My Chinatown

Hehe…. In the spirit of a Rick Steve’s Travel Guidebook, here’s my take on Chinatown Honolulu.

I started exploring Chinatown after moving to Kaka’ako a few years ago. What started out as exercise (urban hiking) transformed into a deeper sense of “place.” I also believe that Chinatown has the best food in Hawai’i. Now I want to share my passion for the sights, sounds, (smells,) and energy of this vibrant community….

Parking: People have the perception that Chinatown has no parking and that it is dirty. Let me dispel this by saying that there’s a whole lotta parking. In fact, street parking is free on Sundays (however, some of the really good shops are closed on Sundays.) The best parking lot is underground, underneath Smith-Beretania Park (next to the old Empress Theater.) As far as being dirty…. hmm….

Currency: The best restaurants here are cash-only, have sticky menus, and no one speaks English (not even the customers.)

Chinatown is bordered by King Street and Beretania (but includes the Chinese Cultural Plaza,) and by River Street and Bethel. Let’s take a look….

Maunakea Marketplace is a great place to explore. There’s a huge food court, souvenir stands, and a great open market. You can even find old Kung Fu movies on VHS. Bruno’s Forno is on the right side of the entrance and has great panini sandwiches. Café de Tim has the best bubble drinks in Chinatown. Instead of powdered sugar, they grind fresh sugar cane.

Speaking of markets, there’s also O’ahu Market and Kekaulike Market. You can find the freshest meats, produce, and unusual things there. I saw hanging char siu, roast duck, live crabs, beef tongue, pig heads, dragon fruit, and unrecognizable organ meats. Fong’s Meat Market has the best roast pork in Chinatown.

Chinatown is a great place to try a new cuisine, buy produce, and take pictures.

Inside Kekaulike Market, you can get a Hamachi Poke Bowl from Maguro Bros. Amazing stuff! Along Kekaulike Mall, you’ll find the Ying Leong Look Funn Factory.

The Chinese Cultural Plaza is where you’ll find all of the dim sum restaurants. I’ve only been to Legend’s there, but I hear that Tai Pan is the best one. You’ll find the older men playing mahjong on the benches along the river.

For noodles, my fave place is the Hong Kong Noodle House in the Chinese Cultural Plaza. I usually get the Tossed (stewed) noodle. I ordered this one with pig’s feet. Noms….

Chinatown has the best pizza in Hawai’i. Yes, pizza. Only thing, they’re all in bars. J.J. Dolan’s and Bar 35 are renown for their pies.

Chinatown absolutely has the best phở in Hawai’i. No need to go to “Phở Row” on River Street. My top three shops are Phở My Lan on Maunakea Street, Huang Lan in the Chinese Cultural Plaza, and Saigon Vietnamese Cuisine on King Street.

Chinatown has awesome sweets and desserts. This showcase greets you at the Sing Cheong Yuan Bakery. I go for the gin dui (black sugar) and mooncakes.

Wing’s Ice Cream has homemade flavors. This one is Raspberry with dark chocolate chip.
Of course, Lee’s Bakery has the best custard pies.

It’s comforting to know that there are still places that I remember from my childhood. Char Hung Sut still has my favorite manapua & pork hash.

I especially appreciate the traditional ethnic foods in Chinatown. This is Beef Brisket & Tendons w/ Look Fun Noodle Soup from Lam’s Kitchen. This place truly is a “hole in the wall.”

This is dim sum from Happy Garden. The chicken feet are on the way….

Mei Sum is also a good place for dim sum. A good “contemporary Chinese” restaurant is Little Village Noodle House on Smith Street.

Chinatown also has the coolest, new, “trendy” places. The Pig & the Lady is one of my fave restaurants. Love the Bánh mì sandwiches with the incredible, crunchy bread. The Fresh Café is a great place behind the Hawai’i Theatre.

