10 Best Italian restaurants in Honolulu offer traditional dishes in paradise
By Jade Eckardt
Big Island, Honolulu, and Kauai Local Expert
Italian food is one of the comfort meals that you may crave any time, any place, and that's why we've compiled a list of the top ten Italian restaurants in Honolulu. We'll guide you to Honolulu's best Italian eateries and let you know the inside scoop on each place. The island is home to a variety of Italian restaurant, quaint and homes style bistros, menus that stick to traditional dishes, an restaurants that fuse regional cuisine and fresh seafood with Italian cuisine.
For an elegant meal of Italian cuisine with the best views in Honolulu, make a reservation at Sarento's Top of the I. Located at the very top of the Ilikai Hotel, the high end eatery offers delicious food and panoramic views of the ocean and city. Out on the North Shore, Lei Lei's Bar and Grill isn't a traditional Italian restaurant, but they make some of the best pasta dishes around as part of their varied menu.
Formaggio Wine Bar combines Honolulu nightlife with great food, and the hip bar provides a wonderful atmosphere for socializing and fun. The adjoining wine shop is the perfect place to pick up more wine to enjoy at the hotel. Also on the list is Assaggio, a tried and true local Italian staple with several locations around the island.
Remember that 10 Best has you covered in your search for delicious Italian food, and enjoy your journey.
Serving three meals a day, this location of the popular Italian restaurant offers fresh fish and seafood in addition to daily pasta specials and savory steak and veal preparations. Among the temptations are macadamia-encrusted ahi tuna, lamb chops, a veal porterhouse, filet mignon with bearnaise, mussels marinara, lobster cannelloni, and a hearty pasta bolognese. Breakfast features omelets and frittatas, along with spectacular eggs benedict varieties that feature lobster and crab cakes. French toast, waffles, and pancakes also appear for breakfast. Longhi's has three locations throughout the islands, two on Maui and this one in Honolulu at the Ala Moana Shopping Center. (808-947-9899, 888-844-2288)
A neighborhood staple in the Manoa Valley, Paesano is a perfect destination for a relaxed meal with family or friends. There's nothing pretentious about the place, which offers understated surroundings and courteous service. The food is first-rate, homemade, and made even better by the fact that you're given plenty of it. If there is one drawback, it's that folks have discovered this gem. As a result, it can be crowded at times, but its perks still outweigh a brief inconvenience any time of day. Much of the menu is made in house, including bread, meatballs, sausages, lasagnas, soups, tiramisu, canoli and salad dressings. (808-988-5923)
8 Sarento's Top of the I
Panoramic views of Waikiki and its environs greet patrons at this lofty dining room high in the Ilikai Hotel. Complementing the scenery is an excellent menu of Italian fare and unobtrusive service. Indulge in a mixed seafood grill, or try savory veal saltimbocca, a charbroiled petit filet, grilled lamb chops, or one of the luscious pastas (like lobster ravioli in a white wine-cream sauce). Homemade desserts, a global wine list, and live piano music add highlights to any meal celebrated at this special-occasion favorite. This is a high end place where you'll want to be dressed up to enjoy an evening here. (808-955-5559)
7 Cafe Sistina
Ornamented with murals painted by the restaurant's talented chef, this charming eatery is a favorite for Italian cuisine. Northern Italian is the name of the game, although the menu encompasses everything from traditional fare to more experimental dishes. You'll find, for instance, an array of fresh pastas, including filled raviolis, gnocchi, and linguine studded with tasty ingredients. Meat dishes also find their place, and everything gets lovingly treated to luscious sauces and top-quality preparation. The intimate and creative atmosphere creates the feeling that your right in the Sistine Chapel in Italy. They validate parking, so don't forget to bring your parking receipt. (808-596-0061)
