For over 30 years, Cinnamon’s has been a staple of Windward Oahu’s breakfast and lunch scene. Always popular with locals, the restaurant has become increasingly popular with tourists in the past five years, sometimes causing diners to wait up to two hours for a table on busy mornings.
Owners Puna and Cricket Nam found themselves in a happy predicament. With such large crowds, “it was no longer a personal feeling,” he recounts. He wanted to maintain steady business, but also reduce congestion so that everyone could get a table in a reasonable amount of time.
The solution: a second location. In November of 2014, Cinnamon’s in Waikiki opened at the Ilikai hotel. This second location carries over the original restaurant’s breakfast delights, including multiple award-winning pancakes and benedicts.
The delectable guava chiffon pancakes recently placed No. 8 in Time Out Magazine’s national best pancake ranking. You simply have to try them. Sweet and tangy guava sauce cascades over fluffy pancakes all topped with a dollop of whipped cream. Or if chocolate is more your flavor, try Puna’s favorite, the red velvet pancake, that took six months to perfect.
In addition to breakfast and lunch, the Waikiki Cinnamon’s also offers dinner, a first for the restaurant. Kalbi short ribs have quickly become a house favorite for dinner, and the restaurant includes a lighter side menu for the health conscious among us. For the non-health conscious, know that pancakes are served all day.
With gorgeous harbor views, Cinnamon’s is growing in popularity in Waikiki not only for its comfort food, but also for ambiance. Friday evenings tend to be busy as diners can view fireworks from the Hilton Hawaiian Village. It also hosts live music with background artists playing Monday through Thursday from 5:30 to 8:00 p.m. Additionally, the Ilikai has live music every Friday and Saturday that can be enjoyed at Cinnamon’s from 6 to 9 p.m.
Try out Cinnamon’s for ono local grinds (delicious local foods) any day of the week. Friendly staff, good food and a beautiful setting combine for a perfect dining experience.
In Hawaii, look out for ono grinds or “tasty food.” Eat like a local on your stay and try some of the different and unique cuisines the Islands have to offer. Here are a few dishes that you might see on menus and think: “what’s that?”
HAUPIA: In its truest form, haupia is a coconut milk based traditional Hawaiian dessert with a texture similar to flan. The white gelatinous squares are a sweet luau staple. As with most traditional fare, it’s been given a modern kick in many restaurants that serve haupia pie with added flavors like chocolate or sweet potato. Pictured is a version of haupia pie with purple sweet potato mash and a macadamia crust.
BLUE HAWAII: No drink conjures images of crystal clear waves like a Blue Hawaii. Legendary bartender Harry Yee poured the first Blue Hawaii at what is now the Hilton Hawaiian Village. Visitors often asked for local style cocktails, but in the 1950s there was no such thing as Hawaiian cocktails, leaving Yee to often create them on the spot. He made the Blue Hawaii through experimenting with Blue Curaçao, vodka and rum to concoct one of the world’s most famous exotic drinks.
HULI HULI CHICKEN: It’s hard to go wrong with a well basted grilled chicken. Huli-Huli chicken ™ is just that. It starts with a perfect sauce. Recipes vary, but usually include shoyu (soy sauce), brown sugar, ginger, garlic, ketchup and sherry. The chicken is marinated in this salty-sweet sauce then constantly basted with it while grilled. The chicken is turned regularly on the grill hence the name “huli-huli,” which means: “to turn.”
SAIMIN: Similar to Japanese ramen, saimin is a broth-based soup with egg noodles and various meats, often including fish cake. As with most local grinds, saimin is influenced by many cultures. It borrows from ramen, Chinese mein and Filipino pancit. It’s developed into a beloved comfort food in Hawaii.
POI: In ancient Hawaii, if a bowl of poi was present and uncovered for eating, any arguments had to stop in respect of this revered staple. Poi is still a prominent part of Hawaiian culture and cuisine. It’s made by cooking and then pounding the root of the taro plant while adding water until it reaches the desired viscous consistency. When fresh, poi has a relatively neutral flavor. Over time, it becomes increasingly sour, which some prefer. Try it with a hint of sugar or as a side to lomilomi salmon.
