Best Places to Eat in Honolulu: Kaimuki Edition

Kaimuki! This is one of my favorite neighborhoods in Honolulu. My mom’s office used to be in Kaimuki so I’d take the bus from Punahou to Kaimuki after school, and get off at the 12th Avenue stop…

…I’d check out new comic books at Gecko’s and buy one Archie Comic each week (ideally a Betty & Veronica Double Digest), swing by Crack Seed Store for li hing mui Coke Icee, and then walk to mom’s office. Pretty fun for a kid…

The original locations of Gecko’s is long gone (they relocated around the corner though it doesn’t feel quite the same), but Crack Seed Store is still around and going strong. I always get the same order: li hing mui Coke Icee. It’s the best. You can have it with Strawberry Icee but there’s something about the way li hing mui and Coke go together. Li hing mui  is salted dried plum, but there is also wet li hing mui (all saucy and sticky) which is used for the Icee. This is how he does it:

  1. Fill the Icee cup halfway with Coke Icee.
  2. Put one li hing mui crack seed in the center and a scoop of li hing mui “juices” (from one of those big glass jars).
  3. Fill Icee cup to the top.
  4. Finish with another scoop of li hing mui “juices.”

It’s a Kaimuki classic. You can get the whole crack seed collection in this store from dried mangoes to li hing mui gummies. Sometimes I go back to the places I loved as a kid, or one of those old school classics and they just don’t taste as good anymore. Then I wonder, was it never good and I’m here for the nostalgia? Or have my tastes changed? No idea. But Crack Seed Store is happily one of those places that will be good and loved forever.

Around the corner from Crack Seed Store is Jewel or Juice, a great spot for acai bowls. I’m always torn between Jewel or Juice and Da Cove (on Monsarrat) when it comes to acai bowls.

Cross Waialae Avenue and you’ll find yourself right in front of Pipeline Bakeshop & Creamery.

They’ve got dreamy malasadas (I love it on equal levels with Leonard’s). The malasadas are fried to order and come dusted with plain sugar (the original) or with Cocoa, Coffee, or Li Hing Mui sugar. Can’t go wrong with any of these options.

Other items I love from Pipeline:

  • Malasada bread pudding
  • Pumpkin crunch cake (whole cake pictured above, but you can also get small squares)
  • Malafrozada ice cream
  • Ube-haupia mac nut bar
  • Malamode (malasada wrapped ice cream)

I mentioned both Leonard’s and Pipeline malasadas in this Eater piece…but don’t forget, Punahou malasadas are the best, best :)

A few doors down from Pipeline is Okata Bento, one of those classic old school spots. It’s amazing how low they’ve managed to keep the prices. There’s a great shabu/nabe place next door called Asuka Nabe + Shabu Shabu. It’s casual but make reservations because they are always packed for dinner.

Cross back the other side of Waialae Avenue and there’s Coffee Talk (we used to hang out here in high school), the “new” location of Gecko Books & Comics, and Koko Head Cafe. Koko Head Cafe is the spot for decadent breakfast/lunch items. But my favorite thing is actually their most simple dish: eggs/toast/meat/hash brown. It only works because they do each individual part nicely. I order the eggs sunny side up (so that I can pour Aloha shoyu on top and dip the toast into the yolks). You can select from a number of meats, try the house-made maple sriracha sausage…so ono. And of course, those hash browns! I’d be delighted eating a giant plate of hash browns for breakfast.

Koa Pancake House is just a few steps away if you want a more casual, order at the counter type of breakfast place.

Right on 12th Avenue is a number of sweets shops, some old and some new. Sconees Bakery is the oldest on the block – been going here since I was a little kid. Go to orders: lilikoi cheese pockets (pictured) and mini scones.

There’s also Chocolate + Vanilla Bakery, Otto Cake (for cheesecake and really good carrot cake), and…

Via Gelato where I like to do that half-chocolate, half-haupia gelato combo.

