Start your morning at the top of the street, where you’ll find Sweet E’s Café, an inviting little brunch spot tucked away in the back of a parking lot in Kilohana Square. The specialties are the eggs Benedict, with either corned beef hash or Kalua pig, and the stuffed French toast with blueberries and cream cheese.
Burn off breakfast as you make your way south on Kapahulu Avenue, which is dotted with antiques shops. You can’t walk along this street without stopping at Leonard’s Bakery. This old-time Portuguese bakery is famous for the malasada, a sinfully good dessert of golden fried dough dredged in sugar. You can get one filled with flavored cream, but the original is the best.
The quintessential midday meal in Hawaii is the plate lunch: two scoops of white rice, a dollop of macaroni salad and some kind of meat entrée. And there’s no better place to get one than at Rainbow Drive-In. One of the few remaining classic drive-ins (you order at a window and eat at one of a handful of outdoor tables), the restaurant has been serving this lunch staple since 1961. The most popular is the mix plate, which comes with barbecue beef or pork, boneless chicken cutlet and a nice cut of mahi mahi. Pair it with the drive-in’s famous Slush Float, a dessert that combines strawberry slush with vanilla ice cream.
After lunch, continue down the avenue to explore Kapiolani Park. The Honolulu Zoo and Waikiki Aquarium are nearby, and there’s a nice beach at the intersection of Kapahulu and Kalaukaua (the street that takes you into the heart of Waikiki). Walk out onto the jetty to watch bodysurfers and bodyboarders. When you need a break, backtrack a bit to Waiola Shave Ice, a popular spot that sells one of Hawaii’s favorite frozen treats. Shave ice is exactly that – ice shaved super-fine and doused with flavored syrups such as strawberry, lychee and lilikoi (passion fruit). In Hawaii, these versions of snow cones are often topped with sweetened condensed milk, azuki beans (sweetened Japanese red beans) or balls of mochi (soft Japanese rice cake). You can get one with ice cream on the bottom, too.
After a day of food, you might be looking for something light for dinner, and a Japanese izakaya (tavern) is your best bet. There are two on Kapahulu – Izakaya Nonbei and Tokkuri-Tei — that offer a variety of small dishes made to order. You can get small portions of izakaya staples like unagi (freshwater eel), fried beef tongue, chicken gizzards and kakune (simmered) pork, not to mention whatever kind of sushi you want. Tokkuri-Tei is more spacious than Nonbei, and it has an intriguing dessert of natto (fermented soybeans) on vanilla ice cream with corn flakes, shiso leaf and a Jack Daniel’s caramel sauce.
Cap off your Kapahulu explorations by unwinding at the popular late-night sports bar Side Street Inn, where James Beard Award-winning chefs like Alan Wong dine. It specializes in large, shareable plates of island comfort-food faves such as Hawaiian-style pulehu short ribs, kimchee fried rice and steamed Manila clams with Portuguese sausage and bell peppers. The most popular item is the pan-fried pork chops, crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside. Wash them down with the bar’s wide selection of domestic and imported beers (including its own signature Side Street Inn Rogue Ale) wines, spirits and cocktails. After a day of walking, eating and Hawaiian sunshine, you’ll sleep well.