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Eat Like A Local: The Best Hawaiian Food


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Deina Clift



Welcome to the vibrant world of Hawaiian food travel! If you’re a food enthusiast, you’re in for a treat as we embark on a culinary journey filled with mouthwatering flavors and unique cultural experiences. Hawaii, known for its stunning landscapes and warm aloha spirit, also boasts a rich and diverse food scene that celebrates the rich history and cultural blend of the islands.


From delectable seafood dishes to traditional Polynesian delicacies, Hawaiian cuisine offers a delightful fusion of indigenous, Asian, and American influences. Whether you’re a seafood lover, a fan of hearty dishes, or have a sweet tooth that craves tropical delights, the Hawaiian culinary landscape has something to satisfy every palate.


One of the joys of food travel is indulging in local delicacies that capture the essence of a place. In Hawaii, this means exploring the unique flavors and culinary traditions that have evolved over centuries. As you venture through the islands, you’ll discover a plethora of dishes that highlight the freshest seafood, succulent meats, and unique tropical ingredients.


As we dive into this food travel guide, get ready to tantalize your taste buds with some of the most iconic and beloved Hawaiian dishes. From the mouthwatering poke bowls to the comforting plate lunches, we’ll take you on a culinary tour that will leave you craving for more.


So, prepare your appetite and join us on this culinary adventure as we uncover the best of Hawaiian food. Get ready to eat like a local and immerse yourself in the flavors, culture, and spirit of the islands. Let’s embark on a journey that combines the love of food with the joy of exploration, as we discover the hidden gems and culinary delights that make Hawaii a food lover’s paradise.



No visit to Hawaii is complete without indulging in the iconic dish of poke. Pronounced “po-kay,” this traditional Hawaiian dish has gained immense popularity worldwide for its fresh flavors and simplicity.


Poke, meaning “to slice” or “cut into pieces” in Hawaiian, is typically made with cubes of raw fish, such as ahi (yellowfin tuna), marinated in a delicious blend of soy sauce, sesame oil, onions, and other seasonings. While traditional poke features simple ingredients, modern variations have emerged, offering a variety of flavors and toppings to suit different preferences.


Head to a local poke shop or visit a fish market in Hawaii, and you’ll be greeted with a colorful array of poke options. From classic ahi poke to spicy tuna and even vegetarian varieties, there’s a poke combination to satisfy every taste bud.


Poke bowls have become particularly popular, offering a complete meal in a bowl. Start with a base of rice or salad greens, then pile on your choice of poke, along with an assortment of toppings like seaweed, avocado, mango, or crispy onions. The possibilities are endless, allowing you to customize your poke bowl to your liking.


What sets Hawaiian poke apart is the freshness and quality of the ingredients. With access to some of the best seafood in the world, Hawaii’s poke showcases the natural flavors of the fish, combined with the tanginess of the marinade. Every bite is a burst of umami goodness, making poke a beloved dish among locals and visitors alike.


For a truly authentic poke experience, venture to the local fish markets, food trucks, or even farmers’ markets in Hawaii. You’ll get to interact with the friendly vendors, sample different poke variations, and learn more about the origins and cultural significance of this beloved dish.


Poke is not just a meal; it’s a part of Hawaiian culture. It symbolizes the relationship between the land and sea, with the fresh seafood representing the bounties of the surrounding ocean. So, when in Hawaii, make it a point to savor the flavors of poke and experience the cultural heritage it embodies.


Plate Lunch

When it comes to hearty and satisfying meals in Hawaii, the plate lunch is a true local favorite. This iconic dish reflects the diverse cultural influences of the islands, combining elements from Hawaiian, Asian, and American cuisines.


The plate lunch traditionally consists of a generous serving of white rice, accompanied by a protein such as teriyaki chicken, kalbi ribs, or breaded mahi-mahi. In addition to the protein, the plate is completed with macaroni salad, a staple side dish in Hawaiian cuisine.


What makes the plate lunch truly special is the array of flavors and textures it offers. The tender and flavorful proteins are often marinated in traditional Hawaiian or Asian-inspired sauces, adding a burst of savory and sweet flavors. The accompanying macaroni salad provides a creamy and tangy element, balancing out the richness of the meat.


One of the best places to savor a plate lunch is at local “plate lunch shops” or “food trucks.” These establishments specialize in serving up this iconic dish, offering a variety of protein options and sides to choose from. The portions are generous, ensuring that you’ll leave feeling fully satisfied.


The plate lunch not only satisfies your hunger but also gives you a glimpse into the culinary history and cultural fusion of Hawaii. The combination of different flavors and ingredients reflects the diverse communities that have come together in the islands.


