Looking for a relaxing vacation that will restore your health and happiness? Look no further than Waikiki in Honolulu, Hawaii! Not only is the scenery breathtaking, the food is life-changing. I had some of the best meals of my life while visiting Waikiki! From crispy fried pork tonkatsu to refreshing tropical shave ice, this is the ultimate foodie guide to Waikiki, one of the world’s most beautiful beach areas. Also contains gluten-free recommendations!
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Wondering what to eat in Waikiki? This guide has you covered! Join me on the Hawaii food tour that changed my life as I share some of the most mouthwatering moments of my trip with you!
Gluten-Free Options Note: I traveled to Waikiki before I was diagnosed with a gluten allergy, so not every food listed here is gluten-free. For those looking for gluten-free dining in Waikiki, I have noted which foods may be gluten-free in italics throughout the guide, but remember to always check with the restaurant to be sure! I make no guarantees about cross-contamination or presence of gluten—these are just my recommendations based on what I know from visiting these restaurants.
1. Tropical Shave Ice at Island Vintage Shave Ice
Shave ice is a must-try in Hawaii! Conveniently located in Downtown Waikiki near the beach walk and shops, Island Vintage Shave Ice is a little piece of paradise on a busy sidewalk. This tiny, innocuous stand boasts some of the most enticing and colorful shave ices I’ve ever seen!
The ice is shaved to the perfect texture and topped with fruity, sweet syrups and mountains of fresh toppings. I highly recommend the Tropical Shave Ice (big enough to share!), which had shave ice, pineapple and mango syrup, fresh pineapple, mango popping boba, mochi, and vanilla ice cream. The syrps were delicious with the perfect level of subtle sweetness and the popping boba added a fun element to the dessert. The vanilla ice cream added a luscious creaminess to the delicate shave ice. Don’t miss out on the unique take on a Hawaii classic!
Gluten-free options: The ingredients in the Tropical Shave Ice should be gluten-free, but I would check with them to be sure. Certain brands of mochi and boba could contain traces of gluten, so if you’re severely allergic, I would omit those two ingredients and just go with the syrup, fruit, and ice cream. Shave ice is generally a good dessert for those looking for gluten-free dining in Waikiki!
2. Tonkatsu Sandwich at Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin
Tonkatsu, a classic Japanese dish, is extremely popular in Hawaii. It’s a breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet and when done properly, it should be juicy on the inside and crispy on the outside. Tonkatsu is extremely difficult to execute properly and I’ve rarely had a tonkatsu that blew me away outside of Japan. The Tonkatsu Sandwich at Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin is a happy exception.
Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin is the epitome of a hole in the wall place with extraordinary food. The small restaurant is located near the beach walk, but tucked away on a side street. If you didn’t know what you were looking for, it would be easy to miss. DON’T PASS IT UP! Inside this tiny, innocuous restaurant is the most delicious fried pork sandwich you’ll ever experience. The meat is perfect—incredibly juicy on the inside and delightfully crispy on the outside. The accompanying sauce is tangy, sweet, and the perfect complement to the salty meat. The thin slices of white bread soak up the sauce and juices perfectly. You’ll want to order three more.
While the Tonkatsu Sandwich is the standout, other highlights include soft tamago (Japanese egg omelet) and spicy cucumber salad. If you want to try authentic Japanese food outside of Asia, Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin is the place to do it. It’s also a chain located across Japan, Hawaii, and other areas of Asia, so be sure to check their site for all their locations.
Gluten-Free options: While the Tonkatsu Sandwich obviously isn’t gluten-free, other items on the menu may be gluten-free if you omit the soy sauce. I would check with the restaurant before you go to see what options they may have for you.
3. Hula Pie at Duke’s Waikiki
Duke’s is a legendary Hawaii establishment with restaurants all over the state (they’ve even expanded into Florida and California). It’s namesake, Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, is a Hawaiian legend who won his first Olympic gold medal on behalf of the U.S. at the age of 21. There’s a statue of him located near the restaurant on Waikiki beach (pictured below).