There are two sandwich shops in Kaimuki. Sprout Sandwich is lighter and has a healthy vibe to it. E.A.R.L is the more indulgent one. Both are great.

Back in December 2017, Noelle and I discovered our new “secret spot.”

We ended up at Restaurant Aki because our original plans fell through. We didn’t expect too much but Aki turned out to be a truly enjoyable and delicious. We immediately made plans to come back the next day and the day after. The weird part was that the restaurant was pretty quiet. Even better! We decided this would be our secret spot. But a month later the newspaper wrote it up…and our secret spot was no longer a secret. Reservations are a must at dinner, walk-in ok for lunch.

At dinner we love all the yakitori, sashimi, and soymilk-sesame hotpot.

And they do these lunch sets during the day, a real great deal. Don’t forget warabi mochi for dessert ^-^

That’s it for the “upper half” part of Kaimuki. Now we’re going to walk down Waialae Avenue, and stop in at Bean About Town.

This is a new coffee shop (so many new ones opening lately) and my go-to order is the shakerato.

Next door is Super Pho, our Kaimuki pho spot. We also go to Hale Vietnam which is slightly nicer (and attracts a ton of Japanese tourists for some reason), but I think the pho broth at Super Pho is better.

Walk another block down Waialae Avenue, to Hae Dong Sang Hoe. This is a wholesale factory, but you can usually just walk in and see if they have any extras for sale. Super fresh. You know all the mochi and tteok at the Korean supermarkets? They ALL come from Hae Dong Sang Hoe. They make about a dozen different types of mochi and tteok and I love the all. Pumpkin tteok might be my favorite, but I’ll happily take whichever one is still warm from the steamer.

This area also starts the section of what I consider the lower half of Kaimuki. Lower half runs 6th Avenue to 10th Avenue. Upper half is 9th Avenue to Koko Head Avenue. It’s not an official designation, but that’s how I split it up. The whole lower and upper area is walkable…only issue is that there is never enough shade/cool spots for walking in Kaimuki. The heat slows you down.

Tamura’s is across the street from Hae Dong Sang Hoe. It’s a wonderful neighborhood wine shop that happens make great poke. Head to the back right of the shop, and there’s a whole poke bar set up. Sometimes we get champagne and poke and rice and head to a friend’s house…best weekday lunch!


Now we’re going to head all the way down to Waialae and 3rd Avenue. I know I said cutoff for lower Kaimuki was 6th Avenue, but we can make an exception for W&M. We have to go here when Kelly and Chrissy come home for vacation. You can actually see Kelly and Chrissy in the photo. And Steph and Nick next to them.

It’s all about the teri burger at W&M. Get the burger with everything (called the Royal Burger) and fries and soda and call it a day.

Heading back up to 9th Avenue we have Leahi Health – they make some of the best smoothies in town. My favorite orders:

  • Poi Boy – kombucha, coconut milk, pineapple, taro, banana, goji berry
  • Lowenbehold – a Poi Boy with greens, maca, help, chia, flax, spirulina
  • Olena Dream – kombucha, almond milk, carrots, oranges, pineapple, apple banana, papaya, ginger, olena, goji

And if you’re here for lunch, try the kale-avocado tacos.

Or you can have lunch across the street at town. Can’t go wrong with the daily local specials, and the burger is a classic. Cross back the other side of Waialae for Kaimuki Superette. It’s an order at the counter, seat yourself spot. Sunny and bright, good place for a fast (but nice) lunch or quick meeting. I like the he’e roll (think lobster roll, but poached octopus instead of lobster), the ahi clubhouse, and any of the daily veggie sides. Don’t forget to get the grilled lemon lemonade.

My favorite of these three Ed Kenney Kaimuki restaurants is Mud Hen Water. It’s right next door to Kaimuki Superette. I am head over heels for these pancakes. I once had them three weekends in a row. I thought I was going to tire of them, but I actually started craving them more. Every Sunday morning should start with an order of these. They are sourdough banana pancakes. Thin, crêpe-like, and lacy at the edges. Sliced bananas are tucked between the two pancakes. Scoop of whipped brown butter on top. Maple syrup on the side. I went for a late brunch the other day and they didn’t have a full order of pancakes left, but kindly offered to make a half-order (pictured above). It was perfect. A full order looks like this…so golden.

