Ala Moana Center is located in Honolulu, and it is Hawaii's biggest shopping mall. From restaurants to snack shops and desserts, this is where we eat at Ala Moana.
Ala Moana Center is Hawaii's biggest shopping mall. Locals just call it Ala Moana.
Ala Moana is also the name of a neighborhood, but everyone will know you're referring to the mall. Ala Moana also happens to be the largest open-air shopping center in the world. The world! Very cool, yeah? Hawaii has a lot of largest this, highest grossing that, etc (we can do a future post that covers all those things!)
Shave ice from Uncle Clay's House of Pure Aloha
Ala Moana is the most centrally located shopping mall on Oahu, just 5 minutes drive from Waikiki and 10 minutes from downtown Honolulu. The mall wasn't always this big. I remember it being a more reasonable size when I was younger, and then they slowly added on more and more to the mall every year. Now it is extra big and awesome.
Musubi Cafe Iyasume at The Lanai food court
I don't love malls on the mainland because they can feel generic and depressing, but something about Ala Moana makes it special. I think it's because there's a still a strong local touch/element to the mall. In addition to all the big box vendors, you'll also find many smaller locally owned stores/food places (though there used to be even more).
Three Main Food Courts
There are three main food courts in Ala Moana. They are all very different and located on opposite ends of Ala Moana (pro tip: save yourself all that extra walking and figure out what you're craving first).
Makai Market Food Court
Makai Market Food Court (opened in 1987) is the largest of the three food courts. This one is where you'll find the bigger chains like Panda Express, Häagen-Dazs, Cinnabon, and Jollibee. You'll also find a few small local food options like Yummy's (for Korean plate lunches), Ala Moana Poi Bowl, Little Cafe Siam, and Curry House Coco Ichibanya (not technically a local business but well loved by all us locals).
Other places to check out this food court: Beard Papa's. Honolulu Cookie Company's kiosk in the center of the food court (great for picking up small gifts, you can also taste their cookies on Hawaiian Airlines). Myungrang Hot Dog is a famous deep-fried hot dog chain from Korea...definitely check that out.
Shirokiya Japan Village Walk
Shirokiya Japan Village Walk (opened in 2016) is a food court with all/only Japanese stuff. It can get overwhelming in here with what seems like a millions options but if you know exactly what you want, this is a great food court.
My usual lunch picks:
- Gourmet Plaza - for the sukiyaki (pictured above)! Located on the left wall when you enter the food court.
- $2 beer. They have a few beer stations through the food court.
- Marion Crêpes - for dessert crêpes, think strawberries, cake and whipped cream.
- Kulu Kulu - Japanese cake shop (details/what to get, located at the bottom of the post)
Foodland and Longs Drugs
There is one supermarket at Ala Moana and it is called Foodland. You can get everything from fresh poke to Spam musubi, fried chicken and chi chi dango mochi here. Also fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and cheese. That's their poke station pictured above.
There is one drugstore at Ala Moana and it is called Longs Drugs (secretly a CVS), but we all loves Longs. Stock up on all your local snacks and food-related treats here. Think senbei and li hing mui gummy bears. Full post on Longs Drugs here.
The Lanai (aka Old Shirokiya)
The Lanai (opened in 2017) is also known as "Old Shirokiya" because this is where the original Shirokiya food court used to be. (The old Shirokiya was AMAZING and very different from the new Shirokiya Japan Village Walk. We miss the old Shirokiya greatly.)
The Lanai focuses primarily on smaller local businesses. It's also the food court I find most pleasant and convenient, especially with the mix of indoor and outdoor seating. These are the places I usually visit:
- Musubi Cafe Iyasume - for everything musubi! Here is the complete post on Musubi Cafe Iyasume (they also have many other locations including one at Kahala Mall).
- Ahi and Vegetable - sashimi on rice plates
- Teppanyaki Farmer - steak rolls
- Seoul Mix 2.0 - Korean plates
- Brug Bakery - a Japanese-German bakery
- Uncle Clay's House Of Pure Aloha - shave ice! (Second photo from top of this post)
The Department Stores
Neiman Marcus, Nordstorm, Macy's, and Bloomingdale's all have restaurants within the department store.
I think Neiman Marcus does the nicest job with food service. Mariposa (3rd floor, Neiman Marcus) is a long time local favorite (everyone loves those popovers)...more info on Mariposa in the section below. For something casual/quick lunch, Mermaid Bar (2nd floor, Neiman Marcus) is always reliable. Meeting a friend for coffee/sweets/catch up? People are always happy to meet at Espresso Bar (1st floor, Neiman Marcus).
Macy's is home to a full-service location of Liliha Bakery which we'll talk about next...