But, enough about him (sorry, Duke!), let’s talk about that Hula pie. Hula pie is a rich, decadent ice cream dessert that’s almost as famous as Duke himself. And for good reason! THIS. PIE. IS. EPIC. It starts with creamy macadamia nut ice cream (I could eat the ice cream alone by the gallon) on a chocolate cookie crust and then topped off with chocolate fudge, whipped cream, and more macadamia nuts. Yes, MORE macadamia nuts. You’re in Hawaii, after all!
This pie is so sought after that Duke’s website even has a whole page dedicated to how best to enjoy this delicacy (check it out here!) Okay, so maybe you’ll never win an Olympic gold medal like Duke, but you get to enjoy hula pie, so who’s the real winner here? (Hint: it’s you)
While the Hula Pie is the standout, Duke also offers a lot of other delicious Hawaiian-inspired dishes, such as mac nut chicken katsu (pictured below) and ahi poke. They also have an all-you-can-eat salad bar!
Gluten-Free options: Duke’s has many salads, fish dishes, and other options that should be gluten-free. It’s a large restaurant with multiple locations, so I assume they would have good knowledge of gluten allergies and celiac disease. They have 4 stars on Find Me Gluten Free for accommodating gluten allergies. My advice, as always, is to check with the restaurant before you go.
4. Teppanyaki at Tanaka of Tokyo Central
I’m a huge fan teppanyaki (also called hibachi) and Tanaka of Tokyo Central is hands down the best teppanyaki experience I’ve ever had. Teppanyaki is a fun, interactive experience, where chefs use an iron griddle to prepare food right in front of diners. It’s great for kids, families, and the child in all of us.
Oftentimes, teppanyaki restaurants are kind of a disorganized mess, but this place runs like a well-oiled machine. The staff are incredibly attentive, while the chefs are entertaining and hilarious. Enjoying a meal at Tanaka of Tokyo isn’t just about food—it’s an experience!
I enjoyed a classic teppanyaki meal of lobster, steak, chicken, and scallops all for a very reasonable price. The seafood was very fresh and the meats were cooked perfectly. The meal started with a shrimp appetizer and ended with ice cream (dairy-free options available!)
Dining at Tanaka of Tokyo Central was a highlight of my trip and top of my list for best places to eat in Waikiki!
Gluten-free options: Many teppanyaki restaurants are able to accommodate gluten allergies, if they’re willing to clean and use a separate part of the grill. Again, it really depends on how severe your allergy is. I would call the restaurant ahead of time and ask if they can cook without soy sauce and what they can do to accommodate allergies in terms of cross contamination.
5. Kalua Pork at Helena’s Hawaiian Food
Helena’s Hawaiian Food is as authentic as you can get in the Waikiki area. While it’s not technically in Waikiki, it’s just a short drive and well-worth it if you can get there!
Helena’s is an iconic and renowned Hawaiian restaurant. It even received a James Beard Award for “America’s Classics” in 2000! I opted to try the Kalua pork, poi, and haupia—all authentic Hawaiian classics! The Kalua pork was soft, tender, and fell apart in my mouth. It was juicy and full of flavor. The poi (a side dish made with taro) had a unique sourness and texture that went well with the flavorful pork. The haupia (traditional coconut dessert, often served at luaus) was sweet, creamy, and the perfect end the meal (they gave us some for free with our order, but we decided to get extra since it’s so delicious!)
In the interest of full disclosure, my meal at Helena’s wasn’t my favorite of the trip. I wasn’t really used to the gaminess of the pork or the flavor of the poi, but I’m still so glad I tried it! The Kalua Pork at Helena’s made my must-try list because it’s such a uniquely Hawaiian experience that it shouldn’t be missed!
