There’s so much to do in Hawaii that you can fill every moment, from sunrise to sunset, discovering something new.
From snorkeling the pristine beaches to hiking the wild trails, the Aloha State is an adventure.
So, you need to stay fueled! Luckily, Hawaii is home to a rich and delicious cuisine, one inspired by the natural abundance of the islands, and the cultural diversity found across the state.
In this guide, we’ll cover the Hawaiian ono grindz (that’s delicious foods) that you have to try. And we’ll even give you some advice on where to find each dish!
At one point, Hawaii was the dominating force in the canned pineapple industry.
Nowadays, Hawaii grows fewer pineapples, but the tangy and sweet fruit is still one of the icons of the state.
And there are some who insist there are no better pineapples than Maui Gold pineapples!
Perhaps the best way to sample a Hawaiian pineapple is to enjoy a fresh slice with your breakfast, or as a quick refreshment on a Hawaiian hike.
But you’ll find pineapples across the menus of Hawaiian restaurants — try it with pancakes, tacos, and shave ice!
Fresh pineapples can be purchased from farmers markets across Hawaii, and if you fall in love with the flavor, you can even take some home!
The USDA has relaxed restrictions regarding the transportation of pineapples from Hawaii to the mainland (although they still need to be declared).
A plate lunch is what you order when you want something filling, cheap, and big on flavor.
It’s the kind of food that fills you up after a busy morning, and keeps you going throughout the day.
A plate lunch is a staple of Hawaiian cuisine, and all visitors to the islands should try a plate lunch at some point.
But what is a plate lunch? A plate lunch traditionally consists of two scoops of rice, a scoop of mac salad, and a meaty main (but vegetarian options are available).
They can often be purchased to go from local cafés and food trucks, but even restaurants will have plate lunch on the menu.
Plate lunch staples include world flavors such as pork katsu, barbecue beef, or ribs.
Try plate lunch at:
Poke has transcended Hawaii, and now this famous fish dish has become popular around the world.
But there’s no poke quite like Hawaiian poke, where the fish is fresh out of the water.
Poke originated as a way to ensure no part of the fish was wasted.
When fishermen were cutting their catch into filets, they’d snack on the raw off cuts. In time, poke moved beyond the boats, and into mainstream Hawaiian cuisine.
Poke has changed slightly over the years, but the base of the dish is still seasoned raw seafood.
Many kinds of seafood are used to make poke, but the most common versions use ahi tuna or octopus. Poke is sold all over Hawaii, and this dish is refreshingly satisfying.
Try it seasoned with seaweed and salt, or discover newer varieties which draw from worldwide flavors.
Try poke at:
There’s something almost magical about shave ice, a Hawaiian dish that manages to transform ice into a silky and creamy refreshment.
Shave ice really is exactly as it says it is — a big block of ice shaved down.
These flakes are then packed and sculpted into a ball, and topped with syrup typically made from fresh Hawaiian fruits.
Shave ice is light and refreshing, just what you need after a busy day hiking in the Hawaiian sunshine, or exploring the waves of Hawaiian beaches.
You can keep it simple with a single syrup, or dress it up with toppings such as li hing mui (a sweet and sour fruit powder), azuki beans, mochi, and even condensed milk.
A big glug of condensed milk is known as a snow cap, and it’s deliciously indulgent
Try shave ice at:
If you’re looking for comfort food, the kind of hearty fare that keeps you going throughout the day, then you can’t get much better than loco moco.
Loco moco sounds pretty loco; a bed of white rice is topped with a hamburger patty and a golden fried egg, and then the entire dish is smothered in gravy.
It sounds like a mish-mash of flavors, but something about loco moco just works.
Loco Moco is best enjoyed when you’ve woken up early to watch the sunrise, and you need something incredibly filling.
Standard loco moco remains a classic, and can be found on many menus, but loco moco has also been dressed up to suit curious palates. Spam, Portuguese sausage, and ribs are common additions.
Start by breaking the yolk on your egg, and enjoy a scoopful with all the flavors.
Try loco moco at:
Huli Huli Chicken
A steady turn throughout the cooking process gives huli huli chicken its delicious sweetness and succulence, as well as its name: huli means “to turn”.
Huli huli chicken typically uses a whole bird, drenched in a sweetened soy sauce dressing, and cooked over kiawe wood, a native mesquite.
