get a chance to marinate at all. I did go into the little market after lunch and looked at what they had there - if I had only gone there first...
                                  I have a rental car today, so I'm off to KCC and then the North Shore!! I'll let you know what I find along the way.

                                  1. re: chowing kat

                                    that sounds like a traditional preparation. Tuna would be the predominant flavor, not sure what mix you got, but I'm not surprised at your evaluation. Usually you can taste the seaweed, onion if there is some in there, sometimes sesame seeds, often not. sometimes a small amount of chili powder, not usually. Shoyu, ginger in others. It all depends, but the flavors are subtle. The main thing is the freshness of the fish.

                                    1. re: KaimukiMan

                                      Tuna was the predominant flavor. The second and, in my opinion, only other "flavor" was flavorless oil. No seaweed, no onion, no sesame seeds, no chili powder or flakes. That's why I was disappointed. The tuna itself was good - seared tuna is yummy. But, I was thinking I'd get a more poke taste than just seared tuna.
                                      Hit the KCC today. Got mama's chicken pho at The Lady and The Pig. Awsome. Mama gave me a little of some sweet oil to dip the basil into. Very good. I picked up a few scones from the kids in the Culinary program there at KCC - they were excellent. Once I got to the North Shore, I stopped at Giovanni's for the obligatory shrimp scampi. Nothing special, but now I can say I had the shrimp. I burped garlic for the next couple of hours :-)
                                      I leave to go home tomorrow. Again, I really want to thank all my fellow 'hounds for helping me make my last minute, CHEAP trip a good one!

                                      1. re: chowing kat

                                        On the way to the airport, I wanted to give Nico's another try with another dish. Well, it closed at 4pm and I got there at 6pm. Hungry, I decided to go to Uncle's across the street from Nico's. It's a sit-down rather than the order then sit like Nico's. Higher price point, too, but plenty to choose from. I asked the bartender for his suggestions and he came back with the Garlic Ahi. I'm glad I went with it. I loved it. It was a nice size piece of ahi, seared medium-rare. A garlic sauce over the fish - it was hot (I think there were some peppers in there, too, but not so much to overpower the ahi. There were steamed veggies (green beans and squash) and I chose the brown rice (white rice of fries offered, too). I didn't burp garlic like I did yesterday (from Giovanni's). So, that was a good thing!
                                        If anyone wants to try Uncle's, I'd say go for it! Definitely a higher price point than Nico's, but I thoroughly enjoyed the meal. It was a nice way to end my trip.

                                        1. re: chowing kat

                                          Glad Uncles worked out for you. Dinner service at Nico's is sit down rather than the counter system as at lunch. The prices are still a little lower than Uncles. Both places have their fans. Nico's is Lunch Only on Sunday's.