The Best Happy Hour Deals on Oahu

Take advantage of specially priced appetizers and drinks.

In other parts of the country, it’s known as Happy Hour. However, in Hawai‘i, we call it Pau Hana, a dedicated time for discounted drinks and pūpū (appetizers). And while the origins of the term is as muddled as a mojito, one thing is certain: most of us like a good deal. So whether it’s a $6 beer or $6 plate of chicken wings, there’s no better way to end the day or start the evening than imbibing and noshing on these favorites.

Just about every restaurant that offers pau hana specials will include chicken wings on its menu, with the buffalo version being the most popular. The concept of cooking wings in peppery hot sauce was born in 1964 at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York, when co-owner Teressa Bellissimo cooked leftover wings in hot sauce as a late-night snack for her son and his friends. The guys took to them so much that the Bellissimos added them on the menu the next day. Accompanied by celery slices and bleu cheese sauce, “Buffalo Wings” became an instant hit.


Just Chai Me

Although not buffalo style, Chef Chai at Pacifica’s Spicy Suicidal chicken wings ($8) have been well received by the restaurant’s patrons. Come here during pau hana and you’ll see a plate of these wings—and a stack of napkins—on most tables. Served with Thai chili sauce, chopped peanuts and fresh cilantro, the meaty wings are spicy but not to the point of palate numbing.

The ika geso karaage ($8) is another appetizer with some kick. Japanese-style fried squid legs are accompanied by a Korean-inspired gochujang aioli. In contrast, the oysters (six for $10) are subtler in flavor. Considered the “aristocrat” of the bivalve mollusk family, the Kumamoto oysters are creamy in texture and possess a light briny taste, which is balanced with acidity when dipped in the lemongrass-infused mignonette.

“The pau hana menu is only available in the bar area,” says chef and owner Chai Chaowasaree. “It can fill up fairly quickly so I tell people to try to come early.”


Come On Get Happy

Not even a clown, a king or Jack can top Merriman’s juicy Big Island grass-fed cheeseburger, which is served in a house-baked bun, and topped with caramelized onions, vine-ripened tomatoes and cheddar cheese. And it only costs $5 during Happy Hour, daily from 2 to 5 p.m. Other $5 menu items include the savory Maui onion soup with toasted baguette and oh-so-gooey Gruyère; kalua pork quesadilla topped with house-made kimchee and mango chili sauce; and fresh Hawaiian ceviche, flavored with Tahitian lime, shaved young coconut, jalapeño and cilantro. Guests also receive a 25 percent discount off cocktails, beer and wines. Try the No Kai Oi, a concoction of Ocean Vodka, Thai basil, freshly squeezed lime, honey lilikoi and Velvet Falernum. The urban chic vibe and large bar make this one of our favorite places to sneak away to during the day.


Chicken wings plated

Winging It

Just about every restaurant that offers pau hana specials will include chicken wings on its menu, with the buffalo version being the most popular. The concept of cooking wings in peppery hot sauce was born in 1964 at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York, when co-owner Teressa Bellissimo cooked leftover wings in hot sauce as a late-night snack for her son and his friends. The guys took to them so much that the Bellissimos added them on the menu the next day. Accompanied by celery slices and bleu cheese sauce, “Buffalo Wings” became an instant hit.

Although not buffalo style, RumFire’s chicken wings ($6) have been well received by the restaurant’s patrons. Come here during pau hana and you’ll see a plate of these wings—and a stack of napkins—on most tables. Deep-fried then coated with gochujang (a Korean red chili paste), the meaty wings are spicy but not to the point of palate numbing.