As the chicken turns, the sauce becomes caramelized without getting burned, and all the meat is infused with the smokey flavor.
It’s hard to resist the smell of huli huli chicken as it wafts from the open grill, which is why you’ll often find it cooked at Hawaiian fundraisers and community events.
Huli huli chicken is also a restaurant and luau staple, and hugely popular with both locals and visitors.
Try huli huli chicken at:
Poi has been a staple of the native Hawaiian diet for a long time, and this is a dish you’ve very likely to encounter at a luau.
Poi is made from the taro root, which is similar to the sweet potato, which is cooked until soft and pounded to form a paste.
This paste is often mixed with water to adjust the consistency. Some prefer poi super thick, while others like it a little runny.
Sticky and purple, poi is often served as a side dish. You can use it as a dipping sauce, or eat it the old fashioned way — scooping it from the bowl with your fingers.
As well as at a luau, you might be able to spot poi at your favorite Hawaiian café. Or look for it at local grocery stores.
Try poi at:
Okay, fresh seafood is a bit of an obvious choice, but if you’re visiting any of the Hawaiian islands, then you really have to try the catch of the day.
The waters of Hawaii are rich with incredible seafood, and regular fishing expeditions ensure fresh catches nearly every day of the week.
Ahi tuna is a must for any seafood lover, and is served everywhere, from hole in the wall cafés to resort-style restaurants.
Mahi mahi, butterfish, and ono are other local favorites that are abundant in Hawaii, but less popular on the mainland.
How you enjoy the seafood is up to you! Keep it simple and seared, enjoy sliced into sashimi, or drenched in breadcrumbs and served with fries.
Try fresh seafood at:
When you think of tacos, Hawaii probably isn’t the first destination that comes to mind.
But the fish tacos on Hawaii are next level, and a massive favorite with the locals.
The best fish tacos you can find in Hawaii are lightly spiced and grilled, served wrapped in a tortilla, and topped with exotic flavors.
It’s thought that fish tacos came to Hawaii with the Californian surfers, and you’ll often find incredible taco trucks just off the most popular beaches.
Fish tacos in Hawaii serve restaurant quality fish, and the fun toppings often make the most of the local produce.
Try mahi mahi or ono tacos with a pineapple salsa to really get a taste of Hawaii.
Fish tacos are also typically inexpensive, so this is an excellent choice for a filling lunch, or a laid back dinner.
Try fish tacos at:
Portuguese sausage is another food you might be surprised to find on Hawaii — after all, it’s pretty obviously from Portugal, which is several oceans away.
However, an influx of Portuguese immigrants arrived in Hawaii at the end of the 19th century, bringing with them flavors such as the salty and spicy linguica sausage.
And Portuguese sausage has been a Hawaiian staple ever since!
You’ll typically find Portuguese sausage on the breakfast menu, often where you expect to find bacon on the mainland.
Breakfast is a pretty big deal in Hawaii, as mornings tend to start early, so make sure to sample Portuguese sausage as part of a big cooked breakfast.
If you have a kitchen in your accommodation, you can also pick up Portuguese sausage at many local grocery stores.
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Macadamia nuts only came to Hawaii in 1881, but they’ve become such a popular snack you’d think they were native to the island.
Macadamia nuts are served with pancakes and French toast, baked into pies, crumbled onto fish, and even churned into ice cream.
If you put your mind to it, you could enjoy macadamia nuts for every meal of the day in Hawaii!
But undoubtedly, the best way to eat macadamia nuts is smothered in chocolate.
Rich macadamia nuts taste incredible coated in a thick layer of chocolate, and you might find you’ve devoured the whole bag without realizing.
Chocolate coated macadamia nuts can be picked up from many convenience stores.
Make sure to buy a large bag to take home, as these make a perfect souvenir (assuming you don’t eat them all yourself).
Based on Japanese origini, spam musubi takes a slice of spam grilled in teriyaki sauce, packs it into layers of sushi rice, and wraps the whole thing up in seaweed.
It’s salty and crunchy with a slight hint of sweet, and so much better than you expect it to be.
A portable snack, spam musubi is good for munching on throughout the day, whenever you start to feel hungry.
And you have to try it when you’re in Hawaii, because this unusual take on fusion food is rarely served anywhere else!