If you come with a friend, split an order of the pancakes and the Seaboard. it’s got smoked opah, preserved akule, pastrami-cured kahala (my other favorite part), basket cheese (my favorite part!), housemade brown bread, soda crackers, and marmalade.

They also have outdoor seating area. My favorite part to sit is at the bar.

On the dinner menu look for Yaki o Pa‘i’ai. It’s pa‘i’ai grilled with shoyu and sugar. Placed on nori and topped with sesame seeds.

Also love the He’e Lu’au with grilled he’e, taro leaf, and inamona dukkah.

And I do wish they would bring back the curry banana! Haven’t seen it on the menu in awhile.

After brunch at Mud Hen Water, we usually walk down to The Curb for coffee, and then Breadshop to pick up a loaf (or two!) for the week. This brioche is very, very wonderful. I keep meaning to make french toast with it, but always end up demolishing it sliced (or torn by hand hahah) and toasted.

They also bake sweet mini brioche buns (topped with sugar and butter) and snack size focaccia squares with different toppings (changes daily). Dreamy afternoon snack options.

And check out this furikake focaccia. Man, only in Hawaii. Lucky we live Hawaii ^-^

Short list and favorite orders:

Upper Kaimuki

  • Restaurant Aki – everything
  • Pipeline Bakeshop & Creamery – malasadas, pumpkin crunch bar
  • Crack Seed Store – li hing mui icee, crack seed
  • EARL Sandwich
  • Bean About Town – shakerato

Lower Kaimuki

  • Breadshop – brioche, furikake focaccia, sweet bun
  • Mud Hen Water – sourdough banana pancakes
  • Kaimuki Superette – he’e roll
  • Leahi Health – smoothies
  • Tamura’s – poke
  • kat
    July 6, 2018

    love this list!

    • Kathy YL Chan
      July 6, 2018

      thanks, kat! hope you are well ^-^

  • catherineap
    July 6, 2018

    Wow, everything looks amazing, especially to a white girl brought up in the Midwest. And such gorgeous photos–I want it all!

    • Kathy YL Chan
      July 6, 2018

      thanks, catherine!! you’ll have to make it out to honolulu soon…everything is so tasty here! ^-^

  • Sandy
    July 8, 2018

    Is this Crack Seed Store the same as the one that was at the Ala Moana mall? On my last trip to Honolulu, I was very sad to find out the mall store closed, and that the store was only doing mail orders.

    • Kathy YL Chan
      July 8, 2018

      Hi Sandy! It’s different from the one that was at Ala Moana but has just as wide of a selection. I actually think it’s even better ^-^

  • Kirk
    July 17, 2018

    Very nice….I was raised in the Kaimuki/Kapahulu (Aliiolani/Jarrett/Kaimuki HS) area. Last time I was in the area it was still the same owner of the Crack Seed Store from when we lived in the area. W&M is always a must stop.

    • Kathy YL Chan
      October 6, 2018

      Thanks, Kirk! I hope Crack Seed Store never changes ^-^ And yes to W&M!!

  • Emelyn
    July 28, 2018

    Great List–thank you.

    A few years ago you did a wonderful story about a tea farm in the Big Island. I loved it and to my surprise so did my husband and sons.

    I’ll be in Oahu in August with girlfriends. Is there a tea farm on the island? Also…is there one place you recommend for afternoon tea with girlfriends?


    • Kathy YL Chan
      October 6, 2018

      Hi Emelyn! Apologies for a VERY belated reply. Hope you had a good trip to Oahu! There are no commercial tea farms on Oahu so you didn’t miss out on that. As for tea…hope you made it to the Kahala, Halekulani, or Moana Surfrider ^-^

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