Aside from the classic plate lunch offerings, you’ll also find creative variations that incorporate other cultural influences. For example, you might come across a plate lunch featuring Korean-inspired bulgogi beef or Japanese-style katsu chicken. These innovative twists add an exciting dimension to the traditional plate lunch, showcasing the dynamic culinary landscape of Hawaii.


To experience the true essence of a plate lunch, grab your meal to-go and find a relaxing spot on the beach or in a local park. Enjoy the warm Hawaiian breeze as you savor each bite, appreciating the simple pleasure of a delicious and filling meal.


The plate lunch is more than just a dish; it’s a symbol of the unity and diversity that make Hawaii so unique. So, don’t miss the opportunity to try this iconic local favorite and immerse yourself in the flavors and traditions that have shaped Hawaiian cuisine.


Kalua Pig

Prepare your taste buds for an explosion of smoky, tender, and flavorful goodness with the traditional Hawaiian dish known as kalua pig. This slow-roasted pork is a staple at luaus, family gatherings, and local celebrations, as it captures the essence of Hawaiian cooking techniques and flavors.


Kalua pig gets its name from the traditional Hawaiian cooking method called “imu.” In this method, a pit is dug into the ground and lined with rocks. A fire is built on top of the rocks to heat them, and then the pig is placed on the hot rocks. The pit is covered with leaves and moistened with water, creating a steamy environment that cooks the pig to perfection over several hours.


The result is a succulent and melt-in-your-mouth pork delicacy, infused with smoky flavors and seasoned simply with salt. The slow cooking process allows the meat to become tender and juicy, with a hint of smokiness that makes each bite a true delight.


While traditional kalua pig is cooked in an imu, it is also possible to recreate the flavors and tenderness using alternative cooking methods, such as a slow cooker or oven. These modern adaptations still capture the essence of the dish and allow you to enjoy the flavors of kalua pig without the need for an imu.


Kalua pig is often served shredded or pulled, allowing you to fully appreciate the tenderness of the meat. It can be enjoyed on its own, mixed with cabbage for a classic Hawaiian dish called “kalua pig and cabbage,” or used as a filling for sandwiches or tacos.


When in Hawaii, experiencing a traditional kalua pig is a must. Look out for local luaus, where you can witness the imu cooking process and feast on the delicious results. The mesmerizing aroma and the unique flavors of kalua pig will transport you to an authentic Hawaiian culinary experience.


So, whether you have the opportunity to witness the traditional imu cooking process or you recreate the flavors of kalua pig at home, be prepared for a taste sensation that perfectly captures the essence of Hawaiian cooking and the spirit of aloha.


Spam Musubi

Get ready to experience a unique and delicious fusion of Hawaiian and Japanese flavors with the beloved snack known as Spam Musubi. This popular local treat combines the convenience and versatility of Spam with the traditional Japanese rice ball, resulting in a mouthwatering delight that has become an essential part of Hawaiian cuisine.


Spam, the canned meat product made from pork and ham, has a surprisingly significant presence in Hawaii. Introduced during World War II, Spam became a staple in local households and found its way into many Hawaiian dishes, including the iconic Spam Musubi.


Spam Musubi features a slice of grilled or pan-fried Spam on top of a block of rice, wrapped together with a strip of nori (seaweed). The combination of the slightly salty and savory Spam with the sticky and fluffy rice creates a perfect balance of flavors and textures.


What makes Spam Musubi truly special is its portability and convenience. It is often enjoyed as a handheld snack, making it ideal for on-the-go eating or for picnics and outings. Many locals consider it a quick and satisfying breakfast or a filling option for lunch.


You can find Spam Musubi in a variety of places in Hawaii, from local convenience stores and supermarkets to specialty shops and food trucks. Better yet, you can easily make it at home with just a few simple ingredients and the right technique.


For an added twist, there are creative variations of Spam Musubi that incorporate additional ingredients. Some versions include a layer of furikake (a Japanese rice seasoning) sprinkled on the rice, or a drizzle of teriyaki sauce over the Spam. These additions elevate the flavors and add an extra burst of umami.


Spam Musubi not only reflects the influence of Japanese cuisine in Hawaii but also represents the resourcefulness and adaptability of Hawaiian locals. It is a true testament to the multicultural blending of flavors and traditions found in the islands.


So, the next time you’re in Hawaii, don’t miss the chance to try this unique and tasty snack. Whether you enjoy it as a quick bite or a complete meal, Spam Musubi is a delightful and iconic treat that will leave you craving for more.


Loco Moco

Prepare your taste buds for a truly indulgent and satisfying Hawaiian comfort food – the Loco Moco. This beloved dish is a mouthwatering combination of flavors that will leave you craving for more.


The Loco Moco consists of a bed of steamed white rice topped with a juicy hamburger patty, a sunny-side-up fried egg, and rich brown gravy. It’s a hearty and filling dish that originated in Hawaii and has become an iconic staple of comfort food on the islands.


