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I’ve been waiting for years to share Honolulu’s Kaimuki neighborhood with you.It’s not that I’ve been keeping it from you but that it just recently came into its own.
Where Is Kaimuki?
I first learned Kaimuki when my husband had his office in this little hood just a few minutes from Waikīkī. Tucked behind the Diamond Head crater, think of Kaimuki as a little village within the city of Honolulu.
What Is Special About Kaimuki?
Waialae Avenue is the heart of the hood, and it’s lined with independent shops, cafes, and boutiques, which gives it the feel that’s one part a midcentury Main Street and one part eclectic.
In the last few years, many local businesses have opened up and added to the vibe of Kaimuki, and it’s quickly become one of my favorite parts of Honolulu.
How To Get To Kaimuki?
It’s a sort of quirky part of the city, and things are a bit spread out, but if you want to escape the craziness of Waikīkī, this is a non-touristy part of Honolulu that’s just a ride away.
Where To Eat In Kaimuki
Our friend, Chef Lee Anne Wong, upped the Kaimuki breakfast game when she opened this cafe a few years ago. The place is so popular there’s a wait pretty much every day, all day, but it’s worth it.
She makes twists on local comfort food, and we dream about the breakfast bruschetta, the daily dumplings, and the cast iron skillet dishes.
Just around the corner for Koko Head Cafe is Via Gelato Hawai’i, which has some of the island’s best ice cream/gelato. It’s classic gelato worthy of Italy with standards like straciatella (chocolate chip) and sorbetto but also lovely local flavors like lihing shiso, liliko’i (passionfruit), and even kūlolo (taro root).
This is a hole-in-the-wall, walk up to a window and order a takeaway joint that’s so small you might pass it if you blink. Okata bento is no-frills food that’s affordable and one of the best teriyaki bento boxes on the island.
Talk to any local about food, and they’ll quickly start recommending their favorite poke (fresh fish salad) place to you. There are a lot of subjective details to poke — do you like it with or without mayo? Green or Maui onions? A lot of little shoyu? — but one non-negotiable is freshness.
So, I’m sharing the three places with the freshest poke in the greater Kaimuki neighborhood (see Tamura’s and ‘Ono Seafood); the final decision is up to you!
Chef Ed Kenney helped reshape the modern Oahu food scene away from PacRim everything to a farm-to-table focus when he opened the now-closed Town over 15 years ago. Ed’s latest addition to the Kaimuki food scene was the restaurant Mud Hen Water.
The name comes from the English translation of Kaimuki’s main street, Waialae Avenue, and the restaurant pays homage to all things local food right now, including excellent cocktails.
If craft beer is more your style, then you will want to head across the street from Mud Hen Water to Brew’d. The locals drink a lot of beer, but places like Brew’d brought the craft brew scene into mainstream Hawaii.
Where To Get Coffee
What started out in 2009 as a coffee truck that you could get curbside (get it??), The Curb has evolved into three cafes across Honolulu.
These guys take coffee very seriously, so they make everything from espresso to a pour-over coffee well, but look out for their flavored syrups that will change the way you think about sweetened coffee.
Where To Shop
Possibly the most old-school location on this list, the Kaimuki crack seed store is here just because, if you love food, you need to head here.
Despite its sketchy-sounding name, crack seed is just a small snack store that sells candy to Asian dried salty snacks in bulk. If you’re feeling adventurous, go for the dried Ika (squid) or the li hing (salted plum) mango.
One of my first finds in Kaimuki was Tamura’s; I’ve been an evangelist for it ever since. This wine shop has multiple locations, but Tamura’s Waialae location, with a serious wine collection, tons of craft beer, artisanal liquor, and some of the best pokes around, is my favorite. Oh, and don’t forget to get some of their boiled peanuts!
This little boutique has a mix of vintage, beach-chic items from barware to paper goods. Peek in to pick up a souvenir or buy a gift for yourself!
If you’re a fabric nerd like me, then you’ll love Kaimuki Dry Goods, as it carries everything from Aloha shirt prints to Japanese fabrics. And, even if you aren’t into it, it’s worth popping in to get a peek.
Where Else To Visit Near Kaimuki
I like walking from Kaimuki to Diamond Head Grill and then walking to a picnic in Kapiolani Park or at Sans Souci Beach. But the real reason I go to Diamond Head Grill is the food.
They have a slightly healthier take on plate lunch (salmon with brown rice), their Iced Tea is so delicious I took to reverse engineering it, and they respectable versions of some of my favorite local desserts such as Coconut Cream Pie, Sweet Potato Pie, Butter Mochi, and Pumpkin Crunch.
Many locals prefer Fort Ruger to Diamond Head because they consider it to have more local-style food. The plate lunches are nothing to scoff at, and they have super old-school versions of local food (our favorite is the butter mochi). And though many like their poke, we prefer Tamura’s or Fresh Catch in this neighborhood.
Another street with a lot of good food (from classic Leonard’s malasadas to food coma-inducing Rainbow Drive-In plate lunches and fresh breakfast at Tucker & Bevy) is Kapahulu Boulevard. We could go on and on about what we love there (and will someday soon), but we have to mention ‘Ono Seafood for poke.
I’m kinda torn about this market because it’s gotten very touristy on the weekends. Even so, it has everything from local flowers to produce and many great food gifts to take back home.
And there are some amazing breakfast stands (we’re partial to Pig & The Lady). Oh, and FYI, if you head to this farmers market (it runs Tuesdays and Saturdays), it’d be just a 10-minute walk over to Kaimuki!
Have other tips for must-see spots in Honolulu? Let us know in the comments below!
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Map Illustration: by Charmagne Kringstein
Hawaiian Diacritical Marks: In an effort to be accurate and respectful of the Hawaiian language, we use diacritical marks in our articles on the region. For more about which marks are used in the language and how to find proper spelling, refer to this Hawai’i Magazine article.