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These hidden gems of Honolulu’s Chinatown neighborhood reimagine dishes from pho to fried chicken.

Elisabeth Sherman
March 12, 2018

If you’re visiting Oahu, Honolulu’s Chinatown neighborhood should be on your must-visit list. One easy way to plan your visit to Honolulu's Chinatown is through Aloha Food Tours. Here, you’ll find some of the island’s most innovative cuisine; food that draws from Vietnamese, Thai and Chinese influences with a dash of Hawaiian sensibility and ingredients. That means you’ll find chocolate bars made from scratch on Oahu, the smallest poke bar you’re likely to find here (or on the mainland) and an unmissable take on phở. Here are four spots in Chinatown that highlight some of the best food Hawaii has to offer.

The Pig and the Lady

Elisabeth Sherman

Most mainlanders have sampled phở before—that warming Vietnamese broth packed with sliced meat, rice noodles, lime and bean sprouts—but I can bet you’ve never tried it this way: The Pig and the Lady’s broth is sweeter, and slightly tangy. The Phở French dip might be best way to enjoy the dish—a roasted brisket banh mi is served alongside the phở for a glorious reinvention of the soup and salad lunch combination.

Another must-try menu item is the guava soft serve. This light, not-too-sweet treat is the perfect midday dessert because it won’t ruin your appetite—you’ll find yourself eating the entire cup, whether you meant to or not. Its subtle flavor, combined with its pastel pink color and the salted feuilletine topping (akin to crushed up sugar cone), made this one of the best desserts in the neighborhood.

Fort Street Café

Fried chicken is a staple food in most of mainland America, where it is constantly reinvented and revered. In Honolulu, this comfort food mainstay gets the Asian fusion treatment at Fort Street Café. Here, you’ll find deli counter style service, food served in Styrofoam containers, and the restaurant's crispy, flakey garlic fried chicken with a side of chili sauce.

Maguro Brothers

Elisabeth Sherman

I gave up eating fish last year, but I made an exception for the ahi poke at Maguro Brothers. Located at the very back of the Kekaulike Market, it sports just a small red sign hanging from the ceiling to let you know you’ve found the right place, plus three crowded tables for seating. The ahi —served in a plastic container—is melt-in-your tender and juicy all on its own, but do yourself a favor and try the ume poke. Ume is a plum blossom, commonly found in Japanese, Korean and Chinese cooking. At Maguro Brothers, they soak the poke in the ume sweet, dark sauce—which achieves the perfect umami flavor alongside the the fish—and garnish it with shiso leaf.

Madre Chocolate

After working as a botanist in South and Central America, Nat Bletter, along with his business partner, David Elliot, founded Madre Chocolate, in Honolulu. The tiny operation sells chocolate up front, and in the back room (where Bletter also keeps his drum kit), the team ferments and processes the cocoa beans to make its chocolate bars. Ask for a tour of the backyard, where there are actual cocoa plants growing (there are more on their farm in Kailua). Sustainability is central to Madre Chocolate’s mission: In addition to their “bean-to-bar” model, they make every delivery by bicycle, and if a car is necessary, it’s fueled with locally sourced biodiesel made from fry oil.