TARO CHIPS: Taro chips are a modern twist on a traditional Hawaiian staple. The root or corm of the taro plant is peeled, thinly sliced, then either fried or baked to crisp perfection. You’ll taste salt and sweet as you bite into purple-streaked goodness. These tasty snacks are found at most local grocery stores or as a side at a variety of Waikiki restaurants.
GARLIC SHRIMP: Hawaii is one of the lead suppliers of shrimp in the U.S., so it should be no surprise that a delectable dish, such as the garlic shrimp, has come to satisfy locals and visitors alike. The shrimp, best when harvested from local farms, is pan fried with fresh garlic and laid on steaming white rice, often paired with mixed greens or macaroni salad. These fragrant crustaceans combine a blend of sea taste with rich garlic butter.
SHAVE ICE: Nothing satisfies a day in the sun and sweet cravings like shave ice. Unlike Mainland snow cones, shave ice has a finer consistency and usually has your choice of ice cream or azuki beans (sweet red beans), or both as its base, and shaved ice is piled high on top. Then comes the fun part. Customers can top their shave ice with any of their favorite flavors. The popular “rainbow” is a combination of strawberry, pineapple or lemon, and vanilla. Add a “snow-cap” — a drizzle of sweetened condensed milk on top — to finish off this cold confection.
LAULAU: Laulau translates to “leaf, leaf,” named after the taro leaves used to wrap the meat. Preparation starts with putting Hawaiian salt on either pork or chicken and butterfish, known locally as walu. The meat and fish are wrapped first in taro leaves, then ti leaves to help heat the meat while it’s being steamed. Traditionally laulau was steamed in an imu, a pit dug underground with heated lava rocks, on a layer of banana leaves. The bitterness of the taro leaves paired with the saltiness of the meat and butterfish make for a unique taste dating back to ancient Hawaii. These mouth-watering bundles can be found on most Hawaiian food menus or at a luau.
LOCO MOCO: There are many foods in Hawaii that are considered ono, but nothing does delicious super-sized like the loco moco. The palate pleaser originated in Hilo where local diners desired a taste of something different. The savory dish didn’t disappoint, and can now be found across the Islands. It starts with a bed of rice, topped with a hamburger patty, crowned with your choice of eggs, and smothered in gravy. A loco moco is commonly considered a breakfast item, but can be ordered any time of day. It’s perfect for a famished visitor.
POKE: Poke, (pronounced poh kay) is ubiquitous in any local gathering. No party would be complete without a tray of the savory fresh fish. Poke means “to cut or slice,” and the dish certainly features precision blade work to create perfectly cubed chunks of raw fish that is tossed with soy sauce, onion and other spices. If raw fish isn’t your favorite, there are other types of poke, including tofu poke or shrimp poke. There are also different flavors from spicy to slightly sweet using various types of fish, although ahi is most common. With all of the types of poke available, there’s certain to be one to suit your desires.
MALASADAS: Originally from Portugal, malasadas made their way to the islands with Portuguese plantation workers in the late 1800’s. These donut-like confections are made from fried dough sprinkled with granulated sugar. Other variations have fillings such as chocolate or custard.
Spam isn’t native to Hawaii, but it certainly has found a home here. The salty canned-meat has become a local favorite, even inspiring an annual Spam Jam Festival in April. Spam musubi is the quintessential spam treat, consisting of sticky rice topped with fried spam and wrapped with nori (seaweed).
This popular Hawaiian side-dish is often paired with poi. Lomilomi salmon is a mixture of raw, salted salmon with diced tomatoes and sweet Maui onions. Sometimes it also includes pepper flakes for a little spice. This dish is usually spotted at a luau or in the poke section at grocery stores.
Plate lunch is as simple as it is delicious. It usually consists of white rice, macaroni salad, and a choice of meat. Popular meats are steak, garlic shrimp, chicken katsu or kalua pork to name a few. Some of the best plate lunches are found on food trucks around the island, including Oahu’s North Shore. If you don’t want to take the drive to the North Shore, check out Pau Hana Market on Waikiki’s Beachwalk Dr. to try food trucks in a permanent installation.
Before you ever landed in Hawaii, you could see it in your head: you, sitting under an umbrella on Waikiki Beach, with an island cocktail in your hand, perfectly adorned with a purple orchid and miniature umbrella. You just know this will be bliss.
But where should you go for your perfect island concoction? Break free from the typical Mai Tai and try some exotic flavors on your vacation.
