The Brancatelli File
WHERE THE LOCALS
GO IN HONOLULU
BY JOE BRANCATELLI
January 3, 1989 -- Most kama'ainas (that's Hawaiian for longtime residents) observe a hard-and-fast rule about Waikiki: don't go there unless you absolutely have to.
The local aversion to Waikiki is based partly on a few kernels of truth—the place is crowded with tourists and traffic—and some geographic realities that isolate the district from the rest of town.
But it's also rooted in an unsavory snobbery that leads kama'ainas to insist that nothing interesting ever happens in one of the world's most exciting neighborhoods. So keeping in mind that many locals would prefer that you stay in Waikiki and leave them to their xenophobic selves, here's a selective list of where kama'ainas congregate in Honolulu.
WHERE THE LOCALS GO TO AVOID TOURISTS
The hottest new rock club in Honolulu isn’t in Waikiki but in a shopping mall near downtown, an area where few visitors venture. There are also two new restaurants (one partially owned by macho man Tom Selleck of Magnum P.I. fame) that have crowds lined up to get in. And this is just the beginning. After a slow start, Restaurant Row—a cluster of ground-level eateries in a seven-building office complex at 500 Ala Moana Boulevard—is off and running. Studebaker’s (800-526-9888), a neon-lit nightclub with a 1950s sock-hop theme, has been packing them in since opening last spring. Then, over the summer, Selleck helped premiere The Black Orchid (521-3111), an art deco restaurant with American cuisine where reservations are hard to come by. A few days later, Sunset Grill (521-4409) began turning out pasta and grilled meat and fish in its glass-walled, wood-burning Italian rotisserie. (At both restaurants, dinner for two costs $50-$60; Studebaker’s serves sandwiches; cover charge is $5.) Just opened is Rose City Diner, with diner cooking served by—what else?—waiters on roller skates.
WHERE LOCALS GO TO SHOP
Everybody meets at Ala Moana Center (1450 Ala Moana Blvd.), the world's largest (180 shops and 20 restaurants) open-air mall. It has two noteworthy department stores. Liberty House, arbiter of what's fashionable here, offers a huge collection of tropical-weight women's wear and appealing local jewelry and accessories; and Shirokiya, a wonderland of Japanese housewares, fashions and foods, which incongruously houses the best boulangerie and patisserie in town. Ultra-chic Ward Centre (1200 Ala Moana Blvd.) boasts 30 Euro-style boutiques and cafes, but unpretentious Ward Warehouse (1050 Ala Moana Blvd.) has Pomegranates in the Sun, a shop filled with sensual, fashion-forward women's attire from a variety of local, Asian and South American sources. Outside the centers, the under-30 crowd leans toward Local Motion (1714 Kapiolani Blvd.), a surf shop filled with funky casual wear and neon-colored fashions. Reyn's (Kahala Mall) is where Honolulu executives shop for "conservative" aloha wear in muted colors and quiet designs.
WHERE LOCALS GO TO THE BEACH
Across from the shopping center, Ala Moana Beach Park is popular for swimming, jogging, volleyball and serious socializing. Sandy Beach, on Oahu's East Shore, is the favorite of local bodysurfers. Sans Souci Beach near the Kaimana Beach Hotel (2863 Kalakaua Ave.) draws tanners, surfers and residents of the pricey Gold Coast.
WHERE LOCALS GO FOR THE VIEW
There are dozens of scenic routes in Honolulu, but Roundtrip Drive in the exclusive Tantalus neighborhood commands stunning vistas of southern Oahu, including Waikiki, Diamond Head, downtown and Honolulu harbor.
WHERE LOCALS GO FOR LEIS
Leis aren't a quaint tourist ritual but an integral part of daily Hawaiian life. Every flower shop sells a large selection, but the most beautiful, fragrant and exotic leis are strung at small stands in Chinatown. Try Sweetheart's Lei Shop (65 N. Beretania).
WHERE LOCALS GO FOR LUNCH
Saimin (noodles and fish cake in broth), maunapua (large Chinese-style stuffed buns) and bento (Japanese tidbits in a plastic box) are favorites sold everywhere. So is the calorie-laden "plate lunch" of two scoops of rice, a scoop of macaroni salad and meat smothered in gravy. The undisputed plate-lunch champ, Rainbow Drive-In (3308 Kanaina Ave.), offers a dozen varieties for less than $5 each. There are just 10 tables at Ono Hawaiian Foods (726 Kapahulu Ave.), but plenty of local favorites like kalua pig, butterfish and Spam. Lunch costs less than $9 for two. Café Cambio (1680 Kapiolani Blvd.), a stylish pasta-and-pizza bistro, is a trendy spot for a business lunch. Lunch for two costs about $40.
WHERE LOCALS GO FOR DINNER
Superlative Chinese noodles, soups and dumplings are the specialties at Woodlands (1289 S. King St.), a homely storefront where two can dine sumptuously with beer for 425. Chiang Mai (2239 S. King St.; 941-1151) is also an ugly duckling, but it serves pleasant Thai food and offers an extensive vegetarian menu. Dinner for two rarely tops $30. Sada Restaurant (1432 Makaloa St.) behind the Ala Moana Center might be Honolulu's most popular sushi bar, and it's open until almost midnight every night but Sunday. Irifune (563 Kapahulu) is decorated like a tatty country house, but kama'ainas flock there for garlic stir-fried vegetable dishes with chicken, fish or tofu. Dinner for two could cost just $20. Locals say they "feel Hawaiian" at The Willows (901 Hausten St.), a collection of thatched dining rooms specializing in poi dinners, local fish and Sri Lankan curries. Hawaiian musicians and lei vendors stroll the grounds.
WHERE LOCALS GO TO SOCIALIZE:
Ryan's Parkplace Bar & Grill (Ward Centre, 1200 Ala Moana Blvd.), which serves the hip beer of the moment and the trendiest finger foods, is where Honolulu's most eligible yuppies imbibe after work.
WHERE LOCALS GO WHEN THEY BREAK THE RULE
Kama'ainas who do venture into Waikiki are probably on their way to the Outrigger Canoe Club (2909 Kalakaua Ave.). Situated directly on the beach in the shadow of Diamond Head, the Outrigger is Honolulu's most prestigious private club.
This column originally appeared in Travel & Leisure magazine.
Copyright © 1989-2009 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.