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Hawaii: 12 Foods to Try During Your Trip to Hawaii

Islands always bring the best dishes, in my opinion. So, I was thrilled to book a trip to Hawaii to try some of its famous fresh seafood and fruits. I believe that Hawaii hosts some of the most unique, culturally important, and delicious plates of all the 50 states. During your visit, I highly recommend exploring a few...

1. Poke

What is it? Poke is raw marinated fish, typically tuna or tako (octopus) in Hawaii, with delicious sauces. Traditionally it’s served as is, but you may have seen it around in a trendy “poke bowl,” served over rice.

Where’d you try it?

Ono Seafood is one of the oldest seafood establishments on the island. We were highly recommended trying some fresh poke here, but every time we passed the line was quite long. We got so lucky when we visited Kaka’ako Farmers Market (details below) and saw the Ono Seafood food truck! We tried a mix of tuna and tako varieties and it was amazing.

Kaka’ako Farmers Market

As many of you know, I love a good local farmers market. On Saturday, we made our way to Kaka’ako to taste some different Hawaiian dishes. I always recommend this if you are trying to save some cash (instead of sitting down and having a huge dish). It’s also great for supporting small business owners that can’t afford a classic brick & mortar. Open every Saturday from 8am - 12pm, Kaka’ako has TWO parking lots full of tents! Definitely a fun way to spend the morning. We also tried Ma’ona Musubi, Coconut drinks, and Cane Lei desserts (original, lemon custard, chocolate flavors pictured).

2. Spam Musubi (& other Hawaiian Snacks)

What is it? Spam is canned cooked pork that became popular during/after the war, when food was more scarce. Flash forward to 2020’s and Hawaii is still one of the largest consumers of spam. Spam Musubi is spam on a delicious lump of rice with added seasoning, wrapped in nori (seaweed), similar to a Japanese onigiri.

Where’d you try it?

Well, I’m pretty obsessed with spam Musubi, so we tried it multiple places. That to say, it’s not hard to find. Walking down the street you will be FLOODED with ABC Stores, similar to 7-11 or any classic convenient store. These ABC stores typically have a heated section full of fresh, cheap, Musubis. We stopped by ABC everyday on the way to the beach to grab some snacks. Musubi, delicious Luau Hawaiian BBQ chips, and always delicious coconut water (pictured is some of the best I’ve ever had!).

3. Garlic Shrimp

What is it? Fresh Kailua shrimp smothered in garlic.

Where’d you try it?

A classic Hawaiian dish, and excellent if you love fresh shellfish. We actually made our way over to Waikiki Food Hall (details below) after we landed and wanted some food. Here, at Five Star Shrimp, we got a delicious plate of garlic shrimp to enjoy.

Waikiki Food Hall

Located right in the heart of the shopping area, Waikiki Food Hall is a great casual stop to try a variety of dishes from different smaller shops. Here, we also grabbed some shrimp and pork onigiri from Pork Tamago Onigiri and drinks before heading to the beach for a walk.

4. Hawaiian Plate Lunch

What is it? A traditional Hawaiian plate lunch typically consists of a meat/protein, 2 lumps of rice, and 2 lumps of salad (often macaroni salad). This became a popular quick to-go lunch for the everyday working man many, many years ago, and is now a Hawaii staple.

Where’d you try it?

You can find classic Hawaiian plate lunches at many, many casual lunch spots. We made our way over to Barefoot Beach Cafe, a laid back cafe located right on the water of Waikiki Beach. You can order at the window and enjoy at one of their outdoor tables. Such a great lunch spot- would go back again and again!

5. Huli Huli Chicken

What is it? Huli means "turn" in Hawaiian- and Huli Huli chicken is just that! Turned chicken over a bbq, with delicious sauce. I had Huli Huli chicken with my Hawaiian Plate Lunch pictured above. Can’t go wrong with some bbq chicken!

Where’d you try it?

Driving through the hills of the island, you might see food trucks and local restaurants turning chicken on the side of the road. It’s a common bbq. As mentioned, I tried some at the Barefoot Beach Cafe, but you can find it pretty easily around the island once you leave the touristy areas!

6. Loco Moco

What is it? Loco Moco is rice, topped with hamburger and fried egg, and smothered in gravy. Yes. You read that correctly.

Where’d you try it?

Loco Moco is such a famous and unique Hawaiian dish, I was so eager to try it while I was there. We made our way over to the famous Liliha Bakery, a Hawaiian staple, to try some delicious diner food and enjoy a classic Loco Moco. It is so filling, and served in huge portions, so I recommend sharing or preparing to take some to go! We also got a side of Portuguese Sausage- another Hawaiian favorite. PS Liliha Bakery has some of the most famous baked goods on the island, definitely take some to-go while you’re there!

