MW Restaurant: Stylish and Affordable Local Dining in Honolulu, Hawaii
Dining in Honolulu can be tricky. There are an almost infinite number of restaurants to choose from and things can get pricey very quickly. One of my new favorite happy hour places is MW Restaurant, located on Kapiolani Boulevard and located within walking distance (just a few blocks) from Ala Moana Shopping Center.
MW Restaurant, named for owners and real-life married couple Michelle and Wade, has been open since 2014. Using local produce and Hawaii influences, it serves pan-Asian dishes with a local flair. I’m always down to support local businesses and even more supportive of local businesses who buy local as well!
The Menu (Happy Hour Lunch / Dinner)
The best deal at MW Restaurant is their happy hour menu. Lunch ends at 4 PM, happy hour runs from 2 - 5 PM, while dinner starts at 4 PM. So, if you want to try out the widest range of food options at the cheapest price, shoot for that overlap and transition from lunch to dinner.
💡Tip: For the cheapest prices and widest range of food choices, be there between 3 and 5 PM!
Here is the happy hour drink menu, happy hour food menu, prix fixe lunch menu, ala carte lunch menu, and ala carte dinner menu:
Remember that MW Restaurant buys local produce, so their menu is subject to change seasonally and based on availability. This review is from a June 2019 visit.
The Food & Drinks
With such an extensive menu, it was difficult to choose! After checking out their Yelp reviews, we had a bit of an idea what their popular and year-round dishes were. We also asked our servers what their favorite dishes were to get a better idea of what the top menu items are.
The happy hour $5 drinks were such a steal! They were all unique and handcrafted, which made it difficult to choose. In the end, we had the Hawaiian Gin-ger Fizz cocktail, Cucumber Bliss cocktail, and a Russian Standard Vodka martini.
I love gin, however I’m not the biggest fan of ginger. I was worried about how strongly this cocktail would taste of ginger. When drinking it, I was pleasantly surprised. While you can definitely taste the ginger, it was a sweet ginger flavor rather than a sharp and spicy ginger. It complimented the gin well. I just wish I could taste more gin than ginger.
Overall thoughts: While it exceeded my expectations, I wouldn’t order it again. Cute name though.
I had the opposite problem with the Cucumber Bliss. I love cucumber, but I’m not a fan of its base liquor tequila. The tequila was overpowering—though it may be because I don’t like it and I’m sensitive to it—while the cucumber was underwhelming. (To be fair, cucumber isn’t a strong flavor to begin with.) But even the cucumber slices I fished out and ate were lacking in the flavor department. The salted rim was very flavorful, though.
Overall thoughts: I wanted to like it, but I just couldn’t. Again, not something I’d order again.
Unfortunately, despite using an alcohol on the $5 happy hour menu, getting it in martini form bumped the price up to almost $9. So, if you’re looking for a cheap drink, be sure to get your hard liquors straight and not in a custom cocktail form!
Overall thoughts: For a $5 martini, it would be great. For a $9 martini, not so much. (Despite the bartenders’ great technique.)
The Prix Fixe Lunch
The Prix Fixe Lunch is a great option to get a three course lunch for $28. It comes with a choice of one appetizer, one entree, and one dessert option.
The appetizer we chose was the appetizer sampler trio. It came with a taste of chilled tomato soup, ahi tuna mandoo, and a Greek salad. As you can see from the picture, it was tiny—truly a sampler of each. This definitely isn’t something you could easily share among multiple people.
Overall thoughts: Like a good sampler, it left me wanting more. However, I think that if I got a full-sized tomato soup or salad, I wouldn’t be particularly impressed. I could definitely do a full sized serving of the mandoo (which is exactly what happened).
The thing that I found that most people rave about was the mochi crusted monchong (deep sea pomfret) fish. This had to be the entree of choice. It was served on top of a bed of somen noodles with a soy yuzu black pepper vinaigrette dressing. There were also Korean pickled veggies and kimchi with it.
Overall thoughts: I could eat this forever. It’s definitely a star. Not only was it delicious, but it was extremely light. Even if you are stuffed, you’ll have room to finish this. I couldn’t tell there was anything mochi-related in the breading, but the furikake complimented the dish well. I could take or leave the sauce, though.
Snooping on the other guests, I noticed that most of them ordered the mango cheesecake for dessert. Most people take that as a sign that the cheesecake is delicious. I, on the other hand, feel the need to be different and ordered the banana cream pie. (Plus I love banana cream pie.)
It came out almost deconstructed. On the bottom of the glass was a chocolate dobash, topped with a homemade graham cracker crumble. In the center was a scoop of banana kinako ice cream. Surrounding it was sliced apple bananas and it was all topped with a bit of whipped cream.
