Best Cocktails on Oahu
Forget the novelty mai tai in a tiki mug—bartenders in Oahu take full advantage of their lush surroundings and are creating libations that use ingredients like passion fruit syrup, smoked sugar cane, lemongrass, and ginger. Sure, you can find the kitschy tropical drinks, but they’ll more likely feature a hint of mezcal and the freshest pineapple juice than the cocktails your parents enjoyed on their honeymoon. The craft beer movement has even washed up on the shores of Waikīkī. Get ready for a sip of something fresh.
1585 Kapiolani Boulevard
Local restaurateur Hide Sakurai—also the force behind Shokudo next door—brings healthy grab-and-go options to the heart of Honolulu’s Ala Moana, the state’s largest shopping center. An artisan café and pinot wine bar, Bread & Butter seats around 50 and serves three meals a day. Argentine chef Arnaldo “Masa” Gushiken adds hints of Spanish and Japanese cuisine to the otherwise very locavore American menu. Highlights include the beet-peach-arugula salad and the house-smoked-ahi sandwich, balanced by the bright crunch of pickled vegetables in its side salad. Regulars also rave about the single servings of paella, the bell-pepper-goat-cheese dip, and the decadent truffle chicken starring an entire game hen.
2 N Hotel St, Honolulu, HI 96817, USA
Twice-fried chicken and foie gras gyoza reign at this New American brasserie in Honolulu‘s Chinatown, also known for potent cocktails like the Chumley (Earl Grey-infused rye and Vecchio Amaro del Capo with lemon, egg white, and smoked sugar cane). “Taste comes first, but we do local whenever we can,” points out co-owner Chuck Bussler. “We have a handshake deal with our chicken supplier, we buy from day boat fishermen, and 90% of our greens come from the island.” Exposed brick and reclaimed wood dominate its cozy dining room, which seats 40 guests at tables, plus 10 more at the bar and five at the chef’s counter.
50 Sand Island Access Rd, Honolulu, HI 96819, USA
Honolulu’s last great tiki bar is tucked behind a row of warehouses, six miles northwest of Waikiki. Set on the edge of Keehi Lagoon, it shelters under plumeria and coconut trees—and will be familiar to fans of Hawaii Five-0. La Mariana defies the kitsch label: All those shell chandeliers, puffer-fish lights, and fishing floats suspended in nets are the real deal, with most items dating back to 1957. Carved tikis abound, alongside high-gloss tables fashioned from koa, the rich-hued wood from endemic acacias and the source of weapons and voyaging canoes for ancient Hawaiians. Go for the ambience and strong mai tais; the menu is straight-up, old-school surf and turf, perfectly tasty but uninspiring.
50 North Hotel Street
Craft cocktails and modern Asian cuisine reign at this hip noodle bar in Honolulu‘s Chinatown. Dig into a bowl of ramen, garnished with sesame seeds, green onion, ginger, a soft egg, and wakame (dried seaweed). From there, things get lively with additions like oxtail won tons and togarashi shrimp with housemade kimchi. Other standouts include lamb lumpia and pork belly bao (buns). Adventurous eaters should try the uni gnocchi—made with creamy urchin gonads—enhanced by leeks, tomatoes, and butter cream sauce. A popular late-night stop, Lucky Belly serves its full menu until 12 a.m. every night except Sunday. Its takeout window serves specials—announced via @_dawindow on Instagram—until 2 a.m., Thursday to Saturday.
2330 Kalakaua Ave #330, Honolulu, HI 96815, USA
Upscale food halls are having their day and here James Beard-winner and Michelin-starred chef Michael Mina takes a star turn. Of special note is the Myna Bird cocktail bar, inspired by Don the Beachcomber, the joint that kicked off the 1960s tiki craze. Expect rum, pineapple, and little paper umbrellas, of course, but also fusion touches like mezcal! Save space on your camera, as bartenders don’t hold back on the presentation. Strong, thoughtfully balanced drinks roll out in everything from cantaloupes to conch shells. Don’t miss the two-person, crowning glory of the Pacific Rim section: the Abandon Ship! It blends together two rums, chai tea, passion fruit syrup, Benedictine, and lemon.