Ala Moana Restaurants
There are many stand alone restaurants at Ala Moana. They range from chains like California Pizza Kitchen and Tanaka of Tokyo to local restaurants like Liliha Bakery and Jade Dynasty. Below are my usual go-to restaurants at Ala Moana:
Liliha Bakery is a famous bakery/dinner. Their original location is in Kalihi. They opened a second location on Nimitz a few years ago. Ala Moana is their third (and most convenient!) location. They have all the local favorites including loco moco, fried chicken, and that oxtail soup. My grandma likes the saimin a lot. It's a really bright and cheery restaurant. So nice to have a touch of Liliha Bakery in town! There also have a separate bakery section where you can load up on Coco Puffs (original flavor is better than the green tea). Full post on Liliha Bakery here.
The restaurant inside Neiman Marcus. Most popular as a ladies who lunch type of a spot. Laid back but luxurious. Great (always hot from the oven!) popovers with strawberry butter (pictured above). I like to get the laksa seafood curry for my main dish.
Gen Korean BBQ House
All you can eat Korean bbq. Make sure don't fill up on the potato salad like I do (a mistake I make over and over again...I am a complete fool for potato salad).
This is where my grandma and I get dim sum weekly! Also good for Chinese banquet dinners. Legit Chinese without needing to go to Chinatown (where parking is a hassle)...this is a game changer.
Sweets are clearly the most important part ^_^ Of all the places listed below, Patisserie La Palme D'or is my single favorite. I stop by here once or twice a week.
La Palme D'or
Best things here:
- Coffee Jelly Drink! Coffee jelly on the bottom, a ring of whipped cream, and then milk (recommended with soy milk) and ice on top. Use the straw to break up the jelly and mix everything together. SO good. They also make a pineapple jelly/black tea combo, but this coffee jelly/milk one is the best. (The Aikane Plantation stand at the Saturday morning KCC Farmers' Market makes a similar version of this drink.)
- Roll Cakes! Very Japanese. They come in four flavors (coffee - pictured below, strawberry, vanilla, and green tea) and you can it by the slice or whole roll. I often get a whole roll and slice off a piece each morning for breakfast.
- All the cakes! I like to try a different cake on each visit. I have an extra soft spot for the Strawberry Shortcake and Palme Chocolate.
Back when La Palme D'or first opened (many years ago), they had this amazing dessert called The Parfait. The Parfait was made up of all the odds and ends from their other cakes. Think irregular slices, end pieces, etc. They piled it all into a tall cup and sold it for $3. I loved it because you could taste so many different desserts in one serving. Sadly they stopped serving this. It was beautiful while it lasted!
FYI, they have two small tables if you want to stay and eat.
Somisomi Soft Serve & Taiyaki
Somisomi is chain with locations all over California, and now Hawaii. The lines were crazy when this place opened in 2018. Lines have calmed down a bit, but it's still packed during prime hours. Somisomi is known for two things: soft-serve and taiyaki. Soft-serve comes in flavors like ube, black sesame, matcha. etc. You can get the soft-serve and taiyaki separate or together (the taiyaki functions as the soft-serve cone).
The thing I love best at Somisomi is hardly talked about. It's the cheese taiyaki! There is no soft-serve involved. They make the taiyaki and instead of filling it with nutella and/or soft-serve, they melt shredded cheddar cheese inside the taiyaki. It's hot (the crisp taiyaki fringes are especially enjoyable haha) and slightly sweet (from the taiyaki batter) but also nice and savory (from the melted cheese). It's a must.
Aloha Confectionary looks just like another candy store from the outside, but head inside to find a bunch of offerings like housemade cupcakes, shortbreads, and soft-serve. Soft-serve is the thing to get here and the best flavor is milk tea. They use dairy from the Big Island, and it's so rich and creamy. Pictured above is a swirl of fresh milk and milk tea.
I first mentioned Minamoto Kitchoan in the Kahala Mall post. Kahala Mall has a smaller kiosk and Ala Moana has a full-on store. This store is filled with the most beautiful Japanese wagashi and snacks. Think loaves of picture-perfect castella cakes, peach jellies (also so good eaten frozen!) and dorayaki.
Pierre Marcolini is a Belgain chocolate shop with locations all over Europe. They have only one US location and it is in Hawaii! How lucky are we? The chocolates are great, but I come for the chocolate soft-serve. It is dark and super duper velvety.
Kulu Kulu's pastry chef was formerly at La Palme D'or, so there's a lot of overlap between the two cake shops. What's the main difference between the two? La Palme D'or has a more fancy/luxurious vibe, while Kulu Kulu is more playful/approachable.