Many of the eating (and drinking) establishments in Waikiki try to blend local flavors to create a uniquely Hawaiian taste. Enjoy fresh pineapple, lilikoi, guava and other luscious fruits blended creatively into martinis or margaritas.
You might also try drinks with Island-made liquors, such as Ocean Organic Vodka, Whaler’s Dark Rum or Ko Hana Rum. Step out of your comfort zone and let loose with some of these adults-only beverages.
Rumfire Sand and Sea
If you’ve got at least two people in your party, you can have one of the jumbo drink “bowls.” The Sand and Sea uses Hawaiian-made Deep Island Rum, pineapple and passion fruit juices, sweet and sour and a dash of Dekuyper Blue Curacao. This liquid aloha is garnished with fresh pineapple slices and tiny umbrellas.
Rumfire Lilikoi Cosmo
Rumfire isn’t just a spot with spectacular ocean views and the best tater tots you’ve ever had. They also have an extensive cocktail list with lots of local flair. The Lilikoi Cosmo would make Carrie Bradshaw swoon. It uses Hawaiian Ocean Organic Vodka to start the local experience and adds lilikoi puree for a sweet touch, but still offers the classic cranberry twist to give it a pink hue.
Tommy Bahama Pineapple Paradisio
This popular drink is a feast for the senses. You’ll be torn between wanting to take its picture and taking that first sip. It starts with Bacardi Pineapple, then adds in St. Germaine Elderflower, Crème de Banana, Scratch Sour, and finishes off with actual fresh-cut pineapple (in fact all drinks at Tommy Bahama are made with fresh-squeezed ingredients). The pineapple blend is superb and a great way to start (or finish!) the night.
Heavenly Big Island Honey Papaya Sangria
Heavenly is known for using high-quality local ingredients to create fresh and flavorful meals. Just imagine what that creativity can do for a cocktail. The Big Island Honey Papaya Sangria is phenomenal. This atypical sangria blends the ingredients together to a smoothie-like consistency, instead of leaving chunks of fruit. You’ll never want another traditional sangria again after trying this.
Surf Lanai Royal Mai Tai
If you’re going to have a Mai Tai in Waikiki, you might as well have the king of Mai Tai’s at the Royal Hawaiian’s Surf Lanai. All of the juices that go into this island favorite are fresh squeezed to make the flavor pop. All of the liquors involved are also top-notch including Bacardi Superior, Cointreau and Amaretto di Disaronno liqueur topped with Island-crafted Whaler’s Dark Rum.
Tiki’s Grill & Bar Pele’s Love
Oahu-crafted Ko Hana Rum and watermelon nectar- need I say more? Tiki’s Grill & Bar has more than their iconic tiki glasses and views of Waikiki Beach. Pele’s Love will make you feel the passion with fresh watermelon chunks and local rum. If Pele’s love doesn’t strike your fancy, rest assured that something on Tiki’s extensive cocktail list will.
When asked how he wanted it prepared, he’d request the cow placed on a grill. When it stopped moaning, it was ready. Rare was distinctly best in his book.
If you are also a steak-lover, your stay in Waikiki won’t disappoint. There are plenty of options available. From tri-tip to rib eye, or filet mignon to a classic Hawaiian steak plate lunch, this meat is incredibly versatile.
Whether you like your steak prepared well done or nearly raw like my grandfather, Waikiki has something to offer. Read on for more information about some of our favorite steaks in town.
TIKI’S GRILL & BAR
If you want to enjoy local live music with your meal, head down Kalakaua Ave. to Tiki’s Grill & Bar. Here traditional classics are given a local twist. Take the alae salt (red Hawaiian salt) rubbed and grilled filet mignon. This beauty is served with Kahuku sea asparagus poke, red wine Tahitian luau leaf demi-glace and a sumptuous taro puree. The melting pot of different flavors blends perfectly for a unique take on steak.
When it comes to steak, Wolfgang’s Steakhouse immediately comes to mind. Located in the Royal Hawaiian Center, Wolfgang’s Steakhouse has a classic feel with Brazilian cherry wood floors and alabaster chandeliers. Known for their 28-day dry aged steak, Wolfgang’s is practically synonymous with good steak. Try the filet mignon for a smaller portion, or go all-out with a porterhouse. Either way your taste buds will thank you.