Another popular RumFire pūpū is fried rice. Wok-fried kernels of white rice are transformed into a meal-in-one with the addition of such ingredients as garlic and cubed bits of Portuguese sausage. During pau hana at RumFire, this Korean-inspired kimchee fried rice ($6) has been on the menu since the restaurant opened a decade ago. RumFire’s then-chef Colin Hazama developed the original recipe with island taste buds in mind. “It’s one of the signature dishes there,” says Hazama, now the executive chef at The Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort. “It’s simple but all the right flavors are in that single bowl.” The fried rice has just enough zip to inspire a gulp of the refreshing Scorched Strawberry cocktail made with Cruzan Strawberry Rum.


Pork belly flautas

Street Food

Growing up in Mexico City, Arturo Silva still remembers the street food and its simplicity. “You can always tell a good Mexican restaurant by its chips and guacamole,” says Silva, executive chef at Búho Cocina y Cantina. “We make everything here from scratch and that includes all our sauces.” A standout is the mole poblano, which is laboriously prepared, requiring hours to reach the correct consistency. The combination of hot chipotle chili peppers, rich chocolate and a host of spices offers a layer of intense flavors. When applied to chicken wings ($8), the result is a tasty bocadillo (snack) that will have you licking your fingers.

Silva’s pork belly flautas ($6) and goat cheese quesadilla ($6) are two other noteworthy dishes on the happy hour menu, which also includes specials on wines ($6), house margarita ($7) and cerveza on draft ($4)


Pork chops plated

Chop Chop

Often passed over for steak, a pork chop—when prepared properly—can be just as satisfying as any cut of beef. Chart House executive chef Randy Manuel simply seasons his chops with salt and pepper then quickly pan-fries them. Sliced in strips and served over a bed of cabbage, Manuel’s pork chops are among the many offerings during pau hana in the restaurant’s lounge area. Having celebrated its 50th anniversary in February 2018, Chart House is an island institution, which is located just outside of the main strip of Waikīkī, across from the Waikīkī Yacht Club. “We get a lot of locals and visitors,” Manuel says. “So our pūpū menu includes many items that will appeal to everyone and anyone.”


Fish plated

Alluring Options

More of a meal than a snack, Manuel’s fish and chips are a bargain at less than $12. Three generous pieces of saba (mackerel) are thickly battered and accompanied by chunky steak fries. Priced at $12.25, the escargots à la Ernest (named after a longtime employee) are bathed in butter and garlic, and accompanied by the mandatory slices of French bread to sop up the puddles of leftover butter. The oysters Rockefeller ($17.75) are legendary and almost synonymous with Chart House. Fresh half-shell oysters are topped with a rich Hollandaise sauce then placed under a salamander until the sauce begins to bubble.

And if there’s one pūpū item that’s ubiquitous at every pau hana gathering, it would have to be poke, pronounced PO-kay, as in the Hawaiian staple. In its simplest form, poke is composed of raw, bite-sized cubes of fish that are traditionally seasoned with Hawaiian sea salt, limu and ‘inamona (ground kukui or candlenut). However, chefs nowadays have elevated the flavors to include such ingredients as sea asparagus, pineapple poi, soy-opihi foam and even peanut butter. Aside from sushi-grade fish, poke options include tako (octopus) with ginger and garlic, tofu in shoyu with watercress and tomato, raw crab, cooked shrimp, clams, smoked salmon and pipi kaula (dried and smoked beef). The combinations and incarnations may be infinite but the classic ahi poke will always be a favorite among locals and visitors alike.

Chef Chai at Pacifica, 1009 Kapiolani Blvd., 808.585.0011, chefchai.com, Pau Hana from 4 to 6 p.m.

Chart House, 1765 Ala Moana Blvd., 808.941.6669, charthousewaikiki.com, Pau Hana from 4:30 to 7 p.m.

Merriman's Honolulu1108 Auahi St., 808.215.0022, merrimanshawaii.com, Pau Hana from 2 to 5 p.m. daily

RumFire, Sheraton Waikīkī, 2255 Kalākaua Ave., 808.922.4422, rumfirewaikiki.com, Pau Hana from 3 to 5 p.m. daily (except holidays)