Spam is surprisingly popular in Hawaii, as a meat with a lot of flavor, a low price, and an incredibly long storage date.
We think spam is best enjoyed in spam musubi, but it’s also a breakfast staple, and a common ingredient in loco moco and saimin.
Enjoy spam musubi at:
Even if it’s your very first visit to Hawaii, you’ll recognize luau stew as the taste of home.
This is traditional comfort food, something that you’d expect to find bubbling away on the stove at grandma’s house.
The base of luau stew is taro leaves, which are cooked and cooked until perfectly tender and ready to fall apart.
Seasoned simply with Hawaiian sea salt, this taro based broth proves that sometimes simplicity really is best.
Luau stew is often made with beef brisket and served over a bed of white rice, but there are many versions of this dish available.
Like stews from around the world, it has been adapted and changed to suit the ingredients on offer, and the tastes of the household.
Try luau stew at:
The term “manapua” is thought to be a shortening of the term “mea ono puaa”, which translates roughly to “delicious pork pastry”.
The name is a very accurate description of the thing, as a manapua literally is a delicious pork pastry.
Manapua is similar to the Chinese char siu bao, or steamed pork buns.
A manapua is a soft and fluffy bun, packed with a pork filling. It’s a perfectly portable snack, even if the Hawaiian manapua tends to be a little bigger than the original bao.
Pork might be the traditional filling, but nowadays, you can find manapua packed with almost anything, including vegetarian and sweet fillings.
Manapua can be served baked or steamed, and everyone has a favorite method for preparing this comforting snack. But they’re always best enjoyed warm and fresh.
Try manapua at:
Saimin is the noodle dish of Hawaii, drawing inspiration from Japanese ramen broth and Chinese noodles, before adding local favorite toppings such as spam, Portuguese sausage, and dried shrimp.
Once a popular dish with plantation workers, Saimin draws from the cultural mixture you would expect to find on the farms.
Saimin is typically eaten as a comfort food, and you’ll love slurping down a big dish when a Hawaiian rainstorm kicks in.
The seafood base makes saimin slightly different to similar noodle dishes, while the fresh noodles absorb the rich flavors surrounding them.
You can also try dry saimin, which stir-fries the noodles rather than soaking them in broth.
The adaptability of saimin makes it a dish for everyone, as you can experiment with toppings to find the perfect flavor balance.
Try saimin at:
Laulau is a recipe that came to Hawaii with the Polynesians, and is still enjoyed today.
Pork and butterfish are wrapped in taro leaves or ti leaves, and either steamed or roasted in the underground imu oven.
The slow cooking process turns the taro leaves incredibly soft, and locks the moisture into the filling.
Each bite is packed with succulent meat, and melt in the mouth taro leaves.
While the traditional recipe uses pork or butterfish, there are many fillings to laulau.
Chicken and beef are both popular, as are many kinds of seafood, but the slow cooking method is key to all types of laulau.
Laulau is often served with rice and a scoop of mac salad as a plate lunch.
Try laulau at:
Macaroni salad might not be among the most exciting and unusual flavors of Hawaii, but it’s something you’re undoubtedly going to taste when you visit the state.
Macaroni salad is very similar to potato salad, only instead of potatoes, it uses elbow macaroni. The whole thing is coated in mayonnaise, with the occasional grated vegetable thrown in.
If you order a plate lunch in Hawaii, then you’re likely to be offered a serving of mac salad to go on the side.
It isn’t for anyone trying to avoid the carbs, but creamy mac salad is a perfect pairing for the intense flavors normally found on a plate lunch.
Some places prefer to keep their mac salad simple, using just elbow macaroni and mayo.
Other places prefer to mix things up, adding grated carrots, green onions, and maybe even a new pasta shape!
Try mac salad at:
Taro Ko Chips
Unlike some of the other options on this list, taro ko farm chips are actually surprisingly hard to get your hands on.
It’s so worth the effort, for these deliciously salty, slightly sweet, and strangely sour chips. They really taste like nothing else.
You’ll be addicted by the first mouthful, so if you find them for sale, make sure to grab a couple of bags at a time!
Just a couple of ingredients come together to make taro ko farm chips, but one of them is li hing mui powder, made from dried plums.