Chef-owner Fabrizzio Favale hails from Rome and knows Italian food. He also firmly believes in quality ingredients and simplicity in cooking. As a result, you'll find dishes firmly ensconced in the flavors of their components -- nothing contrived, nothing forced. Incredible pastas are a signature, and even basics like a green salad and pomodoro sauce are well-balanced. You'll also find risottos, seafood, chicken, and meat-based entrees, all of which benefit from the chef's firm, capable touch. The atmosphere is intimate and cozy, and it's perfect for a romantic date night. However, don't be afraid to celebrate or bring the family here. (808-593-1466)
5 Cafe Che Pasta
Downtown professionals favor this convenient cafe, which offers great Italian cuisine and specializes in Sicilian dishes. Fresh salads come topped with pungent cheeses, grilled chicken, or tender seafood, and sandwiches make for a light meal. More substantial entrees include eggplant parmigiana, a rib-eye, or one of the delicious pastas, studded with clams, herbs, Italian sausage, and the like. You'll often see art exhibits in the cafe, and catering is available as well. Not open weekends. Thursday nights feature live jazz, blues or Hawaiian music and on Fridays Cafe Che Pasta now has a "salsa night" with Latin music and salsa dancing. (808-524-0004)
A throwback to the old-school style of dining, this exceptional restaurant treats diners with gentility and class. Tuxedoed waiters provide the utmost in service, and the cuisine runs the gamut from light-as-air pastas to veal scaloppine, chicken rollatini, and a hearty cioppino filled with the ocean's best. The requisite osso buco is also present, along with fresh fish and a satisfying list of appetizers and salads. A well-stocked wine cellar heightens the appeal of this romantic, welcoming establishment. Matteo's has been voted best restaurant in Honolulu 17 times by readers of the regional magazine, Honolulu. With over 700 wines and champagnes, you'll find the perfect accent to your meal. (808-922-5551)
3 Lei Lei's Bar and Grill
Lei Lei's Bar and Grill sits right on the golf course at Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore of Oahu. Like a bar and grill would be, it's laid back and casual, yet somewhat upscale and classy. There's a putting green out front where the kids can hang out (in full view) if they get restless, and views of the golf course and the mountain range offer gorgeous sights. Unlike the other restaurants at Turtle Bay, this one isn't right in the resort. The full bar can serve up anything you'd like, but their famous for mai tais and Lei Lei's lemonades. The menu has a broad spectrum of great food - burgers, pastas, salads, local fish specials with sides of mashed potatoes, ribs, and the list goes on. ((808) 293-2662)
The age-old combination of food, wine, and music finds expression in Formaggio, the enoteca run by owners of an adjoining wine shop. Retaining the feel of an undiscovered gem, the restaurant features a small but distinguished selection of wines that are poured by the glass and by the flight. Dishes like a Cubano roast pork panini, artichoke and chicken sausage pizza, and osso buco are tasty and priced right. Acoustic and jazz acts liven up the scene every night. They offer over 50 wines by the glass, as well as a full bar. After dinner check out the adjoining wine shop. (808-739-7719)
Honolulu offers an affordable version of southern Italian fare at this eatery, one of the small local chain's branches. The cuisine is traditional Italian - ravioli, chicken parmesan, a variety of pastas, as well as steaks and local fish dishes. The servings are substantial and satisfies regulars with well-priced, delicious entrees. Sicilian chicken, roasted to juicy perfection, is a house specialty, and caesar salads which is made right at your table draw raves as well. This place is good for families, date night, or any celebration. Assaggio has restaurants in Mililani, Kailua, and right in Honolulu at the Ala Moana Shopping Center. (808-261-2772, 808-396-0756)
About Jade Eckardt
Raised on the Big Island of Hawaii, Jade has traveled the world and doesn't intend to stop, yet the Hawaiian Islands are still her favorite place. She spent seven years living on Oahu and exploring the island. A regular visitor to Kauai, Jade recently authored a full-length Kauai guide book. She is a writer and photographer, whose work has been published in numerous regional and national magazines. When she's not writing, Jade enjoys a good beer, a good surf, and time in her garden with her son.
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