The origins of the Loco Moco can be traced back to the 1940s at the Lincoln Grill restaurant in Hilo, Hawaii. It was created as a tasty and affordable dish that could satisfy the hunger of local surfers and athletes. Over time, it gained popularity and became a beloved local favorite.


The combination of elements in the Loco Moco creates a delightful blend of flavors and textures. The savory hamburger patty adds a rich and meaty component, while the runny yolk of the fried egg adds a creamy and luscious touch. The dish is tied together with the savory brown gravy, which adds depth and enhances the overall taste.


While the classic Loco Moco typically features a hamburger patty, there are variations available to suit different preferences. Some versions replace the beef patty with spam, grilled chicken, or even fish, giving the dish a unique twist. Similarly, you might find variations that include additional toppings like onions, mushrooms, or cheese.


Loco Moco can be found in various settings throughout Hawaii, from casual local diners to upscale restaurants specializing in Hawaiian cuisine. It’s a popular breakfast or brunch menu item, but you can enjoy it any time of the day.


Part of the charm of the Loco Moco is its simplicity and affordability. It’s a no-frills dish that focuses on the delicious combination of ingredients rather than extravagant presentation. Just one bite of this comforting and satisfying meal will transport you to the warm and inviting atmosphere of Hawaii.


So, when you’re craving a hearty and tasty meal, look no further than the Loco Moco. It embodies the spirit of Hawaiian comfort food, combining bold flavors and simple ingredients to create a dish that’s sure to satisfy your cravings.



Indulge in a little taste of Portuguese-inspired paradise with the delectable treat known as malasadas. These fluffy, fried dough delights have become a beloved staple in Hawaiian bakeries and food trucks, offering a sugary escape for those with a sweet tooth.


Malasadas were introduced to Hawaii by Portuguese immigrants who came to work in the sugarcane plantations. These deep-fried dough balls are traditionally made from a sweet yeast dough that is rolled into balls, deep-fried until golden brown, and coated in granulated sugar.


While the classic malasada is simply coated in sugar, you’ll also find variations filled with delicious fillings like chocolate, vanilla cream, or tropical fruit flavors. The filling adds an extra layer of indulgence and richness to this already decadent treat.


One of the best ways to enjoy malasadas is when they are fresh and still warm. Many local bakeries and food trucks prepare them right on the spot, ensuring you can experience the ultimate malasada moment – biting into a light and fluffy dough that is crispy on the outside and oozing with sweetness on the inside.


Malasadas are a popular treat during special occasions and celebrations in Hawaii, such as Fat Tuesday (also known as Malasada Day) or Portuguese festivals held throughout the year. It’s also not uncommon to find locals enjoying malasadas for breakfast, as a midday snack, or as a sweet ending to a meal.


When you take a bite of a malasada, you’re not just savoring the flavors, but also experiencing a piece of Hawaii’s cultural history. The influence of Portuguese immigrants and their culinary traditions is woven into the fabric of Hawaiian cuisine, and malasadas are a delicious result of this cultural fusion.


So, whether you’re strolling through a local market, visiting a food truck, or exploring a bakery, be sure to treat yourself to the delightful sweetness of malasadas. It’s a taste sensation that will leave you craving for more and provide a glimpse into the diverse culinary landscape of Hawaii.


Shave Ice

Quench your thirst and cool down from the Hawaiian heat with a refreshing and colorful treat known as shave ice. This iconic island dessert has been a favorite among locals and visitors for generations, offering a delightful way to beat the tropical heat.


Shave ice is not your typical snow cone or crushed ice treat. It is made by finely shaving a block of ice, resulting in a fluffy and delicate texture that absorbs flavors like no other. The ice shavings are piled high into a cup or bowl, and then a variety of flavored syrups are poured over them, creating a colorful masterpiece.


The beauty of shave ice lies in its versatility. You can customize your shave ice experience by choosing from a wide array of mouthwatering flavors, ranging from traditional fruit options like pineapple, mango, or strawberry, to unique Hawaiian flavors like li hing mui (salty dried plum) or passion fruit.


For an extra burst of flavor, many shave ice stands offer the option to add toppings such as sweetened condensed milk, azuki beans (sweet red beans), ice cream, or even a scoop of mochi (chewy rice cake).


What makes shave ice truly special in Hawaii is the dedication to quality ingredients and craftsmanship. Many local shave ice establishments pride themselves on using natural, homemade syrups that capture the authentic flavors of the islands.


When ordering shave ice in Hawaii, you’ll often find the locals opt for the “Japanese style,” where the shave ice is topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and azuki beans, creating a delightful combination of flavors and textures in every bite.


