It is only fitting that the neighborhood sprouting from King Kalakaua’s former farmland would harbor some of Honolulu’s most celebrated restaurants and shops. No longer the frolicking grounds of the king’s ostriches, modern day Kaimuki is a thriving, urbanized residential and business district. Peruse the main strip, Wai‘alae Avenue, and here—or on side streets a few blocks down—you’ll find these locals’-favorite eateries and boutiques.
DOUBLE PLAY: KOKO HEAD CAFÉ & 12TH AVE GRILL
Sister restaurants Koko Head Café (kokoheadcafe.com) and 12th Ave Grill (12thavegrill.com) may have the same owners—yet, one rules daylight—and the other, night. By day, Koko Head Café fuses the culinary expertise of Bravo “Top Chef” Lee Anne Wong into a bevy of brunch offerings. Kick things off with a spicy Mary Mary—the café’s version of the spiked a.m. classic—or a Morning Milkshake—a booze-y calorie bomb of Maker’s Mark bourbon, honey-maple syrup, granola, gelato and billionaire’s bacon. Hearty eats, like the Breakfast Bibimbap Skillet or Poi Biscuit and Gravy, sustain the float factor. By night, affix yourself at the bar at 12th Ave Grill to sample the hood’s finest seasonally hand-crafted cocktails. Pair your Pimm’s with 12th Ave’s home-style cooking gone gourmet. Standouts? The Crispy Beer Battered Local Avocado to start, Local Vanilla & Orange Braised Big Island Beef Cheeks to sustain, and to finish, a sinfully sweet Manoa Milk Chocolate & Butter Toffee Bread Pudding.
Koko Head Café 1145c 12th Ave. (808) 732-8920
12th Ave Grill 1120 12th Ave. (808) 732-9496
PAR DEUX: TOWN & KAIMUKI SUPERETTE
If you’re in the mood for healthy and fresh, locavore king Ed Kenney operates two farm-to-table joints kitty-corner of the other on Wai‘alae. Breakfast, lunch, dinner or drinks, you’ll go to town—literally—at Kenney’s Town Restaurant (townkaimuki.com). Here you’ll find delicious, healthful meals peppered with the eatery’s mantra, “local first, organic whenever possible, with aloha always.” The menu changes daily, so each time to Town entices and satisfies. Banana pancakes, pan-roasted chicken, local beef or beets, here you’ll find something nutritious and equally delicious. Our picks? Pair freshly caught seafood with a hearty bowl of polenta or the chef’s daily poi-based creation. Opened September 2014, Kennedy’s seasonal soup-salad-sandwich shop Kaimuki Superette (kaimukisuperette.com) boasts gourmet, picnic-style combos with gusto. Under the motto, “SEAsonal SANDwiches SUN-dries,” Superette is a full-service, shabby chic joint at the forefront of food sustainability. Huge sammies— like the BLT-avocado-wasabi laced Downtown ‘Ahi Clubhouse—pile on regional ingredients and then plated with MA‘O Organic Farms greens. Bonus? This throwback locale also stocks sundries, such as Shinsato Farms sausage and pickled root veggies, for purchase.
Kaimuki Superette 3458 Wai‘alae Ave. (808) 734-7800
Town 3435 Wai‘alae Ave. #104 (808) 735-5900
PLATED FAVORITES: NORTH SHORE GRINDS & BIG CITY DINER
Kaimuki’s North Shore Grinds on 10th and Big City Dinner (bigcitydinerhawaii.com) on the main drag satisfy shrimp truck and greasy spoon cravings. If you’re looking to dine-in, Big City Diner is open breakfast to late night for American diner faves with local flair. BIG Breakfast plates are piled with fish, eggs, SPAM or rice. Night or day, chili-topped rice, ramen and baby back ribs with guava-BBQ sauce satisfy. Burgers, fried rice, Loco Moco and poke also make appearances. If quick take-out fits the bill, North Shore Grinds’ plate lunches have kama‘aina (local) clout. Enjoy locals’-loved plates, sandwiches and salads. Here you’ll find Styrofoam containers packed with Kalua pork, mac salad, lomi lomi salmon and two scoops rice. Other frontrunners: grilled ‘ahi with pesto sauce or papaya salsa, juicy Teri Beef, shrimp, steak and Chicken Katsu.
Big City Diner 3565 Wai‘alae Ave. (808) 738-8855
North Shore Grinds 1429 10th Ave. (808) 732-7775
FRENCH FINDS: JJ’S FRENCH BISTRO & PASTRY & CAFÉ MIRO
Deux chic Kaimuki bistros mélange French food with Pan-Asian influences. Escargot and crème brûlée in Hawai‘i? Oui, et merci. Café Miro (cafemirohawaii.com) whips up a classic French prix fixe menu with je ne sais quoi. The restaurant itself is decked with gorgeous, museum-quality art; its butter-yellow warm interior screams French country, while its old-timey dark wood bar could have come straight from Paris’ Golden Age. Try the Chef’s Special Four Course with Kona aba-lone scallop in a mushroom fondue, braised short rib in port wine and the chef’s gorgeous dessert assiette affixed with a chef surprise, crème brûlée, pastel sorbet and fresh fruit. Opened 1995, JJ’s French Pastry & Bistro is home to the Hawai‘i-famous Chocolate Pyramid—a devilishly rich marriage of dark chocolate mousse and cake shaped like an Egyptian pyramid. While vibrant fruit tarts and sculpted pastries resembling edible sculptures at Louvre are what JJ’s is known for, the dinner menu—packed with prix fixe and à la carte French-Laotian dishes, like baked hen and sea scallop Napoleon—is equally appetizing. Bon appétit.
Café Miro 3446 Wai‘alae Ave. (808) 734-2737
JJ’s French Pastry & Café 3447 Wai‘alae Ave. (808) 739-0993
WALK IT OFF: SUGARCANE & DRIFT BOUTIQUE
After all this indulging, you can melt away the kilojoules consumed from that extra rice scoop by scouring through one of the district’s many boutiques. Tucked away on 11th Avenue, Sugarcane (sugarcane-shop.blogspot.in) is a dreamy, soft blue and white shop that sells home décor, jewelry and accessories. Whether in need of novelty signs, potted plants, books, handmade soaps, ceramic mushrooms, locally made earrings, hats and bags, you’ll surely find an adorable purchase for a friend—or for yourself. If you’re shopping for clothes and swimwear, Drift Boutique (driftboutique.com)
on Wai‘alae’s shelves are bursting with trendy women’s attire, beach gifts and accoutrements. Here you’ll also find a fun mix of interior of ocean-inspired knick-knacks, as well as exclusive Drift designs and products. ✖
Sugarcane 1137 11th Ave. #101 (808) 739-2263
Drift Boutique 3434 Wai‘alae Ave. (808) 284-1177