Where the View Never Gets Old

Columns Order of the Day

April 10, 2011

Story By: Dining Out Team |

Even after 46 years, Top of Waikiki continues to turn out great food and spectacular vistas on a nightly basis. For those of us who live here, it can be all too easy to take Oahu’s charms for granted.

  • Filet Mignon ($36)
  • Top of Waikiki Chef John Neff
  • Tea Smoked Duck Duo ($33)
  • Cioppino Linquine ($36)
  • Spicy Tuna "Tartare" Caesar Salad ($12)
  • Blackened Seared Ahi ($17)
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Many of us establish routines and familiar paths, and then forget the simple joy of deviating from them to reclaim the island’s treasures.

Top of Waikiki is a perfect example of an Oahu treasure whose charms are being rediscovered by locals. “I meet people and talk to them about the restaurant, and it’s not unusual for them to say, ‘I was there 20 years ago, and I haven’t been back since,'” says Craig Bunkley, general manager of the 46-year-old Waikiki restaurant. “It’s changed so much. The food is probably better than it’s ever been before. The service is great. And of course, every table has a view.”

That’s putting it mildly. Top of Waikiki is a revolving restaurant on the top floor of the Waikiki Business Plaza, and the view from any table is spectacular. Looking a bit like a three-tiered wedding cake, the restaurant was built in 1965 by local businessman William K.H. Mau and designed by architect John Graham Jr. (known also for projects like the Seattle Space Needle). A single row of tables on each tier ensures a fantastic view for every guest. The entire circular restaurant sits on a huge platform turned by a pair of 1.5 hp electric motors and 18 stainless steel wheels.

Under the direction of executive chef John Neff, the restaurant’s Pacific fusion cuisine features strong local flavors with European flair. Grilled Atlantic Salmon ($35), with tempura shrimp and scallop souffle, is served with a miso consomme.

Surf & Turf ($33) consists of curried seafood paella with Portuguese sausage, kalbi short ribs and kim chee. The Tea Smoked Duck Duo ($33) includes duck breast with li hing orange ginger sauce, accompanied by moo shu duck confit spring rolls. And the Spicy Tuna “Tartare” Caesar Salad ($12) actually induced Bunkley to accept the job as GM.

The restaurant also boasts an impressive wine list. “You don’t see many wine lists with Viognier on them,” Bunkley observes, referring to vintages made with rare white grapes from the Rhone regions of France. Other eclectic bottles include a 2005 Neal Cabernet from California, the 2004 Cliff Lede “Poetry,” and the 2004 Sassicaia, a Super Tuscan described by Wine Enthusiast as “the best Sassicaia of the last 10 years.” Wines are priced from $7-$15 by the glass (all entrees on the menu have suggested pairings); bottles start at around $25.

For the past year or two, the restaurant has boasted two nightly Happy Hours. From 5 to 7 p.m. and again from 9 to 11 p.m., guests may enjoy $4 martini and cocktail specials with vodkas from Skyy and Kai, and draft beer and house wine by the glass for the same price. The $7 pupu menu includes selections like BBQ Pork Sliders, a California Roll Tower and Spicy Ahi Poke.

“Every night during Happy Hour, we have a great crowd with a lot of good energy,” Bunkley notes. “When we saw how successful it was, we thought maybe there was an opportunity for a late-night event.”

Promoted through Facebook, the Saturday Night Special event happens just once a month — traditionally on the third Saturday, though it may vary — and features the same drink and pupu specials offered during Happy Hour, plus occasional live entertainment. “We want to keep it special for people who take interest in the restaurant,” says Bunkley. “It’s our way of thanking them.”

The restaurant is now taking reservations for its Mother’s Day Buffet Brunch on Sunday, May 8, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. “I don’t think you can find a better venue!” says Bunkley. The buffet, priced at $39.95 for adults and $19.95 for children aged 3 to 10, will feature treats such as prime rib, grilled swordfish with pesto cream sauce, country-fried chicken with sausage gravy, and eggs Benedict with spinach, Prosciutto, asparagus, and crab Bearnaise.

“Many local clientele take advantage of us for special occasions,” concludes Bunkley. “But there’s a great advantage to coming here any time. We have validated parking, so you can see the sunset, have dinner and experience Waikiki until midnight, when our garage closes. And during our late-night events, we extend the parking hours. People need to know how easy it is to come down here and enjoy this restaurant — and Waikiki, a part of Hawaii we sometimes forget.”

Top of Waikiki

  • Where
    • 2270 Kalakaua Avenue
    • Honolulu, HI 96815
  • Call
    • (808) 923-3877
  • Hours
    • Open daily
    • 5 p.m. – 11 p.m.
    • Last seating at 9:30 each evening