The li hing mui powder packs a massive punch of flavor by itself, which is why you only need garlic salt and soybean oil to add the rest of the flavoring.
Taro Ko Farm chips are available from Taro Ko Farm, on Kauai.
Lomi Lomi Salmon
Lomi lomi salmon takes its name from the Hawaiian word meaning “to massage”, which describes the way this dish comes together.
Combining raw salmon with tomatoes, Maui onions, and peppers, the ingredients are gently massaged and tossed together, creating a popular Hawaiian side dish.
Lomi lomi salmon is served cold, and you’ll often find it served at luaus, or as pupus (Hawaiian appetizers).
Although lomi lomi salmon is often thought of as a very traditional Hawaiian food, it was introduced by Western settlers.
Salmon isn’t found in the oceans surrounding Hawaii, because the water is just too warm!
If you spot lomi lomi salmon as part of a luau buffet, then make sure to grab a plateful!
It’s very refreshing, and the cool, light flavors play well with the heavier meats at a luau.
Try lomi lomi salmon at:
The very best place to try kalua pork is at a luau, where you can enjoy the imu ceremony. Kalua pork, or kalua pig, is a traditional way of cooking pork using the imu, an underground oven.
The whole pig is seasoned with sea salt before being sealed in banana leaves and placed in the imu.
The imu is heated by lava rocks, slowly cooking the pig through and infusing the smoky flavors throughout the meat.
When the meat has finished cooking, the pig is removed from the oven and carried through the luau in a traditional ceremony.
It’s then shredded and served as part of the buffet. Similar in texture to pulled pork, kalua pork has a tangy smoke flavor.
We recommend enjoying kalua pork at a luau, but it’s often served with plate lunches, or as part of a breakfast dish. Many restaurants also serve kalua pork as an entrée.
Try kalua pork at:
You might be able to find garlic shrimp outside Hawaii, but Hawaiian garlic shrimp really is the best.
It should be enjoyed in large portions, with shrimp as big as your fist, after you’ve been exploring the waves of Hawaii.
Garlic shrimp is a popular specialty of food trucks and cafés, but it’s one of those dishes that you really can find anywhere.
Shrimp aren’t native to Hawaiian waters, but they are farmed here in massive numbers.
Not only does this mean you have access to quality, fresh shrimp, but that shrimp from different farms can take on different flavors.
Garlic shrimp is often served with white rice or as part of a plate lunch, although you can sometimes find it wrapped in a taco.
Try garlic shrimp at:
Take a look at almost any dining establishment in Hawaii serving breakfast, and you’re likely to find a big selection of pancakes.
And we’re not just talking bacon and maple syrup, either. From macaroni cheese pancakes, to chocolate macadamia nut pancakes, Hawaii has a pancake for almost every palette.
After a morning snorkel, a huge stack of pancakes is just what you need. Enjoy with locally grown toppings such as macadamia nuts and honey, or with fruit from nearby farms.
And don’t forget a generous drizzle of syrup — there are plenty available, often made fresh from Hawaiian produce.
If you fall in love with Hawaiian pancakes (and we think you will), head to your closest convenience store, and check out the range of pancake mixes and syrups they have for sale.
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Originally from Brazil, the açaí bowl has become a staple of Hawaiian mornings.
Delightfully refreshing, cheerful and colorful, and easy to customize, the açaí bowl is a refreshing start to the morning, or a healthy midday pick me up.
Açaí bowls are made with pulped açaí berries which are then blended with yogurt and other fruits to form a smoothie-like consistency.
This is then topped with things such as granola, nuts and seeds, and fresh fruits.
In Hawaii, açaí bowls celebrate the local produce. Make sure to get yours loaded with mangoes, pineapples, coconut, and other Hawaiian favorites.
Açaí bowls are super colorful, so if you’re looking for an Insta-worthy breakfast, enjoy an açaí bowl on the beach.
Try açaí bowls at:
For those with a sweet tooth, malasadas are the Portuguese take on the donut.
Brought to Hawaii by Portuguese migrants, malasadas are deep fried dough balls, dusted with sugar or cinnamon.
Although traditionally malasadas aren’t filled, nowadays, many bakeries serve malasadas with a sweet filling.
Made using butter and eggs, malasadas have a rich and decadent flavor that nevertheless remains light and fluffy.
