Even if you're not a full-fledged vegetarian, these vegan/vegetarian dining options may convert you to going meatless full-time. With healthy ingredients and a mindful approach to eating, you can try some new dishes and expand your repertoire. So keep an open mind, grab a fork, and jump into Oahu's vegetarian scene.
Ai Love Nalo
Good for: Vegans and vegetarians
Where: 41-1025 Kalanianaole Highway, Waimanalo, HI 96795 (808) 888-9102
You’re driving through bucolic Waimanalo, home of beachside living, polo stables and produce farms, when you see the Golden Arches: Pull over. Tucked inside a converted gas station next door is one of Oahu’s most delicious spots for healthy eats.
Ai Love Nalo is behind the doors advertising “Lomilomi Massage.” The vibe is instantly laid back. Ceiling fans stir the air and windows open onto dual views of the Koolau mountains out front and a tropical garden in the back. One look at the chalkboard menu tells you the food is not only vegan and gluten-free, it’s locally inspired and locally sourced. Like the Oh WOW Laulau of kalo (taro) and other root veggies steamed under a soft, savory blanket of luau leaves.
Another thing about the food here: It’s eye candy. The Medi Bowl features kalo falafel that’s arguably better than the chickpea original, along with roasted-eggplant baba ganoush, hummus made with beets and a tabouleh that swaps couscous for millet.
Plates are filling, so here’s a tip: Ask for a takeout container for leftovers (50 cents extra) and order dessert. Poi-fect Parfaits (this is the small size) look like bejeweled art projects — jelly jars layered with purple Okinawan sweet potato, pineapple, papaya, avocado, banana, poi, crunchy granola and chocolate coconut chips. The poi plays balances the sweetness of the fruits and the toppings add a gratifying crunch.
There’s soft serve, too, dairy-free and made with whatever island fruit’s available that day. It could be apple banana, could be coconut, papaya, mango or a combination. That’s kind of beside the point. Just order it.
Good for: Vegetarians and pescatarians
Where: 66-197 Kamehameha Highway, Haleiwa, HI 96712 (808) 381-8091
Despite its location in a Haleiwa strip mall, Opel Sirichandhra’s hole-in-the-wall is crazy busy since his appearance on Food TV’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” So go early or late if you want to avoid a line, and be prepared for the chef-owner himself to show up at your table, pen and pad in hand. Opel (he spells his name one way, the restaurant’s another) likes to ask what flavors you like, which Thai dishes you normally order and your preferred spice level. “I’ll make you something good,” he says and disappears.
It may not look like much, but his latest special is mouth-watering. Puffy, savory pillows (tofu? taro?) rest beneath a crunchy topping of quick-sautéed bean sprouts, chives and garlic, all nestled under a fried egg. It doesn’t even need the fiery heat of the sauce on the side. “Radish with some skate mixed in,” Opel says of the pillowy cakes. “It’s not on the menu, but people can ask for it. I just call it the special.”
Other good picks: Opal’s pickled garlic crab meat noodles, which nicely balance tart, sweet and the beautiful umami of wok-fried eggs and bean sprouts; the crunchy-fresh green papaya salad topped with roasted peanuts; and drunken noodles or pad khi mao, wide rice noodles sautéed in soy with basil and chilies. Also good: anything with fried basil leaves strewn on top.
Yes, it’s a Thai restaurant, with plenty of shrimp, chicken and tofu options, but the only meat you’ll find on the menu is the minced pork in the spicy larb salad. And in Haleiwa, where meatless options range from excellent gluten-free sushi at Banzai Sushi Bar to vegetarian buckwheat crepes from a food truck, Opal’s stands out.
Good for: Vegans and vegetarians
Where: 1614 S. King Street, Honolulu, HI (808) 373-6465
1118 Fort Street Mall, Honolulu, HI (808) 626-5626
This delightful little vegan restaurant provides gourmet cuisine made with wholesome vegan ingredients, and offers an accessible starting point for those wanting to transition to a plant-based diet. There are two locations on Oahu, each with a different menu and hours. The restaurant chain's core values include respecting and protecting the earth through sustainable practices and honoring all lives peacefully and harmoniously. So what's not to love about the Loving Hut? Start off with an appetizer like the Summer Rolls or the Island Drums, which resemble drumsticks but are actually made of non GMO soybean protein and pea starch.
For your main dish, the Fabulous Pho with a savory veggie broth is a good option, loaded with tofu, shitake mushrooms, mushroom balls, snow peas, snow fungus, fresh basil and sprouts. Or try the Sweet & Sour Hapa, made with veg ham (wheat). All entree dishes are served with brown rice and many of their menu items are gluten free.