TANAKA OF TOKYO
For a less traditional take on steak, head over to Tanaka of Tokyo. Tanaka specializes in teppan-yaki cuisine, where food is prepared on a flat iron grill right at your table. Be prepared for entertainment in addition to good food. The master chefs are adept showmen with impressive knife skills. They create fire “volcanoes” with cut onions and wow guests by twirling knives as they expertly prepare and season each dish. Using only Premium Angus beef and fresh seafood, steak at Tanaka of Tokyo isn’t just delicious, it’s an experience.
The ambiance at Hy’s transports you to another time – one where gentlemen wore tuxedos to dine and women always came prepared in white gloves. You probably won’t actually see individuals dressed so formally when you visit Hy’s (although the evening waiters do wear tuxes) but you’ll understand the urge to pretend you’re in Downton Abbey. Décor aside, the food is also amazing. Hy’s uses USDA prime beef that is aged and trimmed to perfection in house. The steaks are then grilled over fragrant Hawaiian kiawe wood for a perfect smoky flavor.
HAU TREE LANAI
Wander to the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel for beachside seating at Hau Tree Lanai. Hau Tree’s Black Angus New York Steak is Harris Ranch all-Natural Beef, grilled to perfection. It comes with a red wine reduction sauce that is not only a great accompaniment to the prime steak, you’ll also want to drink it with a straw.
TAORMINA SICILIAN CUISINE
Nestled on Lewers St. across from the Waikiki Beach Walk is Taormina Sicilian Cuisine, a delectable Italian restaurant. If you venture to “Le Carni” (meat) in the menu, you will find several choice steaks, including the prime rib eye. This meaty masterpiece is 14 oz. of grilled prime aged rib eye accompanied by the house marinade, fresh vegetables and horseradish. Most of the produce used is also locally sourced to enhance the flavor.
WAKEA the sky father, had no sons. He and his wife, Papahanaumoku, the Earth mother, had been blessed with the births of Maui and Hawaii Island, but their only human child was a daughter, Ho‘ohokukalani.
As Ho‘ohokukalani grew, so did her beauty. Soon Wakea was rapt with desire. Their union produced Wakea’s first human son, Haloanaka, but alas, the child was stillborn. They buried the child, and in that place, the first kalo (taro) plant grew.
Later, Ho‘ohokukalani and Wakea came together again, and a healthy, human boy was born. This son was Haloa, and he was the first of the Hawaiian ali‘i (chiefs). As Haloa grew, he tended the kalo plant to care for his older brother. Thus kalo is not only the staple of Hawaiian cuisine, it is also the older brother to its people.
The story of taro is dramatic. It shows the importance of the staple plant to early Hawaiian settlers. Taro is not just a plant to be cultivated, it’s a beloved yet departed older brother who needs tending by the Hawaiian people. It makes sense that this plant has been considered a family member, because its growth and processing is a labor of love.
After taking roughly a year to tend and grow, typical taro roots are ready for picking. Ancient Hawaiians used the root, or “corm,” to make the starch staple called poi. This traditional dish is made by pounding cooked corm, and adding water as necessary, until it reaches the desired, viscous consistency.
Poi may be an acquired taste to newcomers, but it is still a fundamental part of Hawaiian cuisine. It can act as a side to lomilomi salmon, or be blended into a modern acai bowl. Fresh poi has a relatively neutral flavor, which makes it easy to add to many meals.
Taro isn’t only grown for the corm. Today, as in ancient Hawaii, the taro leaves are used to wrap meats which are then baked to make laulau. Modern restaurants may not bake laulau in an underground imu (oven) as Ancient Hawaiians did, but you’ll still see pork, chicken or fish laulau on many lunch menus.
Taro usage has grown well beyond pounding poi or using the leaves for wrapping food. As a gluten-free starch, taro is also popular as a flour replacement, and is even used to make ice cream and other desserts.
Although taro use has evolved from historic Hawaiian tradition, in many ways, the art of growing taro is much the same as it has been for centuries. One part-Hawaiian farmer, Keoki Fukumitsu, also known as the “Kaloman,” grows taro on his family’s land in Kaneohe. The land has been in Fukumitsu’s family for more than 200 years, since before the reign of Kamehameha.
