Explore Oahu

A Guide to Hawaiian Noodle Dishes

Learn the correct manners for eating each dish and then embark on a noodle safari across the island of Oahu.

Drop the knife and fork, and relax those “etiquette elbows.” Welcome to noodle world, where eating with chopsticks and making slurping sounds is the norm. A rich cultural diversity and strong Asian influence have made Hawaii the perfect breeding ground for noodle experts, or those eager to begin their education.


Saimin combines the different flavors of Japanese, Chinese and Filipino. (©Design by Jack/Shutterstock)

Saimin

This local favorite was developed in Hawaii during the plantation era when recipes from all over Asia were cooked under the same roof. A combination of Filipino, Chinese and Japanese noodle dishes, saimin is a yellow-noodle soup served with toppings varying with each restaurant. Usual suspects are green onions, kamaboko (fish cake) and char siu pork. Credited with glorifying what was deemed by most back then as simply a snack, the late Shiro "Mistah Saimin" Matsuo took the simple bowl of saimin and turned it into an all-in-one meal, giving rise to a new utensil called the spork—half spoon/half fork. “My parents signed a contract to work the plantation,” Matsuo once told me during an interview. “We—and all the issei (first generation Japanese)—were very poor and shattered about the American dream. We lived in a shack, living conditions were horrible and the food was bad.” Except for the saimin, which he experienced as comfort and soothed his soul, and he would never forget those unsavory days as he aged.


The tonkatsu shoyu is garnished with homemade pork char siu, aji tamago, crunchy menma and Thai chili. (Courtesy Agu Ramen)

Ramen

Behind the packets of instant noodles found in every college dorm room is one of the most celebrated and trendy noodle dishes in today’s culinary world. Most restaurants offer an array of garnisehes, a choice of shoyu (soy sauce), meat, seaweed or miso broth and a side of gyoza (Japanese pot stickers). Remember, slurping is a sign of respect.


A bowl of pho always provides comfort. (©Simplicio Paragas)

Pho

Pho, pronounced “fuh,” is the popular Vietnamese noodle soup known among U.S. mainlanders for its pungent smell and rainy day remedies. The perfect medley of rice, noodles and meat is served with fresh vegetables and herbs: bean sprouts, Thai basil, mint, lime and peppers. Rip up and sprinkle a few herb leaves squeeze a bit of lime. You’ll see why it doesn’t need to be cold and rainy for this to be considered a comfort food. 

“Chinese soup is too oily and Japanese soup is too clean,” notes Pho Factory co-owner Krystal Giang. “Vietnamese pho is right in the middle; it’s perfect.”     


One of the more popular udon dishes is the spicy tan tan. (©Simplicio Paragas)

Udon

In Japan, udon is a staple dish that doesn’t receive  the same level of attention that ramen has savored in recent years. TsuruTonTan Udon Noodle Brasserie aims to change this. When parsed, "Tsuru" means the sound of slurping noodles, "Ton"signifies the sound of kneading and shaping udon and "Tan” defines the sound of cutting udon. In unison, these three sounds embody the spirit of the eatery’s finest, handmade udon.

“Udon is a traditional everyday dish,” says Takuma Lathrop, president of Dining Innovation, which owns and operates TsuruTonTan Udon Noodle Brasserie at Royal Hawaiian Center. “But we’re going to use fancier ingredients, such as uni, ikura, mentaiko and Wagyu. It’s going to be more of an upscale noodle experience.”


Made of buckwheat or a combination of buckwheat and wheat flours, soba can be served hot or cold. (©jazz3311/Shutterstock)

Soba

Made from buckwheat, soba is so much more than just a tangle of noodles. It's a Japanese cultural heritage and one of the more traditional Japanese cuisine, known as washoku. The key ingredient is buckwheat, and ironically, it is not part of the wheat family. The triangular brown seeds are actually more akin to rhubarb or sorrel. Soba noodles are served either chilled with a dipping sauce, or in hot broth as a noodle soup.


Pad Thai noodles are stir-fried and topped with chicken, sprouts and green onions. (©Rungsuriya Chareesri/Shutterstock)

Pad Thai

When all else fails, the orange noodles will prevail. Thin rice noodles stir-fried with shallots, chili pepper, bean sprouts, egg, tofu and beef, chicken or shrimp, sprinkled with ground peanuts and served with fresh lime, this dish is as pleasing to the eye as it is to our bellies.  A ubiquitous street food in Thailand, pad thai is a staple at any Thai restaurant worth its salt.


Oahu Noodle Locator

Your research begins here, with seven of Oahu's best restaurants for tasting signature noodle dishes, as hand picked by Where editors:

Agu Ramen Bistro

Insider tip: We recommend the Spicy Tonkatsu with a side of gyoza.
Get there: 1200 Ala Moana Blvd., Ward Center, Honolulu
Hours: M-Th 11 am-9 pm; F-Sa 11 am-10 pm
Price range: $$

Jimbo Restaurant

Insider tip: The fresh, handmade noodles are always chewy and delicious. This was Honolulu's first udon noodle restaurant, which opened in 1994.
Get there: 1936 S King St., Honolulu
Hours: M-Su 11 am-2:30 pm; M-Th, Su 5 pm-9:30 pm, and F-Sa 5 pm-10:30 pm
Price range: $$

Opal Thai Food

Insider tip: You can’t go wrong with the pad thai.
Get there: 1030 Smith St., Chinatown
Hours: Tu-Sa 11 am-3 pm, 5 pm-10 pm
Price Range: $$

Pho Factory

Insider tip: Pho and fresh summer rolls are favorites here.
Get there: Royal Hawaiian Center, Building B, Level 2 
Hours: M-Sa 10:30 am-3 pm, 4:30 pm-9 pm; Su 11 am-3 pm, 4:30 pm-8 pm
Price range: $

Shingen

Insider tip: Known for its soba.
Get there: 255 Beach Walk, Honolulu
Hours: M-Su 11:30 am-2:30 pm, 5:30 pm-10 pm
Price range: $$

Shiro’s Saimin Haven

Tip: You'll find more than 60 different noodle combinations
Get there: 98-020 Kamehameha Hwy., Aiea
Hours: M-Th, Su 7 am-10:30 pm; F-Sa 7 am-11:30 pm
Price Range: $$

TsuruTonTan Udon Noodle Brasserie

Tip: Get the spicy tan tan udon or the uni crème udon.
Get there: 98-020 Kamehameha Hwy., Aiea
Hours: M-Fr, 11 am-10 pm; Sa-Su 11 am-3 pm and 3 pm-10 pm
Price Range: $$