As you can see from the photo, we opted to eat at a park nearby since there isn’t much room to eat inside the tiny restaurant. Take the food on a picnic and enjoy the fresh air! It’s good for your health. 😉
Gluten-free options: I’m really not familiar with what’s in this food since it’s so authentically Hawaiian, but it seemed like a lot of it would be naturally gluten-free (except for the possible use of soy sauce). I would call ahead and ask about options! At the very least, the rice, poi, and haupia should definitely be gluten-free.
6.Udon Noodles at Marukame Udon
Ever since I was diagnosed with a gluten allergy (read more about it here), one of the foods I miss the most is fresh, hand-pulled Japanese noodles like the ones at Marukame Udon. I literally dream about these noodles! They’re that good.
I arrived at Marukame Udon at noon on a weekday and the line was out the door! That’s how you know you’re in for a great experience. The line moved quickly and the food is well worth the short wait. As you walk in, you can see the udon noodles (a thick Japanese wheat-based noodle) being pulled by hand signaling authenticity at its finest.
I highly recommend the Niku Udon noodles (pictured above), which come in a flavorful broth topped with tender pieces of beef. If it’s a hot day though, I recommend the Zaru Udon (pictured below), which is served cold with a dipping sauce on the side. I’ve always been told that the best way to tell if udon is fresh is if the cold noodles snap when you bite into them. As you can probably guess, these noodles snapped like an acapella choir.
In addition to noodles, Marukame Udon also serves tempura, croquettes, and other traditional Japanese accompaniments to your meal.
Gluten-free options: Since this restaurant is mostly noodle dishes and the noodles are made on the premises (so there’s flour on the surfaces and in the air), I can’t recommend this as a safe gluten-free option. Sorry folks!
7. Fish Tacos at Hula Grill Waikiki
FISH TACOS YUM! Enough said. Hula Grill is located right on the beach and has some of the best fish tacos I’ve ever tasted. Flaky, fresh white fish grilled with Cajun seasonings, flavorful chipotle sauce, and a unique corn and avocado relish—this is the real deal. They also have live music during brunch of the weekends. This adorable oceanfront restaurant with a relaxed, “island” vibe is a great place to unwind in the hustle and bustle of downtown Waikiki.
Also, fresh pineapple! Mmmmm… so good!
Gluten-free options: Hula Grill is my top recommendation for gluten-free dining in Waikiki. They list what is made with gluten-free ingredients on the menu and I’ve read that the servers have a good understanding of gluten allergies. They have a ton of “gluten-conscious” options from crab topped macadamia nut crusted ono to sashimi. Check their website for more details.
8. Garlic Teriyaki Edamame at Doraku Kaka’ako Izakaya and Sushi
I’m a huge fan of Asian fusion cuisine. Unfortunately, Asian fusion cuisine does have a bad reputation among many of those who are used to the more traditional interpretations of Asian dishes. It’s often too salty, too sweet, or just plain weird. The Asian fusion cuisine at Doraku could single handedly change that perception. This is far and away some of the best Asian fusion food I’ve ever had in my life (and I’ve had A LOT).
The dishes here strike the perfect balance between unique Asian fusion flavors paired with keeping the traditional approach and integrity of the ingredients that Japanese cuisine is known for. The Garlic Teriyaki Edamame is the perfect example of this. The edamame is high quality and cooked correctly (there should be an inherent bite to it), but then it’s slathered in an addictive and delicious fushion-y garlic teriyaki sauce. It’s the best of both worlds!
Doraku also has delicious drinks (come for Happy Hour), sushi rolls, seafood, and other dishes. If you love Japanese or Asian fusion cuisine, don’t miss out!
Gluten-free options: Doraku has a large menu that includes sashimi, sushi rolls, and grilled fish/meat dishes. If you speak to the server ahead of time and make sure they don’t use any soy sauce in your food, it should be pretty safe. Good option for gluten-free dining in Waikiki!
Looking for more? Check out my other Travel posts here!