As clients make plans to enjoy quarantine-free visits to Oahu after the Aloha State’s COVID-19 testing program is implemented, many may be wondering what sort of experience awaits them on the island, which is affectionately known as “The Gathering Place.”
Visitor traffic to Waikiki Beach, while expected to grow in the coming weeks, likely won’t reach 2019 levels, as Hawaii is still effectively closed to most international travelers. Airline seat capacity from the U.S. mainland also remains drastically reduced from pre-pandemic peaks.
While dining rooms in and around Honolulu have reopened at reduced capacity, clients who wish to continue social distancing during their visit can partake in one of the Hawaii culinary scene’s most treasured traditions: takeaway meals.
Hawaii has long been a cultural melting pot, and the destination’s cuisine features a diverse mix of Pan-Pacific culinary traditions, including portable meals. Across the state, many restaurants and lunch counters package their meals for takeaway almost by default, and those that don’t will often do so upon request.
The modern plate lunch (a local relative of the Japanese bento box) harkens back to the period when the state’s primary industry was agriculture. Plantation workers from Japan, China, Korea, the Philippines and the Portuguese islands of Madeira were accustomed to taking leftovers from meals — cooked in the culinary traditions of their countries — along for their workday lunches. American influence later added items such as Spam and macaroni salad, and the result was a supremely satisfying repast.
Over time, food trucks and lunch counters mimicked the tradition, and today, bento boxes and plate lunches are faithfully sold everywhere from gas stations to school fundraisers.
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Even in Waikiki, long known for pricey resort dining with oceanfront views, the tradition of takeaway remains strong. While restaurants in the rest of the country struggled to move their entire business to a takeaway format, many Oahu establishments — even fancy ones — were already well-equipped to meet demand.
Here’s where to find the best takeaway meals in Honolulu.
At Mugen, the French-fusion restaurant at the ultra-luxe boutique hotel Espacio The Jewel of Waikiki, a weekly bento is available for takeaway. The $25 boxes are certainly haute cuisine — a recent box contained kombu-sake marinated filet mignon with local greens and a rice pilaf with smoked abalone and furikake, while another week’s bento featured a poule au pot with Jidori chicken confit, hon shimeji mushrooms, edamame and truffle bechamel.
Melissa Chang, a Honolulu-based food blogger and social media marketing consultant, is a fan of the bento boxes, calling Mugen “a great place for fancy takeout.”
Chang also points takeaway-seekers toward DK Restaurants, which is offering a hybrid menu from DK Steakhouse and Sansei (which normally operate from the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa) for takeout and delivery from their Vino location in Honolulu.
“Although many of their takeout specials are labeled as ‘meals for two,’ they could easily feed four or five,” Chang said.
Farmers markets are also good spots to pick up takeaway food items and fresh produce. FarmLovers Markets are open in several spots around Oahu, including Downtown Honolulu and Kailua, and are a great option for visitors wanting to eat local — all produce sold at the markets must be locally produced, and prepared foods and pastries must also be as local as possible.
Shor restaurant at Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort and Spa has recently launched Shor To Go, a three-meal grab-and-go concept. Guests can choose from breakfast sandwiches, wraps, Neapolitan-style pizzas and locally sourced salad bowls.
Tucker & Bevvy Picnic Food has long offered grab-and-go options for beach or hike picnics from the retail level of the Hyatt Regency Waikiki, and from a street-front location at the Park Shore Waikiki Hotel. Options there include breakfast and lunch sandwiches and wraps, cold-pressed juices, salads and take-and-heat entrees.
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Chef Roy Yamaguchi’s Oahu restaurants in Ko Olina, Hawaii Kai and Kailua are each offering takeaway specials for pre-order that rotate daily. Options vary from a “Steak-cation” kit for visitors who have the option to grill at home to prime rib, a seafood bake, sushi platter or pupu (appetizer) pack. Roy’s locations are also offering its regular menu for dine-in or takeaway.
Noodle lovers can hit up Marukame Udon on Kuhio Avenue in Waikiki, where the thick wheat noodles are made daily right in the shop. Clients seeking an utterly traditional plate lunch can visit the original Rainbow Drive-Inn in Kapahulu for a mix plate with barbecue beef, boneless chicken and fried mahimahi with rice and macaroni salad, or any number of other plate lunch favorites.
Clients with a sweet tooth can stop into Leonard’s Bakery to pick up pink boxes of malasadas, the Portuguese-style donut. Plain sugar is always good, although other options include malasadas filled with haupia coconut cream or crusted with li hing mui, a popular salty-sour Chinese condiment made from dried plums.
For clients seeking an upscale takeaway experience, Chang offers one additional suggestion: “One of my favorites for [upscale dining] is MW Restaurant, which has beautiful meals and desserts at very reasonable prices.”
Located on Kapiolani Blvd near Ala Moana Center, the restaurant is offering takeaway menus for order-ahead and day-of curbside pickup or delivery, featuring local favorites such as sweet-and-sour spare ribs, fried pork chops and a variety of baked goods.
Born and raised on Oahu, Chang works in Waikiki, and urges visitors to take cues from locals and continue exercising COVID-19 precautions when picking up takeaway meals. It’s important, she says, not only for the safety of the traveler, but also out of respect for the community and the frontline workers they encounter.
Hawaii Tourism Authority