Lucky Belly is another fave. I enjoy the Bao sandwiches (pork buns) and ramen here. They recently opened Livestock Tavern across the street.

Chinatown also has a great skateboard shop, antique shops, boutiques, tattoo parlors, and tons of lei stands. Chinatown is where the creatives & makers set up shop.

Festivals: The Chinese New Year Street Festival & Parade is THE event of the year. Thousands gather for this amazing celebration. Chinatown also hosts First Fridays, art events, and other block parties.

Finally, Chinatown is home to my amazing church, Inspire City. We rent this space (formally the Empress Theater) on Sunday nights. Services are at 5:30pm. We also do outreach in the neighboring Smith-Beretania Park at 4pm.

See you in Chinatown….

Saturday Morning Walks


What started out as exploring my neighborhood of Kaka’ako has turned into a Saturday morning ritual. This post is part 2 of my earlier entry on urban hiking. I could very well be turning into a “senior citizen,” because I really enjoy my walks through Chinatown.

I start down Kapiolani until it forks into King Street. I walk past Five-O Headquarters (haha, the State Courthouse.)

I turn up at Fort Street Mall, and then left on Hotel Street.

The Sun Yat-sen Memorial Park next to the Hawai’i Theatre marks the entrance into Chinatown.

I love Chinatown. Chinatown is Honolulu’s version of a marketplace. There is so much to see here. You will find the freshest meats, vegetables, and seafood. I usually come home with a slab of char siu or a bag of lychee or mountain apples.

Today I had pho from Phở Huong Lan in the Chinese Cultural Plaza.

For my route back home, I usually walk through the historical section of Honolulu. One of my favorite buildings is the Kumu Kahua Theatre on Merchant Street. I believe it used to be a post office back in the day.

You will find courtyards with cafés and really nice views along the way.

My favorite building of all is the old Royal Brewery on Queen Street. (Click on the photo to enlarge.)

Today, I continued home through Kaka’ako.

You never know who you might run into there.

Another great Saturday morning….

Thomas Square

I love my hometown of Honolulu! Still, we can do better. Here is the list of the “World’s Most Livable Cities.” No, we are not on this list. Here is their criteria:

1. Stability: prevalence of crime, threat of conflict (military or otherwise), etc. (25% of score)
2. Healthcare: availability and quality (20% of score)
3. Culture and environment: social freedoms, availability of amenities, and climate (25% of score)
4. Education: availability and quality (10% of score)
5. Infrastructure: quality of transit, roads, water, energy, and telecommunication and availability of good housing (20% of score)

I assume that the weather, people, cuisine, and professional sports teams are somehow factored in….

In my limited travels, I have carelessly come up with just three criteria for a world-class city. This is all you need:

1. A great marketplace.
2. A great microbrewery (haha.)
3. A great main square.

We need a great marketplace. I mean, we must have great seafood here right? You can’t consider our Farmers’ Markets (as important as they are) or our swap meet for this category. And our market in Chinatown is just too small.

In terms of a microbrewery, we actually have a good one! The Kona Brewing Company is really impressive! They have pubs in Kona and Koko Marina (Hawai’i Kai.) It’s the beer that you see in Hawai’i Five-O.

This brings us to the city square. I live a block away from Thomas Square. It has enormous potential of being something great. It is sandwiched between the Blaisdell Concert Hall and the Honolulu Museum of Art. Unfortunately, it has been somewhat neglected by our city government. It is an eyesore. Aside from the occasional dog show and orchid show, it has become a home for the homeless and the Occupy Honolulu Movement.

It is a park with a working fountain and historic banyan trees. I believe that it wouldn’t take much for it to become a centerpiece of the city. Just imagine a place with community events, art shows, cultural festivities, food booths, vendors, outdoor concerts, hula festivals, etc. It could be a hub of activity for education as well as for our senior citizens. C’mon mayor. Let’s do this….

Postscript: I believe that the Ala Wai Canal can become a world-class river walk, but that’s for another post….