Our Favorite Chinatown Eats in Honolulu!
It's 9am and the day has just started. I should be checking my emails or running errands before the shop opens. Instead, I'm trying to decide if I need breakfast. I'm not starving, but my mouth is watering because I'm thinking about the fact that Ali'i Coffee Co. just added soups to their menu and below 70 degree weather in Hawaii calls for a sweater and soup. Add in the wind chill factor and it's below 65! ...I DEFINITELY need soup.
But really. It is HARD to work in an area with so much good food. I still have not explored every eatery in the downtown/Chinatown area of Honolulu and I still have a list to check out! Some people say they don't want to share their favorite spots because they'll become crowded. I love sharing because I don't want them to stay secret. I share because I want them to be around forever and the only way that can happen is by sending them more business!
I've compiled a list of my favorite spots in downtown/Chinatown to share with you! They're not in any particular order. First I thought, I'll post my top three. But that's really hard. Then top five - also tough. So I just posted every place I wanted to until I got writers block, which came out to 9! Also, believe it or not, all these food photos were already hanging out in my phone! It's quite a long list, but I promise your mouth will be watering by the end and you'll leave with something new and delicious to try. Here are some of my favorite Chinatown eats!
ALI'I COFFEE CO.
Funny... I'm not a coffee drinker because I'll crash in about 30 minutes after that first sip. Yet, my go-to for a morning pick me up is a coffee shop. I get my usual tea but it's the food and the friendly service that keeps me coming back! Did you also know they were on Yelp's 2019 Best 100 List? It's also dangerously close to the shop and the owners keep coming up with addicting items that I MUST go back and try.
Most recent addition to their menu is the soup of the week and a breakfast sandwich. My picks off the menu are the Taro Ube Latte and the Ali'i Veggie Sandwich. The guys at Ali'i will make my Latte with decaf so I can enjoy without crashing and I'm always searching for a good veggie sandwich. It's surprisingly hard to find one that's delicious. The beet hummus spread on the toasted wheat bread gets me every time. Even though I'm not a coffee drinker, I have had a little sample of the coffee offered and I was really tempted to just cave and get a whole cup and deal with the consequences! Try the King or Queen on tap!
Another coffee shop! I found this spot when looking for breakfast meeting spots away from the crowds at Starbucks. It is insane at Starbucks in the morning in downtown Honolulu! Besides, I like supporting the little guy. When I first went, I realized that they had Paleo cookies which was perfect for the diet I was on at the time and got hooked. They also have other items on the menu such as the lox bagel, which is my typical go-to when I'm not on a low carb diet (most of the time)! The coolest part is they are able to personalize your coffee with coffee art! The friendly staff will help you upload a photo and it'll print out on your coffee! Our logo is printed on the photo above but you can print WAY more detail than that! Check out their Yelp to see other coffee art and add them to your list of favorite Chinatown eats!
This was one of my friend's favorite spots so I was introduced to this lunch spot by him! Döner Shack serves up schwarma in a pita wrap, on salad and even on a bun! It's a simple menu but still hard to choose once I get to the front of the line; I usually end up with the pita wrap with some avocado added in. I have a direct line of sight to Doner Shack from my shop and there's pretty much always a crowd outside so you know it's good. If you're trying to avoid the crowds, you can check it out on a Saturday; they're open for lunch!
Ahi & Vegetable is exactly what the name says. You can order fresh fish over regular, brown, sushi rice or over a salad if you're opting for something with fewer carbs. My reason for loving Ahi & Vegetable is probably not the typical. I'm addicted to natto and have to satisfy a weekly (sometimes twice weekly) craving. I don't think I've ever been there when another customer also ordered this. Most are there for the spicy tuna bowls, sushi or fresh ahi combos which I've had and are fresh and delicious. There is just no other place that I know of that I can just get a bowl of natto over some good sushi rice in downtown. If you're like me and LOVE natto, consider adding Ahi & Vegetable to your list of Favorite Chinatown Eats!
On a cold day (or cold office day), a hot bowl of udon is heaven. If you've been to the one in Waikiki and waited in the line that snakes around several times, you probably gave up on ever going back. The downtown location as far less crowded and easier to find a seat. I usually opt for their curry udon with a soft boiled egg. It's delicious, filling and the perfect way to warm up. Plus, they're prices are great for those who eat out for lunch on a budget. Prices for udon start from $3. The tempura and musubi are a quick inexpensive bite if you're not feeling the udon that day.
It's rare that I get to leave the shop during a lunch hour, so sometimes I head out for dinner. Rangoon specializes in Burmese food and you may have been to their first location, Dagon, near Puck's Alley. The menu has all the favorites from Dagon with some new dishes at Rangoon! It's also BYOB and I've always got a bottle of wine hanging around the shop. It's one of those few restaurants where you can try something new each time and not be disappointed. I usually start with the Rangoon Tea Leaf Salad and have to fit the Fisherman's Stew or Lamb Kebat. Pictured above is their Whole Fish Wrapped in Banana Leaves. I've noticed they sometimes sell out but another lighter item to try! My tip: go with a bigger group so you can try more on the menu! Soon enough, you'll probably consider Rangoon one of your favorite Chinatown eats!
A question I get often when I tell people I'm from Hong Kong is "Where's the best dim sum in Hawaii?" While no dim sum in Hawaii would be comparable to Hong Kong, there are a couple places that I think are pretty decent for what is available locally. My go-to is Fook Lam. There's something about the rudimentary waitlist system, old men gambling outside the restaurant, the dim sum carts versus checking off the boxes on a little menu card and the Chinese waitstaff yelling over my head that reminds me of Hong Kong and makes it feel more authentic. A few of my favorites to order at the XO sauce lo bok ko (turnip cake), chicken feet and the siu long bao dumplings filled with soup. Make sure to add on the vinegar and ginger to complete that soupy dumpling.
Everyone knows the pizza is amazing here. My shop is across the street and I smell the pizza EVERY SINGLE DAY. Literally, stop, close your eyes, and just imagine all that fresh pizza smell filling up your nostrils. My usual order is half Giacamo and half Margherita with garlic. I also have to add on Jalapeño Poppers! While the pizza is amazing, the Jalapeño poppers are always a must for me. I recommend considering saving a spot for J.Dolan's on your list of favorite Chinatown eats!
Last stop: Dessert! I love this spot. Sometimes, I walk past and Chinatown seems empty but this spot is full of life with late night customers looking for something new and original. They have original flavors and non-dairy options for the lactose intolerant (raises hand). The owner makes everything in small batches. The black sesame flavor pictured up top was on point!