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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.
Across from Sunset Beach and famous for its chocolate haupia pie (layered coconut and chocolate puddings topped with whipped cream), Ted's Bakery is also favored by surfers and area residents for quick breakfasts, sandwiches, or plate lunches, to-go or eaten at the handful of umbrella-shaded tables outside. www.tedsbakery.com. Reservations not accepted. Credit cards accepted.
Dishes inspired by the romantic Mediterranean resort town of Taormina are served at this elegant restaurant on the Waikiki Beach Walk. In addition to Sicilian-inspired primi piatti (first-course dishes, usually pasta) such as uni (sea urchin) pasta and a light cream risotto with grilled scallops and prawns, the menu features a variety of local fish done with Italian flair. The artfully presented antipasti misti (mixed appetizers) should not be missed. Try the cannoli with a touch of coconut in the filling to round out your meal. The wine list is extensive. taorminarestaurant.com. Reservations essential. Credit cards accepted.
Long lines of hungry locals are the telltale sign that you've stumbled upon Tangö, a dining destination at the swanky Hokua condominiums. Unflappable restaurateur Göran Streng seems to have bypassed the usual growing pains of a new restaurant, instead rewarding his customers' palates with an unfussy menu and polished service. Minimalist yet contemporary decor comes in the form of blond and birch woods, earthy complements to the cloud-like white lampshades. Silver birch branches divide spaces. Streng's dishes pay homage to his Scandinavian background, with touches of Pacific Rim and Asian influences. Dinner standouts include Swedish gravlax with crispy skin, moi (or Pacific Threadfin), a flaky white fish served with fennel coulis, and a burger that stands heads above usual unremarkable bovine renditions. Dinner prices are reasonable (especially by Hawaii standards), but for an additional $6.50, diners can tack on a soup or salad, and a dessert, like lilikoi (passion fruit) sorbet. Reservations are only available only for dinner, and don't expect a super-touristy experience—Streng caters mostly to his discriminating city-dwelling clientele. www.tangocafehawaii.com. Reservations essential. Credit cards accepted.
Meals here are unforgettable, though you may find the restaurant's approach exasperating and a little condescending. It's possible to order from the menu, but you're strongly encouraged to order omakase-style (oh-mah-ka-say, roughly, "trust me"), letting the chef send out his choices for the night. The waiters keep up a steady mantra to instruct patrons in the proper way to eat their delicacies: "Please, no shoyu on this one." "One piece, one bite." But any trace of annoyance vanishes with the first bite of California baby squid stuffed with Louisiana crab, or unctuous toro (ahi belly) smeared with a light soy reduction, washed down with a glass of the smoothest sake you've ever tasted. A caution: the courses come very rapidly—ask the server to slow down the pace a bit. An even bigger caution: the courses, generally two pieces of sushi or six to eight slices of sashimi, add up fast. Reservations essential. Credit cards accepted. Closed Sun. No lunch Sat. and Mon.
Sugoi was among the first of a new wave of plate-lunch places to take particular care with quality and to recognize that some plate-lunch eaters are interested in good health. They serve, for example, brown rice and green salad instead of the usual white rice and macaroni loaded with mayonnaise. Garlic chicken and mochiko (batter-dipped and fried) chicken, both adapted from traditional Japanese dishes, are specialties. Service is quick and cheerful. Primarily a takeout place, Sugoi is in a strip mall in industrial Kalihi, north of town. www.sugoihawaii.com. Reservations not accepted. No credit cards. No dinner. Closed Sun.
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