Hawaii residents are proud of their local food, and for good reason.
The Islands are home to a tremendous diversity of traditional foods. To eat like a resident, you must first understand the wonders of Hawaii’s favorite foods, and this guide will have even first-time visitors noshing like locals.
Plate Lunch Destinations
Topping the list of favorite local eats is the ultimate island comfort food: the plate lunch. Tradition all but dictates a plate lunch include two scoops of white rice, creamy macaroni salad and an entrée such as chicken katsu, beef teriyaki or kalua (meaning cooked in an underground oven) pork.
Kick the plate lunch up a notch with a visit to Nico’s Pier 38 Restaurant and Fish Market in Honolulu. The open-air eatery offers entrée variations such as Fried Ahi (tuna) Belly and Furikake Pan-Seared Ahi. Rainbow Drive-In serves more traditional plate lunch entrées like mahi mahi (dolphin fish), teriyaki beef and shoyu chicken. Da Poke Shack’s offerings in Kailua-Kona on Hawaii island feature a generous helping of poke – cubed raw fish (often ahi) – or other local seafood such as cooked octopus or shrimp mixed with seasonings.
Hawaii’s favorite comfort food is the plate lunch. Traditionally, it combines white rice, macaroni salad and barbecued meat.
Cool Down with Shave Ice
Shave ice is the perfect island confection for a warm day – light, fluffy flakes of ice topped with sweet syrups made with or highlighting local fruits. At Matsumoto's Shave Ice in the Oahu surf town of Haleiwa, crowds queue up for shave ice topped with tropical syrups and less-traditional flavors like green tea and mocha. At Waiola Shave Ice in Honolulu, customers can choose from thousands of flavor combinations, such as chocolate, star fruit and Creamsicle. Experiment with other wild flavor options, such as crème brulee, red velvet and even durian, at Shimazu Store.
Cool down at Honolulu’s Waiola Shave Ice, where the menu features thousands of creative, refreshing flavor combinations.
Leonard’s Bakery on Oahu has been frying up traditional malasadas since 1952 and now also offers malasada puffs with fillings such as custard, chocolate and pineapple. Fans also wait for hot, fresh malasadas – in traditional and custard-filled varieties – from Champion Malasadas in Honolulu. Tex Drive-In in the Hawaii Island town of Honokaa serves a full menu of traditional Hawaiian comfort food, including the plate lunch, but is best known for its malasadas. Here, you can peer through a viewing window to watch them being made.
End an island meal with fresh-fried malasadas, a traditional Portuguese doughnut tossed in sugar.
In search of an on-the-go lunch? In Honolulu, check out Eat the Street. Held on the last Friday of every month, the event features about 40 vendors and attracts thousands of foodies for a Hawaii street food extravaganza.
Among many food truck and wagon offerings, don’t miss the local favorite shrimp trucks and shrimp shacks in and near the Oahu town of Kahuku. Hot spots such as Romy’s Kahuku Prawns and Shrimp, Fumi’s Kahuku Shrimp and Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck serve made-to-order shrimp with butter, garlic and other seasonings, plus dipping sauces.
Hawaii’s thriving food truck scene serves up a wide variety of grab-and-go meals and quick bites.
Honolulu International Airport (HNL) is your main gateway to Oahu and all of Hawaii, but airports are available at each island for you to easily explore the entire state. Fly into Hilo (ITO) or Kona (KOA) international airports on Hawaii Island, Kahului Airport (OGG) on Maui, Lanai Airport (LNY) on Lanai, Molokai Airport (MKK) on Molokai and Līhue Airport (LIH) on Kauai.