Vegging Out

September 1, 2012 | By Rasa Fournier

Meat-free meals abound in Waikiki.

Nothing says family, fun and friends like enjoying great food together. If you’re a vegetarian or trying to explore healthier food options, that can sometimes put a snag in the group’s party plans—unless you’re privy to some of Waikiki’s vegetarian eateries, which offer healthy fare and meat alternative entrees.

740 Kapahulu Ave.
(808) 735-7878

First up is Thai Herb Kitchen. It’s a short trek off of the main Kalakaua Avenue thoroughfare. The key word here is colorful—from the entranceway to the decor and menu. You can’t miss the bright, grass-green exterior with its outdoor chalkboard, listing popular menu items and specials. Inside, curling Thai script accompanies collages of photos—like a Thai family album—plastered over the festive yellow, green and hot pink walls. An expansive Singha beer umbrella at the counter, gives off the feel of a Thai street cafe. Open the menu and the very first page is dedicated to vegetarians. Most dishes can sub out any meat for tofu, and the staff is also attentive to those who prefer not to eat egg. The sauces take the spotlight, from the light and tangy dip for the summer rolls, to a noodle salad zested up with parsley, mint and a chili-lime sauce. Popular items include curry dishes (naturally), creamy coconut Tom Ka soup and the piquant Pat Thai.

3297 Campbell Ave.
(808) 734-6180

Just down the road, right off of Kapahulu, is the hidden Nickie-Cafe. It’s easy to miss the tiny restaurant with its mere four tables for diners—so look for the large “VEGETARIAN” sign on the window. The Vietnamese fare includes at least a couple veggie selections under each heading of its menu. The cafe has gained an underground popularity in a way that only a cozy, family-run, hole-in-the-wall can. Diners can feast on shredded veggie ham temple rolls, Banh Mi (Vietnamese sandwiches in French rolls), veggie pho, mock duck soup and udon dishes. In true Vietnamese style, the soups come with a plate loaded with flavorful greens that you toss into the hot broth. Manager Nickie Junior is herself a vegetarian, so when you ask to leave out fish sauce or meat broth, she won’t raise a skeptical eyebrow.

417 Nahua St.
(808) 922-9568

Along the lines of the original health food stores that first started popping up a couple decades ago—with wholesome date and nut smoothies and avo, sprouts, shredded carrot and tomato on whole wheat bread—is Ruffage Natural Foods. It offers smoothies made with tropical fruits and honey, a variety of vegan and veggie sandwiches with gluten-free options, in addition to a selection of burritos and chili dishes—perfect for a light midday or afternoon energy booster. And if you left your vitamins at your hotel, fret not—both locations also carry supplements, vitamins, beauty products and snacks.

Waikiki Beach Walk
226 Lewers St.
(808) 923-9273

For something altogether different, try Yard House’s bustling bar and restaurant. Order wings, chicken strips, sliders, burgers and more from their gardein™ menu and be prepared to receive a meat substitute made of soy, wheat, pea proteins, vegetables and grains. So, what’s a steak-serving joint doing with a veggie menu? “We wanted to give our guests a way to enjoy a great vegetarian menu item in a Yard House atmosphere,” says exec chef Carlito Jocson. “After all, beer is vegetarian!”

Photos: Jeff Sanner