It is so easy for tourists get distracted with all that is Waikiki! And who can blame them!? Waikiki has nearly all the elements tourists are looking for when they flock to the Hawaiian islands for vacation. There are tourists that don’t even venture outside the comforts of Waikiki, or the resort that they may be staying in. Little do they know that just a couple of miles away, lies the neighborhood of Mo’ili’ili. A historic neighborhood in Honolulu that is bustling with small shops and serves some of the best food this side of the island.
For this blog post, I have decided to focus my attention to the area known as the “commercial district” at South King and University Avenue. Let me share with you the history and some of the what makes this area a place that deserves your attention when you make your visit.
Prior and into the 1800’s, Mo’ili’ili was an agricultural community with almost all of the land being covered with marshy taro and rice fields, duck and fishponds, all of which fed the population of a growing Honolulu. The dominant ethnic groups were Hawaiian and Chinese until the early 1900’s when Japanese began leaving the plantations and moving into the area. The Mo’ili’ili Japanese Cemetery has borne witness to the many Japanese immigrants who developed Mo’ili’ili Town and Honolulu from the 1900’s unit the present.
Unknown to many, this entire neighborhood sits over an amazing system of limestone caverns known as the “Mo’ili’ili Karst” or “Caves” (karst being a geological formation shaped by the dissolution of a layer or layers of soluble bedrock, such as limestone). This cave system originally was fed by the Manoa stream, but has since been retouted. From what I’ve gathered, these caves are closed for exploration, bur I have included links below if you’re curious to know more about these caves.
You can get here by TheBus from Waikiki, and now by Biki! If you are not familiar with Biki, it’s a bikeshare system run by Bikeshare Hawaii, Biki. I have a link below that will take you my 8 Tips to Get You Started with BikeShare Hawaii if you’re curious to know more about how to use the system . Parking is very limited here is it’s highly recommended that you use the two modes of transportation mentioned above, or there is always the Lyft, and Uber option.
Food,Drinks, and Dessert:
Due to its close proximity to campus, many consider this area as the “college town” or “student ghetto.” But don’t let that deter you. We all know that university students always know the best places to find affordable dinning options outside of campus, and Mo’ili’ili doesn’t disappoint as you’ll find plenty of options that will satisfy any palate. This area has so many places that it’s hard to name them all. Here is a listing of our favorite places when we decide to dine out or feel like grabbing a drink.
Sweet Home Glad: Funny name for a Chinese restaurant, but you’ll be “SWEET HOME GLAD” you did! This no frills Chinese restaurant serves up local Hawaii and Chinese lunch and dinner plates. They also have a great pupu’s menu which is a great option if you want to try a variety of items that they serve up. I recommend the bacon wrapped shrimp! It is quite amazing!
Dagon: Dagon is a restaurant that serves up Burmese cuisine. If you’re not familiar with Burmese cuisine, it’s best described as Thai meets Indian. This place gets pretty busy since there is limited seating so making reservations is highly recommended, otherwise you’ll most likely not get in, or will have to wait for a while. This place is a great options for vegetarians and they allow you to bring your own beer (BYOB) or alcoholic beverage, so that makes dining a little more fun. Reservations are recommended.
Cafe Maharani: This favorite joint among locals serves up what I believe is the best Indian cuisine I’ve ever had! This is another great option for vegetarians. This place gets extremely busy, so its recommended that you call for reservations.
The Nook Neighborhood Bistro: If you love to brunch, then check out this cute bistro offering locally sourced, Hawaiian-inspired New American fare with pleasant outdoor seating.
FukuyaDeli: Family-owned delicatessen serving local-style Japanese cuisine and offering catering services.
Sushi King: I think by now every major city has at least one sushi joint named “Sushi King.” Back home in Albuquerque, New Mexico my apartment was in waking distance of a “Sushi King” and was a favorite hang out spot for my friends and I when we wanted to grab some delicious sushi, so I was excited that we are in walking distance to this one, and we frequent this joint a lot! They have great happy hour deals for various times of the day and they are open until 2 AM! My mantra is, there is no wrong time for sushi!
Izakaya Naru: Traditional Japanese eatery with a diverse range of Okinawa-inspired dishes in a low-key setting.
Koa Cafe: Another popular brunch spot among locals. They have a well know sister restaurant called the Koa Pancake House. This modern cafe serves up breakfast items with an inventive twist, like the Angry Benedict, with chunks of kalbi and kim chee topped with an not-too spicy sriracha hollandaise. It is best that you get here early since they close around 2 pm. They have now added curbside pickup so it can almost be brunch in bed.
Little Seoul II: If you like to mix your Korean food with a little bit of Karaoke, then check out this Korean restaurant. Being born from South Korea many of the dishes served here reminded me of home. Like their kimchi pancakes.
Beer Lab: My Husband I got to check out this place when they first opened. The brewery was started by a few of UH students that had a vision of opening up their own brewery making small batch brews that continually change, and provides a new unique experience every time you visit. They do not serve food however, you are welcome to bring your own and they provide a list of restaurants who they have partnered with for food delivery.
Frost City: Okay, so when you ask about the best shaved ice here in O’ahu you’ll probably hear two possible answers, Waiola or Matsumoto. But here in Moiliili we have Frost City! Frost City serves up Taiwanese shave ice which is a mix between shave ice and ice cream. Ribbons of paper thin ice fold together neatly to form a mini mountain of flavors.
QQ Tea House: This place has become one my favorite spots for when I’m in the mood for a bubble tea. My favorite is their milk tea with pudding and honey boba.
Down to Earth: Organic, vegetarian groceries, baked goods and prepared foods, plus skincare and lifestyle products.
Nijiya Market: Market and eatery specializing in Japanese imports and groceries.
Kokua Market Natural Foods: Longtime food co-op and deli with local produce, meat, bulk items, and handmade beauty products.
Shops and Businesses Nearby:
Points of Interest:
So there you have it! I hope this information is useful to you if you find yourself in this area of town. Please comment and share your favorite places to go in this area.