The Downtown Honolulu food scene has really taken off in the last several years. It seems like every week a new trendy eatery is popping up or closing down. From the business district to Chinatown there are endless lunch possibilities. Navigating these eateries takes time and trial and error. Since my husband works downtown I get to do lots of field testing and wanted to share some of my favorite downtown lunch spots and some tips to sort out them all out.
Best Food: The Pig and The Lady
Why? I had to start off with the best – The Pig and The Lady. The hype is real, the food is quality, and it has me dreaming about it. From their Laotian Fried Chicken appetizer, to their Pho French Dip sandwich, to their RIDICULOUSLY good House Made Soft Serve it’s really hard to compete with the food here. I recently also discovered that they make these delicious French inspired pastries daily that can be found at the counter that you can buy to-go. They remind me of San Francisco or Europe…drool!
Why Not? Ever since they opened for either lunch or dinner this place is ALWAYS packed. If you have limited time for lunch, do not come here. Unless you come when it opens, close to closing times, or make a reservation you will probably not get in unless a counter spot is open.
Still My Favorite: Lucky Belly:
Why? Lucky Belly is still one of my favorite downtown eateries for lunch or dinner. The food is still quality and the service is excellent. I still love their Shrimp Kim Chee Bowl, and they even added some new lunch items like the Kaarage Chicken Sandwich.
Why Not? Since Lucky Belly is still so awesome, it unluckily is still so crowded. If you have 1-2 people you can usually find a seat at the bar, but bigger parties still may have to wait for a table. If you have the time and don’t mind the wait, it’s always worth the wait.
Cheap, Fast, & Good: Marukame Udon
Why? It was so smart for Marukame Udon chain to land right in the heart of downtown in the Fort Street Mall to give lunchers a quality, inexpensive, and super duper fast lunch spot. If you don’t want soup for lunch, they have gotten pretty creative with new menu items like the cold Garlic Chicken Udon Salad or the Yama’s Chili – chili over udon!
Why Not? If you’re looking for an intimate, quiet lunch spot this is not the place. Since it’s busy here, it can get really loud, and usually you have to sit pretty close to other diners. Also, I have yet to figure out where the bathroom is in this place, so I’m assuming there is none.
Breakfast for Lunch! Scratch Kitchen and Bake Shop
Why? After several visits to Scratch I can say that I really like it and will continue to go back for the breakfast. My favs are the BLT Benny and the Milk and Cereal Pancakes. The wait here is not usually as bad as some of the other breakfast spots around Honolulu, which can be hours longs, and the service is always happy and friendly.
Why Not? I assume that the chef and owner is really creative based on their specials and always evolving menu, which sometimes can go wrong. I’ve eaten a couple dishes here that were a little too ambitious and didn’t really work for me. I prefer to stick to the classics here and they seemed to rock it out on breakfast and brunch. Scratch has recently opened up for dinner, so I’m curious to try out their dinner menu.
Artsy, Fun Decor, No Wait: Fresh Cafe
Why? After a couple tries I can now give Fresh Cafe’s downtown location the thumbs up. Unlike the usually cramped downtown eateries, Fresh Cafe is HUGE and roomy, so you never have to worry about sitting close to others and usually there is no wait for lunch. You can get quality appetizers, salads, sandwiches, soups, and even pizzas for lunch. I really enjoyed their Corn Chowder and Croissant Pesto Turkey Melt sandwich at my last visit. They also have an extensive gourmet coffee and tea menu, free wifi for customers, and are dog friendly.
Why Not? I was sad to see Indigo leave this space, but excited when Fresh Cafe took over, but honestly it did take a little bit for Fresh to get their menu right and situated. Every time I’ve visited Fresh Cafe I have got to say the service is mediocre – not terribly bad, but the waitstaff seems to floating on Cloud 9. If you come here, expect the real artsy fartsy dining experience that includes slower service, loud music over head (which I really enjoy), and minor unexpected surprises like increasing menu prices.