7. Shave Ice

What is it? Exactly what it sounds like- shaved ice! Shave ice is grounded up ice with flavors added for sweetness (many Hawaiians swear by adding 2 side by side flavors).

Where’d you try it?

There are tons of places you can find shave ice on the island, but we visited one of the most famous - Matsumoto. The line will be so, so long, but I promise you, it moves fast. If you don’t want to wait though, I might recommend asking a local for some other spots. They know the shave ice shops that are good, and the ones that are a rip off. Pictured is half and half coconut and lilikoi (a sweet Hawaiian passionfruit) flavor, with sweet condensed milk (definitely, DEFINITELY get the sweet condensed milk).

8. Kālua Pork (at a Luau)

What is it? Slow cooked pork, often shredded, is a classic luau dish. In Hawaiian, Kālua means to cook in an underground oven. If you love smoked, pulled pork, you will love this dish!

Where’d you try it?

I tried this dish a couple of years ago on my first trip to the Big Island, during a traditional luau. Although this is considered a touristy thing to do, learning about native people and their history is extremely important anywhere you travel. It’s why I love trying traditional dishes, and exploring the culture of any new area I visit. This is one touristy thing that I think is worth it during your trip!

9. Kona Coffee

Tell me more… Kona (located on the Big Island) is an area of Hawaii that produces some awesome coffee beans. So, you will see Kona coffee sold at most coffee shops around the entire state. Try some drinks with Hawaiian flavors, like macadamia and coconut. It’s delicious!

Where’d you try it?

Island Vintage Coffee was our favorite in Waikiki. We tried Hawaiian lattes that had me returning multiple times. We also tried and loved Arvo Coffee, Honolulu Coffee, and Kona Coffee Purveyors.

Want something stronger? Interested in some cocktails? We loved our visit to Deck. It’s located at the edge of Waikiki with a great view of Diamond Head. I tried a cocktail with local Hawaiian fruit (liliko’i marg)- so yummy! Local ciders and beers are also fun to try. You’ll see Maui Brewing, Aloha Beer Company, and others at the stores. They also have some great breweries to visit. I loved Paradise Ciders, which has one of the best ciders I’ve ever tried called "Hang Loose." We had Teddys Bigger Burger one day for lunch, a great local burger spot with delicious bar food, and shared some beers and ciders!

10. Fresh Fruit

Tell me more… Pineapple, coconut, papaya. Local fruit is a must in Hawaii! I went into the trip knowing this, but did not at all expect for the fruit to taste so fresh and different. It was shocking how delicious it was compared to my local grocery pineapple in DC. Definitely enjoy while you’re there.

Also fun….Dole Pineapple has a whole farm located on O'ahu that you can visit, tour, and eat around. We didn’t get to go, but it’s on my list for next time!

11. Malasada

What is it? Fried dough, covered in sugar!

Where’d you try it?

Leonard’s Bakery is famous for their Malasadas, and no matter when you try to get some, there WILL be a long line (or, if not, that’s a sign they are sold out). That said, they are delicious if you love donuts or sugary desserts!

12. Sushi & Fresh Seafood

Tell me more…. As you can guess, the island of Hawaii is full of fresh seafood. Because of its proximity to Asia, it also has some amazing sushi. Whether you’re a sushi or seafood lover, I highly recommend trying some local fish and shellfish. They are known for their tuna and shrimp- but there is so much that Hawaii has to offer!

Some good restaurants:

  • Roy’s is a staple restaurant- we were recommended it multiple times for some fresh seafood, and although it's a little pricey, it didn’t disappoint. We shared a pu-pu platter (sampling of a couple different apps) and then tried the swordfish, sushi, and amazing drinks.

  • Yanagi Sushi is considered the best sushi on the island by most locals. We had a huge dinner there with a group one night, and all sat in a private room together (they have multiple). But you can also sit at the counter and watch your meal being made right in front of you. Both great options! Probably my favorite dinner in Hawaii.

  • Island Vintage Wine Bar is the restaurant connected to the Island Vintage Coffee Shop I mentioned above. This is a sit down with more delicious food options and tons of good wines. Rated one of USA Today's best new restaurants in the country of 2020, we had a great night enjoying charcuterie and creative dishes.

What about other Japanese food? I have to mention Marukame Udon- an amazing udon restaurant only a couple blocks off the beach. Honestly, I didn’t know how much I loved udon until I had this meal, maybe one of the best noodle dishes I’ve had my entire life. We had teriyaki beef udon noodles, beef curry udon noodles, and a sampling of different tempura (fried bites of veggies and seafood). My mouth is watering just thinking about it. I’ll visit this spot every time I’m in the area!

PS don’t be deterred by the long line. There’s always one, and it moves fast!

We weren't able to try everything on my list, but its always fun to save some new dishes for the next time we visit!

Honorable mentions: Poi, Saimin, Lau lau, Mochi Donuts, Manapua


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