Eating in Waikiki 24/7 -- If your flight to Honolulu arrives late and you're starving, your knight in shining armor in Waikiki is MAC 24-7 (which stands for Modern American Cooking, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week), at the Hilton Waikiki Prince Kuhio Hotel, 2500 Kuhio Ave. (at Liliuokalani Ave.; tel. 808/921-5564). All day, every day, the kitchen offers everything from breakfast, lunch, and dinner to snacks and desserts, and the bar pours drinks all day, except between 4 and 6am. It's not just for late-night dining (although it comes in handy, as Waikiki eateries shut down by 10-11pm); it's also a great place to get picnic lunches during the day.
The cuisine is coffee shop/diner "comfort" food, reasonably priced for Waikiki ($4-$28, with most entrees in the $15-$28 range), and plenty of it. Portions can feed two and, in some cases, three people. Our pick for best meal of the day is breakfast, where the six-pack of buttery cinnamon rolls ($6) will feed three and the yummy wild blueberry pancakes ($15) are supersized (three pancakes, each one 14 in. in diameter), plenty for two hungry people. Another must-try from the menu: the delicious meatloaf with garlic mashed potatoes and mushroom gravy ($18). The view from the floor-to-ceiling windows is of the landscaped gardens in the lobby. The decor is sophisticated but sparse with splashes of bright color, and the waitstaff is friendly and helpful.
Downtowners love the informal walk-in cafes lining one side of attractive Bishop Square, at 1001 Bishop St. (at King St.), in the middle of the business district, where free entertainment is offered every Friday during lunch hour. The popular Che Pasta, 1001 Bishop St., Suite 10 (tel. 808/524-0004; www.chepasta.com), is a stalwart here, chic enough for business meetings but not too formal (or expensive) for a spontaneous rendezvous over minestrone. Some places in Bishop Square open for breakfast and lunch, others just for lunch, but most close when the offices around them empty.
Note: Keep in mind that Restaurant Row (Ala Moana Blvd., between Punchbowl and South St.), which features several hot new establishments, offers free validated parking in the evening.
The North Shore
The Shrimp Trucks -- The best, sweetest, juiciest shrimp you are ever going to eat will be from a shrimp truck on Oahu's North Shore. Several trucks line up around the entry to Haleiwa, just off the Kamehameha Highway, but our favorite is Giovanni's Original White Shrimp Truck (tel. 808/293-1839), which usually parks across the street from the Haleiwa Senior Housing (or McDonald's). It claims to be the first shrimp truck to serve the delicious aquaculture shrimp farmed in the surrounding area. The menu is simple: spicy, garlic, or lemon-and-butter shrimp. Skip the lemon-and-butter (boring), and go for the garlic (our fave) or the spicy (but beware -- it really packs a punch). The battered white truck has picnic tables under its awning, so you can munch away right there.
LUAU! -- Before luaus existed, "there were 'aha 'aina -- feasts of food, mele (song), and hula," says Royal Hawaiian Hotel General Manager Kelly Hoen. And now you have the chance to take part in one: The Royal Hawaiian (tel. 808/921-4600) re-creates an 'aha 'aina every Monday evening on the Ocean Lawn, with the Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head in the background. The 'aha 'aina (which translates to "gathering for a meal") is composed of three spectacular acts: Hawaii cultural activities, dinner, and entertainment. As guests enter the grounds, traditional Hawaii cultural activities such as kapa-making (cloth made of pounded bark), poi-pounding, and na lawai'a (tending of fishing tools) are demonstrated. The sound of a pu (conch) calls guests to the feast, and the entertainment begins; a dramatic performance incorporating hula and song commemorates ancient islanders' rich history and culture.
This epicurean journey through time is held every Monday from 5:30 to 9pm; it's priced at $155 per person for nonresort guests, $145 per person for resort guests, $83 for nonresort-guest children ages 5 to 12 years old, and $75 resort-guest children; children under 5 years of age are free with a paying adult.