“I am an individual with ancient upbringing and life-style,” Fukumitsu states. “There’s just a few of us left.” It’s easy to see the truth in his statement when walking between some of the 30 separate lo‘i on his property. Lo‘i are the traditional wetland patches used to grow taro. Canals and streams that flow down from the mountains are harnessed to create marshes that feed the lo‘i. Fukumitsu grows anywhere from a half-dozen to a dozen different taro varietals at any given time in his lo‘i. There are around 87 recognized varietals of taro currently in Hawaii, although there were 300 distinct strains in early Hawaii.
Polynesians are thought to have brought taro plants with them in their canoes as they traversed the Pacific before finally settling in Hawaii. Space was precious in these vessels, which shows again how cherished the plant was. It’s significance then was based on its nutrients. Now it’s valued not only for its flavor and nutrition, but also for its cultural and historic importance as the older brother to the Hawaiian people.
For Fukumitsu, the traditional form of taro farming is worth preserving. His farm serves not only to grow taro; he also opens it up so that participants can come and work the taro patches.
“I’ve had 20,000 participants on this farm,” Fukumitsu says with pride.
While there, participants get hands-on experience in what farming taro was like when the first Hawaiian settlers began forming lo‘i. Many of the participants are young men who want to get in touch with their heritage, according to Fukumitsu, but visitors are also welcome.
Cultural experiences aside, Fukumitsu still runs a working farm. It requires constant tending to produce a crop. Most of his products are sold to restaurants or food trucks. He also harvests the taro leaves for luaus and sometimes also sells to grocers.
Although Fukumitsu the Kaloman is well loved, his farm is not without enemies. In the late 1980s, taro farmers like Fukumitsu started noticing apple snails in their lo‘i, a type of freshwater snail that can actually reach the size of an apple. This invasive species feeds on the corm and young taro stalks, and has impacted many farmers like Fukumitsu. A quick walk through the lo‘i reveals many of the snails that Fukumitsu refers to as “escargot.” These snails have to be picked by hand to maintain the crop. It’s a nuisance, but one with merit if it allows farmers like Fukumitsu to continue their trade.
“Our livelihood and our lifestyle is all saturated around the taro,” says Fukumitsu. “Taro is like Mana: It’s a God-given thing.”
It’s rare to find a plant that is so deeply rooted in the cultural, spiritual and historical identity of a place in the way that taro is loved and revered in Hawaii.
Now, taro is ubiquitous on the Islands. It’s found everywhere from high-end culinary masterpieces in Waikiki to roadside food trucks selling plate lunches. Taro is the definition of a staple food in this lush land.
The love of taro goes back to its birth as the older brother who is cared for. By tending this older brother, the Hawaiian people were provided with sustenance for generations to come.
Fukumitsu plans to keep working his land and opening it up to volunteers with a renewed vigor.
“Some people take a long time to get the picture,” he says. “But when they get it, they’re unstoppable. I’m one of them.”
Interested in trying taro during your stay in Waikiki? Here are just a few options that are available at some of our favorite restaurants.
Creamy Crushed Taro and Brandy (side dish)
Bali Steak & Seafood
Red Curry Seafood Medley (includes taro)
Goofy Café and Dine
Taro Muffin and Kai-Taro Gratin (side dish)
Tiki’s Grill & Bar
Taro Buns and Taro Mash (buns on some burger options, mash is a side dish)
Tropics Bar & Grill
Maui Veggie Burger (taro patty)
Taro Buns (buns available on some burger options)
While not all restaurants in Waikiki keep taro items on their regular menu, many, such as Roy’s, will have seasonal dishes or specials where taro is center stage.
Hawaii’s seafood lovers consume 42 pounds of fish per person per year, nearly three times the national average. Where does most of Hawaii’s local seafood come from? The Honolulu Fish Auction.
Behind the scenes of Waikiki’s top seafood-serving restaurants is the Honolulu Fish Auction, which supplies up to 100,000 pounds of fresh seafood every day, produced by Hawaiian fishermen in one of the most intensively studied, monitored and managed fisheries in the world. e Honolulu Fish Auction is the anchor of the Honolulu Fishing Village, located at Pier 38 in Honolulu Harbor. It is a fresh fish display auction operated by the United Fishing Agency since 1952 and modeled a er Japan’s tuna auction system, first introduced to Hawaii in the early 1900s. It is the only fresh tuna auction of its kind in the country.