Of course, the salads are bountiful, heaping with a tantalizing array of organic vegetables and topped with a zesty house dressing. The Heavenly Salad is always a crowd pleaser, with a mound of shredded white and red cabbage, carrots, tofu, onions, mint, Vietnamese mint (rau ram), and dressing.
And whatever you do, finish with some dessert. Always — especially in a health food restaurant that understands the pleasures of the palate — always get dessert.
Good for: Vegans
Where: 3585 Waialae Avenue, Honolulu, HI 96816 (808) 200-4488
Tucked away in Kaimuki, this gourmet vegan restaurant knows how to deliver on quality, taste and service, which is why it was voted 'Hawaii's Best' by the Star Advertiser's 2019 People Choice Awards. Their breakfast, lunch and brunch offerings incorporate only the finest ingredients for meals that will satisfy your palate and fuel you up nicely. From classic pancakes to Cinn-ful cinnamon rolls, each portion is plated to perfection. You'll find tasteful creative executions with each menu item, such as their homemade coconut lilikoi whipped cream atop a mountain of berries on their scrumptious Berries and Cream pancakes.
If you're more in the mood for a lunchtime meal, try one of their hearty power bowls. The Aloha Bowl is a generous serving of marinated beets and tofu served over brown rice and organic mixed greens and then topped with a zesty tamari sesame dressing. The Jack Sliders are also worth a try, with pulled jackfruit smothered in a smoky barbecue sauce. In fact, just about everything on the menu is worth sampling, so you may have to return again and try something new.
You'll also want to save room for one of their signature drinks - yes, even vegan cocktails are on the menu at Vegan Hills! So take your seat and settle in for a vegan experience that will rock your world. And the good news is you can truly feel good about what you are eating and where it is sourced. Who knew veggies could be so gratifying?
The Lovin Oven
Good for: Vegans and Vegetarians
Where: 418 Kuulei Road, Kailua, HI 96734 (808) 866-6489
In Kailua, this popular pizza joint allows vegans to sink their teeth into hand-tossed pizza pies loaded with all of their favorite toppings. From Wednesday through Sunday, they serve up delicious plant-based Italian fare using all original recipes. Pizza menu includes the True Hawaiian with vegan Kalua Pork and grilled pineapple, and the Super Model with organic spinach and caramelized Maui onions. You can also build your own!
Good for: Vegans and Vegetarians
Where: 42239 S. King Street, Honolulu, HI 96826 (808) 951-7555
For a peaceful dining experience without the guilt (because they only serve healthy, plant-based meals), vegans flock to the Peace Cafe. You can't go wrong with the Peace plate, which is a generous portion of hummus, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, bean sprouts, and avocado sitting atop a mound of mixed greens. For the more adventurous, try the Heart and Seoul, a vegan-style bi bim bap dish. Owner and culinary expert, Shota Terai, creates unique and delectable vegan meals inspired by his extensive background in Japanes cuisine. This all results in a pleasant place to enjoy a delicious vegan meal.
Dagon Burmese Cuisine
Good for: Vegetarians, pescatarians and meat eaters
Where: 2671 S. King St., Honolulu, HI 96826, 947-0088
Burmese cuisine is a glorious melding of Chinese, Indian, Thai and native dishes, which means you’ll find curries and stir-fries on the menu here. But don’t be tempted astray. Dagon’s biggest successes are in its Burmese flavors.
Let’s start with the light and move gradually toward soulful. Crispy Tofu with Salad Filling is an apt descriptor that conveys none of the surprising pleasure of the first bite. The fried triangle of tofu is exceptionally ungreasy and light, its center split open and stuffed with a riot of fresh textures including cilantro, sprouts, lemon leaf, chilies and something called shrimp floss, dressed simply with lemon juice and fish sauce. This you pick up and eat with your hands, like a healthy anti-taco.
You’ll need the menu to navigate the panoply of pulses arrayed on Dagon’s Tea Leaf Salad. Thankfully, it arrives deconstructed so you can appreciate the peanuts, fried split peas and sunflower seeds that make up the crunch, along with the garlic and Burmese tea leaves that drive the signature flavors (yes, you’re eating tea leaves). A server mixes the array at tableside and spoons some onto your plate. It’s exotic, aromatic, full of freshness and crunch. You know you’re eating a salad with character.
Here we have a dish of savory rice studded with sweet raisins and cashews. It’s good, though not a recommend; it’s just much better-looking than the humble star of the menu, Moh Hinga.