Sign up for news and special offers from Dining Out
Top of Waikiki Rises Above the Rest
Cover Story

Top of Waikiki Rises Above the Rest

Story By Alana Folen Photos By Leah Friel
January 15 - 21, 2012

See more articles from

Feel as if you’re on top of the world with a dining experience like no other as your taste buds soar to new heights. As Hawaii’s only revolving restaurant, Top of Waikiki has been presenting diners from across the globe with revolutionary cuisine that goes beyond the norm. Eclectic in nature, the enthralling three-tiered restaurant stands on the top floor of the Waikiki Business Plaza, and since its inception in October 1965, this award-winning establishment continues to present stellar meals with a breathtaking view to match.

  • Executive chef John Neff
  • Herb Roasted Chicken ($34)
  • Top of Waikiki makes a 360-degree rotation every hour.
  • Anise Braised Pork Belly ($14)
  • Grilled NY Strip Steak ($19)
  • Seared Scallops & Foie Gras ($19)
  • Blue Moon Braised Pork Osso Buco ($33)
  • Cioppino with Linguine ($38)
Image of

Top of Waikiki executive chef John Neff, who took over for former head chef Sean Priester in 2009, proves that decadent cuisine spans cultural boundaries as he infuses a variety of worldly cuisine into his menu.

“I revamped the menu about three months ago,” says Neff, who has more than 15 years of experience in the food service industry. “I want to give our guests a good variety of cuisine — there’s some hearty Italian dishes that I’ve incorporated into the menu, and I’m also really playing up island fusion,” he adds. “For example, I’ve infused many Asian flavors with French flavors. I just want to cater to all palates.”

Open nightly from 5 to 9:30 p.m., this Waikiki landmark bustles with a full house, seating close to 200 diners on all three levels, where guests can take in a complete picture-perfect, panoramic view of Waikiki as the restaurant makes a full but subtle 360-degree rotation every hour.

“I grew up in the kitchen. Cooking has always been a passion of mine. My mom is a good cook and my grandparents were good cooks,” says Neff, who was raised in Mililani and graduated from Mililani High School. “Having grown up on Oahu, I know all the local flavors and have been able to incorporate that with the culinary experience I’ve gained on the Mainland. Using fresh, local ingredients is essential in my cooking.”

Neff attended The Art Institute of Seattle, where he received his culinary training, and has an extensive resume at that. He’s associated himself with renowned chefs such as Roy Yamaguchi, Michael Mina, Anthony Amoroso and Chai Chaowasaree, having worked for Roy’s at the Westin, Seattle; Nob Hill; MGM Grand, Las Vegas; Fiamma, MGM Grand Las Vegas; and Chai’s Island Bistro.

“I’m inspired by life experiences, especially eating out and traveling. My last big food trip was to Napa Valley, which inspired me to create some new dishes. I get bored easily, so it’s fun to change up the menu every now and then,” he says.

Neff is a master at transforming simple, everyday ingredients into dishes with five-star ambitions at affordable prices.

“Before it was always about the view here at Top of Waikiki, but now I think I’ve brought the food up to par to where the view’s at. People are coming in here and are being blown away by the cuisine,” he exclaims with a smile. And Neff has much to be proud of: He along with his sous chef Sean Walsh and the rest of his highly skilled culinary team have transformed the menu into a culinary mecca all its own that is definitely worth sampling.

A plethora of new appetizers await patrons, including Seared Scallops & Foie Gras ($19), Anise Braised Pork Belly ($14), Seafood Ceviche with Avocado & Grilled Ewa Sweet Corn ($14), Grilled N.Y. Strip Steak ($19), Camembert En Croute ($15) and more.

“I’ve also added a Garlic Shrimp Caesar Salad ($14) to the menu, which is now our bestselling salad,” Neff says. “I just want to take all different cuisines and bring them together, and find a way to make it taste good.”

Neff also effortlessly creates beautiful renditions of Cioppino with Linguine, Herb Roasted Chicken, Braised Leg of Lamb Rigatoni and Blue Moon Braised Pork Osso Bucco — all new entrees to grace Top of Waikiki’s ever-evolving menu.

Cioppino with Linguine ($38) hold its own as the best-selling pasta with seared day boat scallops, shrimp, fresh island fish, calamari, New Zealand mussels, and crab in a roasted pepper and tomato seafood broth with garlic crostini.

Diners also rave about Herb Roasted Chicken ($34), a roasted half chicken with creamy polenta, broccolini with Asiago, corn bechamel and a caramelized onion jus, and Blue Moon Braised Pork Osso Bucco ($33), consisting of smoked bacon, lentils, apple confit, roasted baby carrots, orange gremolata and pork jus.

According to Neff, the osso bucco pairs perfectly with Kunde Estates 2006 Merlot. With close to 100 varieties of vino on Top of Waikiki’s extensive wine list, wine aficionados appreciate the wine pairings for each entree noted on the menu.

“I’m always experimenting with food and trying to make the restaurant better,” Neff says. “We’re doing some cool stuff here, and I can only hope for our cuisine to get better and better.”

All fear of heights aside, Top of Waikiki keeps surpassing its limits; for the sky is the limit here, and there’s no where to go but up!

Top of Waikiki

  • Where
    • Waikiki Business Plaza
    • 2270 Kalakaua Avenue
    • Honolulu, HI 96815
  • Call
    • (808) 923-3877
  • Hours
    • Open daily
    • 5 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.
  • Notes
    • Reservations are recommended.