Locally produced Hawaii seafood is an essential, center-of-the-plate ingredient of Hawaii Regional Cuisine. e creativity and innovation of Hawaii’s chefs in blending the food cultures and traditions of the Hawaiian Islands with the variety of fresh Hawaii seafood, produce and other local products has resulted in a uniquely Hawaii culinary experience.
Compared to other ports, Honolulu brings in a relatively low volume, but the quality of the catch is one of the highest ranking in the country, and is one of the best suppliers of high quality tuna and sword sh in the world, thanks to the strict regulations imposed on Hawaii’s fishermen every day to maintain a sustainable fishing practice. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries posts qualifications to qualify sustainable fisheries, and Hawaii’s fisheries pass with flying colors; the same could not be said for imported seafood, shed under lax laws. If your seafood comes from the Honolulu Fish Auction, you’re in for some of the best fish in the world.
Hawaii’s seafood industry never sleeps—really! The fish auction sequence begins when fishing vessels return to port just after midnight. Unloading the vessels begins at about 1 a.m. six days a week. Each sh is weighed, tagged, displayed and kept clean and cold in the sanitized auction house. Before being offered for sale, each fish is carefully inspected by the auction staff to ensure fish quality and safety. Buyers arrive before the auction begins to inspect the day’s landings. By tradition, the auctioneer rings a brass bell at 5:30a.m. and the bidding begins. The majority of fish are sold individually, with seafood wholesalers who serve some of the top restaurants in Hawaii and across the country. Most of the fish from the Honolulu port are delivered directly to Honolulu’s restaurants, though some is packed up and shipped to distant markets.
Hawaii’s fresh bigeye tuna, sword fish, mahimahi and deepwater bottom fish are among the highest quality available anywhere and are appreciated in the most discriminating seafood markets. Hawaii consumers really know their fish and love it best prepared as sashimi (raw sh) and poke (Hawaii-style raw fish). Hawaii residents consume approximately 42 pounds of sh per person annually, nearly three times the national average, if that’s any testament to the caliber of Hawaii’s seafood industry. With the highest grade sh ranging up to several thousands of dollars, buyers must be experienced, knowledgeable and decisive.
Educational tours of the Honolulu Fish Auction are available to the public for a nominal fee so you can watch the auction process in person. Learn about the history of longline fishing, pelagic fisheries and bottom fishing in the Hawaiian Islands. e tour is a wealth of information, from the daily process of a sherman’s work, how the Hawaii seafood industry ts into, and stands out from, the national seascape, and what is done to keep Hawaii seafood safe and sustainable.
The efforts and successes of the Honolulu Fishing auction have been monumental, positioning Honolulu as a model for responsible, sustainable fisheries on an international scale.
Located at Pier 38 of Nimitz Highway, the Honolulu Fishing Village is also home to several eateries that o er the freshest of the fresh how much closer can you get without jumping into the ocean, right Take a tour in the morning of the Honolulu Fish Auction, and dine at nearby Nico’s Pier 38 or Uncle’s Fish Market and Grill for Honolulu’s freshest catch.
For the most expertly prepared seafood in Hawaii, check out Waikiki’s top seafood restaurants, starting on page 70. To book an early morning tour of the Honolulu Fish Auction, visit the Hawaii Seafood Council’s website.
When it comes to the freshest ingredients on the island, Kai Market sets the standard. Not only are all ingredients organic whenever possible, but they’re prepared in the local Hawaii fashion. There’s a reason why Kai Market is where the locals go.
The barbeque menu at Kai Market is a new addition to the many delicious options available at this always-fresh eatery, but the selections are tried and true. Executive Chef Darren Demaya is constantly shaking up the fresh ingredients to create comfort food, seasonal specials and innovative, pioneering—tastes and with a dash of island style. Nothing harkens the tastes of Hawaii like fresh pineapple, but Chef Darren takes this dish one step further. BBQ-charred fresh pineapple, fresh from Oahu’s Kunia Country Farms, is pureed and made into a sweet relish, with fried garlic, red chili flakes and Maui sweet onions for a hearty and sweet complement to the locally raised pork. It doesn’t get more farm-to-table than at the Sheraton Waikiki’s Kai Market.