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Part of a chain of unfussy retro diners, Big City offers a short course in local-style breakfasts—rice instead of potatoes, option of fish or Portuguese sausage instead of bacon, roasted macadamia nut pancakes smothered in haupia (coconut) sauce—with generous portions, low prices, and pronounced flavors. Lunch and dinner focus on local-style comfort food—baby back ribs, kimchee fried rice—and burgers. There are always daily specials. www.bigcitydinerhawaii.com. Credit cards accepted.
One of relatively few restaurants to serve the complete menu until 2 am (Sunday only until 10 pm), Yanagi is a full-service Japanese restaurant offering not only sushi and sashimi around a small bar, but also teishoku (combination menus), tempura, stews, and grill-it-yourself shabu-shabu. The fish here can be depended on for freshness and variety. yanagisushi-hawaii.com. Credit cards accepted.
Korean is spoken here, in cooking style and in language, but you can make yourself understood with the help of menu translations and pointing. Mikawon is one of few grill-it-yourself restaurants to use real, charcoal-burning grills, considered the sine qua non of this Korean style of cooking which has been adopted by Japan. Their specialty is wang galbi—ribs seasoned in the style of Su Won, Korea, a mellower style than the usual soy sauce-soaked kal bi ribs. Credit cards accepted.
Diners can get a uniquely New York-style steak dinner with gruff New York-style service, but in a uniquely open-air, Waikiki-style restaurant. Located on the third floor of the Royal Hawaiian Center, this classic steak house serves up excellent steaks, thanks to an in-house dry-aging room. Even nonsteak items are of the highest quality; people come in just for crab cakes or the famous slabs of Canadian bacon. Stop by for happy hour to get some good deals. wolfgangssteakhouse.net.
An island dream, this buffet restaurant is made up of pavilions overlooking a network of ponds (once natural streams flowing from mountain to sea). The Island-style comfort food includes the trademark Willows curry along with Hawaiian dishes such as laulau (a steamed bundle of ti leaves containing pork, butterfish, and taro tops) and kalua pig. willowshawaii.com. Reservations essential. Credit cards accepted.
Despite the notoriously inattentive waitstaff, budget-conscious snowbirds, night owls with a yen for karaoke, all-day drinkers of both coffee and the stronger stuff, hearty eaters, and lovers of local-style plate lunches contentedly rub shoulders at this venerable diner and cocktail lounge at the edge of Waikiki. Most checks are under $11, and there's a $2.50 children's menu. It's open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year (except Tuesday, when the restaurant closes from 10 pm to 6 am), but the place fills up and a line forms around the corner at breakfast time, so arrive early or late. Reservations not accepted. Credit cards accepted.
The three-tiered Top of Waikiki has amazing 360-degree views of Honolulu, but unlike many revolving restaurants it also has an award-winning menu that features delicious new American cuisine with island flavor. The lobster-crab cake salad or the coconut shrimp are great ways to start the evening. For dinner, although they may sound basic, the seafood pasta and garlic rib eye are the most popular entrées because they're just that good. To get a sunset view, grab dinner from 5 to 6 pm and enjoy the added early-bird dishes starting at $17. topofwaikiki.com. Credit cards accepted.
Bountiful buffets and menus that feature seafood are popular with Islanders, so this Japan-based restaurant is a local favorite. It's popular with budget-conscious travelers as well, for the wide range of hot dishes, sushi, and the 160-foot seafood spread. The emphasis here is more on quantity than quality. Credit cards accepted.
If you need proof that To Chau is highly regarded for its authentic pho (Vietnamese beef noodle soup), just check the lines that form in front every morning of the week. It's said that the broth is the key, and it won't break the bank for you to find out, as the average check is less than $10. The restaurant is open only until 2:30 pm, but you may be turned away if the food runs out earlier. Reservations not accepted. No credit cards. No dinner.
On the second floor of a busy hotel, Tiki's is the kind of place people come to Waikiki for: a retro-South Pacific spot designed for fun. It has a back-of-the-bar faux volcano, an open-air lounge with live local-style music, indoor-outdoor dining, and a view of the beach across the street. The menu of contemporary island cuisine, revamped by chef Ronnie Nasuti, includes Asian-influenced seven-spice salmon, sophisticated interpretations of plate-lunch standards, and exceptional desserts. Try their mai tais, which come in a variety of flavors. tikisgrill.com. Credit cards accepted.
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