The outside should be crisp, while the inside should be chewy.
Although purists will insist you enjoy malasadas unfilled, we like them with a fruity sauce.
But the benefit of unfilled malasadas is you can enjoy them fresh from the oven. It’s a tough decision, so the best thing to do is to try malasadas wherever you see them for sale. It’s the only way to know for sure which version is best.
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Haupia is a dessert made by gently simmering coconut milk with coconut sugar and cornstarch, until the mixture begins to thicken.
It’s then left to set, when it takes on a firmer texture, while remaining deliciously soft.
Haupia is a very traditional dessert, and classic versions of the recipe use ground pia plant (known as Polynesian arrowroot), instead of cornstarch.
With a sweet coconut flavor, haupia can be enjoyed on its own, or with a drizzle of chocolate. It’s often served with a selection of desserts at the end of a luau.
Haupia has also influenced other Hawaiian desserts — look out for haupia pie, which serves haupia pudding in a pie crust, topped with chocolate and whipped cream.
It’s unbelievably indulgent, and so good you’ll struggle to stop at just one slice.
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Hula Pie was created at Kimo’s, a popular Maui restaurant on Lahaina’s iconic Front Street.
It consists of a chocolate cookie crust, coated in a stack of macadamia nut ice cream, and topped with a layer of cooled chocolate fudge.
And then the whole thing is finished with several dollops of whipped cream, and a generous pouring of hot chocolate fudge.
Oh, and one final sprinkle of toasted macadamia nuts, in case that wasn’t enough. It tastes as good as it sounds, and it sounds incredible.
If you’re on Maui, you have to head to Kimo’s to try the hula pie where it was created.
But you can also grab it at Duke’s, which has locations on Kauai and Waikiki, and Keoki’s Paradise by Poipu Beach.
Try hula pia at:
Breadfruit, Lilikoi, And Fresh Fruits
Hawaii is in a rather unique position, and we mean that quite literally. It’s right in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, with nowhere else around.
Formed by volcanic eruptions hundreds of thousands of years ago, based on these facts alone, you might expect Hawaii to be nothing but barren rocks.
But these conditions are actually perfect for the lush planting found across Hawaii.
The sea breezes, frequent rainstorms, and stable temperatures lead to consistent growth. Produce thrives in Hawaii.
And the best way to experience it is to try the fresh fruit. Enjoy juicy mangoes, golden pineapples, and fresh coconuts.
Or expand your palette with some Hawaiian favorites, such as breadfruit and lilikoi.
Check out local farmers markets, to find the highest quality local produce.
If you know your coffee, then you’ll know all about Kona coffee.
It’s considered by many to be the best coffee in the world, and it’s grown on the slopes of Big Island, where it draws nutrients from the volcanic soil.
Coffee is grown on various Hawaiian islands, including Maui and Molokai.
Some coffee producers will allow you to tour the farms and sample the coffee, which is an excellent way to learn more about what makes Hawaiian coffee so great.
Alternatively, grab yourself a cup of coffee on an early morning, and sip it as you watch the sunrise.
Hawaiian coffee is grown across the state, and many cafés serve coffee from beans grown just down the road!
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POG juice is named after the ingredients it’s made up of: passionfruit, orange, and guava.
Combine these three juices in equal amounts and you have POG, a refreshing breakfast drink that was created on Maui.
POG, sometimes referred to as Passion Orange Guava, is a common addition to breakfast spreads in Hawaii.
It’s sweet with just the right touch of tang, and the tropical flavors are perfect for the island setting.
Enjoy a cold glass of Passionfruit Orange Guava on your lanai as you get ready for a day exploring Hawaii.
The first Mai Tai was actually invented in California in 1933, but after being introduced to Hawaii in the mid 1950s, it quickly became a staple of Hawaiian cocktail bars, and a massive draw for tourists.
The standard mai tai combines rum with Curaçao liquor, orgeat syrup, and lime juice, served in an old fashioned glass with a pineapple spear garnish.
It’s the perfect drink for toasting the sunset, combining fun flavors in a perfect balance of sweetness and sharpness.
Try a mai tai at:
From traditional cuisine to foods inspired by the diverse population, foodies will love exploring Hawaii!
Make the most of your time in the Aloha State by sampling the must-eat Hawaiian dishes.
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