Hawaii’s Best Eats: What to Try When You Stay

Hawaii has a multitude of delicious high-end dining options, but some of the best food in Hawaii is casual fare.

Be sure to check out this Quick Food Guide to Italy, too!

Sample the best food in Hawaii

We’re not talking five-star, Michelin rated restaurants, here. Sure, those fancy meals are delicious and you’ll probably want to spend at least one night dining under the stars with an umbrella drink.

The real food of Hawaii, though? That’s what’s going to make your vacation special.

Loco Moco

This island specialty is a favorite of locals and a must-try when you visit the islands. The standard loco moco consists of white rice topped with a ground beef patty, a fried egg, and brown gravy.

Portions are generally very, very large so if you don’t have a huge appetite, consider making it a meal for two. Not a fan of hamburger? No worries. Choose from a variety of other meats, such as Portuguese sausage, beef teri, shrimp, or the ever-present Spam.

spam musubi

Spam Musubi

Speaking of Spam, if you’re looking for fast food in Hawaii, look beyond the familiar franchises and try something that you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else. Spam musubi is a slice of Spam luncheon meat and sticky rice wrapped in nori with seasonings like kukui nut relish or furikake.

You’ll also find other flavors of musubi — such as chicken or hot dog — but Spam is most prevalent.

The go-to fast lunch for people in the islands, you won’t find it in many restaurants. Instead, check the local supermarket or nearest gas station.

ahi poke

Poke

Pronounce po-kay, this raw fish dish is a favorite for residents and visitors alike. For the best flavor, get yours early in the day while the fish is still quite fresh. Ahi tuna is the standby and it comes in many versions: spicy, Hawaiian, sesame, and more.

You’ll find poke on many restaurant menus or grab some in the supermarket fish section for a meal on the go.

poi in a wooden bowl

Poi

You’ve heard people talk about poi – the stuff they claim tastes like wallpaper paste. You might agree, but you’ve got to give it a try. This nutrient-dense food is made from the starchy roots of the taro (or kalo) plant.

Poi is one of the first and arguably the best food in Hawaii for infants!

You’ll find poi served at most luaus, though what you get there will likely be a watered down version of the thicker, richer poi that graces the plates of local families. You can pick up poi at most any supermarket.

kahlua pig

Kalua pig

Traditionally cooked underground in an earthen pit, kalua pig is a holiday staple in the islands and a common dish served at large family gatherings.

Visitors can sample kalua pig — and often, watch it unearthed — if you attend a luau. If you don’t, check the frozen section of the local supermarket, where you can buy a pound and warm it up yourself.

Lau lau

These little leaf-wrapped packets of goodness are a favorite of many. The process of making lau lau is time intensive. A piece of fish and a piece of pork is wrapped first in an edible luau leaf (the leaf from a taro plant) and then in a long ti leaf.

To eat, you’ll unroll (and discard) the ti leaf and savor the cooked greens, fish, and pork.

chocolate filled malasada

Malasadas

If the state of Hawaii had an official baked good, the malasada would surely be it. Brought to Hawaii by Portuguese immigrants, this hole-less doughnut, more square than round, is an island favorite.

Try them tossed in cinnamon-sugar or filled with luscious custard in tropical flavors like lilikoi, mango, or pineapple — or of course, chocolate.

While you’ll find these sweets at some grocery store bakeries, places like Tex Drive-In on Hawaii Island or Leonard’s on Oahu specialize in malasadas — you won’t be disappointed.

Serve them up with a cup of coffee or spot of Hawaii-grown tea and a napkin!

red and yellow shave ice

Shave Ice

Call it shave ice, shaved ice, or ice shave, this must-try treat starts with finely shaved ice and is topped with brightly colored syrups in a vast array of flavors. Most are made with neon bright, sugary syrups. Not so at the Original Big Island Shave Ice Co. Their shave ice is made with fresh local fruits.

BEST FOOD IN HAWAII
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