Overall thoughts: Everyone else in the restaurant was a fool for not getting this dessert. No matter how good that mango cheesecake may be, there’s absolutely no way it could top this. I would come back for this alone. It was the perfect level of sweetness without being too heavy or rich. Amazing.
The Small Plates Menu
You’re not required to order the Prix Fixe menu. Originally the plan was to sample a bunch of the small plates dishes. However, we weren’t sure how big (or small) the serving sizes were so we erred on the side of caution. Just so you know: their small plates are shareable. So feel free to go wild with this menu if you’re looking to try a bit of everything.
Every time I visit Hawaii, my first meal of choice is spicy ahi. So of course I had to try their take on spicy ahi. To be honest, you can’t do much to class up this dish, so it was pretty standard. And because it was a tartare, it wasn’t served with anything so it got kind of monotonous to eat.
Overall thoughts: If you’re a spicy ahi fan, you won’t be disappointed. It’s really good and actually had a good amount of spice to it. However, with so many more exciting things on the menu, skipping this one wouldn’t be a crime.
This was also included in the Prix Fixe appetizer sampler. It was difficult to split, so why not get the larger version of it for only $5? It comes with a garlic soy sauce and mushrooms. I didn’t understand why it was called an “ahi poke” mandoo, though, because the filling just looked and tasted like canned shredded tuna. It didn’t taste or look like poke at all (especially since it all got cooked while frying it up.)
Overall thoughts: This split the party. I liked it because it was fried and the sauce was good. Others thought it was too plain. I enjoyed it and still thought it was a good deal for a dollar a piece because they were pretty filling.
We almost didn’t get this because the server really didn’t sell it at all. When asked to describe the dish, she said they were small pieces, similar to a popcorn chicken. We thought they would be just little leftover pieces that were mostly batter. But it turns out they were good, hearty pieces of quality scallop.
Overall thoughts: I’m not a fan of scallops, but the resident scallop-lover in the group couldn’t stop eating them. Again, for the $7 price tag they were a good deal. You cold actually taste the scallop and the tempura batter was seasoned. I’m not sure what was in the accompanying sauce, but that was a great addition.
The panzanella salad was a bit of a dark horse. I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did. I mean, after all it’s just some toast and tomatoes with cheese. But the bread was crispy on the outside with a bit of chew on the inside. The tomatoes were firm and juicy. This was a great example of how the quality of the ingredients MW Restaurant uses really elevates the dish. Oh, and their balsamic dressing was perfection.
Overall thoughts: I didn’t think I would care for this dish when ordering it, but after eating it I’m glad we did. It’s a great dish to share (I don’t think I could eat it all by myself) as a little appetizer.
My opinion on okra isn’t very strong. I don’t love it. I don’t hate it. If it’s in front of me, I’ll eat it. But I won’t go out of my way to order it. The fried okra had a crispy exterior and the citrus pepper sauce helped to cut some of the grease. But it wasn’t enough to revive the limp okra pieces that soaked up the oil.
Overall thoughts: None of this dish came together for me. It was soggy when it wasn’t supposed to be and too oily to be salvaged by the sauce. If you like okra, everything that you may enjoy about the vegetable was stripped away with this appetizer. Hard pass for me.
The Lunch Menu
I was eyeing the ahi poke nachos, but the $19 price tag was a deterrent. But, the server brought it out—on the house—and I’m so glad that I got to try it. Unlike the poke mandoo (again, not saying it’s bad), this was actually poke. Served with crispy fried wonton pieces and an avocado salsa (read: guacamole), it was so addicting.
I also used the leftover wonton chips with the spicy ahi tartare and that was delicious too. You really need to eat that with something…
Overall thoughts: I love this! But do I $19 love this? It’s hard for me to say, but I don’t think so. It’s a nice treat and so tasty, but you can get just as tasty dishes for a fraction of the cost with the small plates menu. But, if you feel like treating yourself, you won’t regret it.
Going on a weekday (even if it was a holiday) in the afternoon / early evening, it wasn’t crowded at all. Service was good and attentive without being overbearing.
The bar area was tiny but very well stocked. I think it would be nice to sit at the bar during the evening and enjoy their quality crafted drinks.
The kitchen and food prep area is open and completely visible to the entire restaurant. It was fun to watch the hustle and bustle of the kitchen staff as they worked to prepare all of our delicious food.
The interior is minimal in the best way. Simple lighting and seating make it clear that they’re all about the food. But it’s still fashionable and modern enough so you know that they’re willing to experiment with dishes and serve you something unique and exciting.
Conclusion: Whether you’re a local or just visiting Honolulu, you should make sure to visit this gem. It’s delicious, easily accessible, and reasonably priced. Plus you’ll be supporting local businesses—not just the restaurant owners and staff, but also the local famers and produce suppliers.
For a taste of what modern local Hawaii cooking looks like, look no further than MW Restaurant.