92-1001 Olani Street
Once the sacred retreat of King Kamehameha, who unified Hawaii, Ko Olina now also welcomes guests to the new Four Seasons Resort Oahu. Chef Ryo Takatsuka marries local flavors to Capri’s at this romantic restaurant, where outdoor tables soak up views of the sunset and stars. Wine Spectator gave it a 2017 award of excellence for its list, which runs especially strong on French, Italian, and Californian vintages. But don’t let that distract from its superb cocktail options like the Pompelmo (gin, grapefruit oleo, aromatic bitters, and egg white) or the Spritzer della Casa (Aperol, strawberries, Cocchi Americano Rosato, and basil tincture, finished with prosecco). The bar also serves an indulgent array of nonalcoholic drinks, including the Tutti Santi (Oahu passionfruit and Hawaiian honey graced with lime and sea salt).
83 N King St, Honolulu, HI 96817, USA
Started as a farmers’ market stand, this superb spot in Honolulu’s Chinatown serves contemporary Vietnamese food with global accents. Andrew Le—a 2014 James Beard Rising Chef of the Year semifinalist—brings Culinary Institute of America chops, while his mother Loan “Mama” Le contributes inspiration from her youth in Ho Chi Minh City. In addition to running an award-winning kitchen, the two have created drinks like the Redivider (pisco, pandan two ways, and coconut water) and the Cobra Commander (avocado mezcal, Sriracha ice, Pamplemousse Rose, and lime). Nonalcoholic delights include coconut horchata and a shrub made from pear, ginger, and cinnamon. Reserve ahead for a spot in this bustling, exposed-brick space, full of communal tables and funky light fixtures.
66-111 Kamehameha Hwy #101, Haleiwa, HI 96712, USA
This spacious North Shore eatery and watering hole riffs on the beloved Honolulu original. It makes a strong showing in the “pupu” (appetizer) department with nibbles like poke, pot stickers, kālua-pig fried rice, Korean-style chicken wings, and nut wraps in buttercup lettuce. Cool down with a light, refreshing cocktail unique to this location, such as the Hokulani (citrus, Three Olives vodka, and elderflower liqueur, splashed with soda) or the Hawaii Five-Bo (strawberry daiquiri with Bacardi rum, habañero syrup, and piña colada foam). As with many O‘ahu eateries, the prices can seem a bit more Manhattan-stiletto than “flip-flop surfer bar.” But the flavors and charming service tend to carry the day! (Note: it’s a short stroll to the public restrooms, involving some unlit steps at night. Plan ahead.)
2365 Kalakaua Avenue
Dive deep into island lassitude with afternoon tea at the Moana Surfrider, the Victorian-era hotel nicknamed “The First Lady of Waikīkī.” Grab an open-air table and sample one of six locally crafted teas, ranging from Lemon Rooibos to Moana Sunset, a mix of sweet mango and tangy ohelo berries. The $45 classic service includes savories like duck prosciutto, “furikake” salmon, and a caramel cream puff with black sea salt. Not to mention green tea sorbet and a curd made from lilikoi (passionfruit) and Devonshire cream. Kick things up a bit with a nonalcoholic pomegranate fizz or a Poema sparkling brut rosé!
675 Auahi St #121, Honolulu, HI 96813, USA
The state’s first dedicated craft-beer café and boutique showcases over 500 brews in the up-and-coming Kakaako neighborhood. All seven Oahu breweries rotate through here, including Home of the Brave. This nearby brewpub not only produces great suds like the smooth Remember Pearl Harbor Lager, but it squeezes World War II memorabilia into its Brewseum (brewseums.com). The shop is especially strong on Hawaiian beers with seasonal flavors like Lanikai Brewing’s use of Surinam cherries in a sour or Honolulu BeerWorks drawing pad thai flavors into a Hefeweizen. Look for beers steeped in terroir too: Waikiki Brewing is smoking its own malt with local kiawe wood, while Aloha Beer salted a German-style Gose with ocean water!