Whether you’re exploring the bustling streets of Honolulu or the laid-back beaches of Maui, you’re sure to find a shave ice stand nearby. The experience of savoring a shave ice is not just about the taste; it’s about embracing the carefree, tropical vibes of Hawaii and joining the generations of locals and visitors who have found joy in this refreshing treat.


No trip to Hawaii is complete without treating yourself to a shave ice. So, take a break from the sun, grab a cup of colorful ice shavings, and let the flavors transport you to a Hawaiian paradise.



Discover the unique and culturally significant staple of Hawaiian cuisine known as poi. This traditional Polynesian dish is made from the taro root, a starchy tuber with a rich purple color that has been cultivated in the Hawaiian Islands for centuries.


Poi is made by cooking and pounding the taro root until it reaches a smooth and thick consistency. It can be enjoyed in different stages of fermentation, resulting in varying flavors and textures. Fresh poi has a mild, slightly sweet taste, while fermented poi has a tangier and more distinct flavor.


For many Native Hawaiians, poi holds great significance as a symbol of their cultural identity and connection to the land. Traditionally served at ceremonial gatherings and celebrations, poi is considered a sacred and nourishing food that sustains both the body and the soul.


When enjoying poi, it is customary to use two fingers to scoop it up, known as the “two-finger method.” This method allows you to feel the smooth texture of the poi and truly experience its unique qualities.


Poi is not just a food; it is a representation of the deep-rooted traditions and sustainable farming practices of the Hawaiian people. Growing taro is a labor-intensive process that requires careful cultivation in wetland terraces known as “loʻi.” These terraces are designed to mimic the natural flow of water, creating a sustainable ecosystem for the taro to grow.


While poi is traditionally consumed on its own, it can also be used as a versatile ingredient in other dishes. It can be mixed with water to create a thinner consistency for dipping, or used as a binding agent in recipes such as poi pancakes or poi bread.


For an authentic poi experience, visit local farmers’ markets or attend cultural events where you can witness the tradition of pounding taro and sample freshly made poi. This allows you to appreciate the labor of love that goes into creating this unique Hawaiian food.


Poi may be an acquired taste for some, but it is well worth trying for its cultural significance and connection to the Hawaiian people. So, embrace the opportunity to taste this treasured delicacy and gain a deeper understanding of the traditions and heritage of the islands.


Lau Lau

Embark on a flavorful journey through traditional Hawaiian cuisine with the mouthwatering delight known as lau lau. This iconic island dish is a true representation of the unique flavors and cooking techniques that have shaped Hawaiian culinary traditions for centuries.


Lau lau consists of succulent pieces of meat, typically pork, fish, or chicken, wrapped in taro leaves and ti leaves. The meat is seasoned with Hawaiian sea salt and sometimes a bit of butter, giving it a rich and savory flavor. The bundle is then traditionally steamed in an imu (earth oven) or a steamer, allowing the flavors to infuse and the meat to become tender and juicy.


The taro leaves not only provide a natural wrap for the meat but also impart a distinct earthy flavor to the dish. The ti leaves, on the other hand, help to seal in the moisture and add a subtle aroma to the meat as it cooks.


Lau lau is not only delicious but also holds cultural significance. It is often prepared for special occasions, gatherings, and celebrations, symbolizing the importance of sharing food and coming together as a community.


When you unwrap a lau lau, you’ll be greeted with a mouthwatering aroma and tender meat that falls apart with a slight touch. The flavor is a beautiful medley of the seasoned meat mingling with the earthy notes of the taro and ti leaves.


To fully experience the authentic taste of lau lau, seek out local Hawaiian restaurants or food establishments that specialize in traditional cuisine. Some establishments may even offer a vegetarian version using plant-based substitutes like tofu or jackfruit.


When enjoying lau lau, it’s common to pair it with other Hawaiian dishes like poi, lomi lomi salmon (a tomato and onion salad), or even a side of kalua pig. These complementary dishes create a well-rounded Hawaiian meal that brings together different textures and flavors.


Whether you’re visiting a local eatery or attending a traditional luau, make sure to savor the flavors and cultural significance of lau lau. It’s a dish that encapsulates the essence of Hawaiian cuisine and the spirit of aloha.



Experience the smooth and creamy delight of haupia, a traditional Hawaiian dessert that has been satisfying sweet cravings for generations. This simple yet indulgent treat is a staple at gatherings, luaus, and celebrations, offering a taste of tropical paradise.


Haupia is a coconut-based dessert that is often compared to a custard or pudding. It is made by combining coconut milk, sugar, and a thickening agent such as cornstarch. The mixture is then heated until it thickens and reaches a luscious, creamy consistency.


The resulting haupia is poured into a square or rectangular pan and cooled until firm. It is typically served in small squares or rectangles, making it easy to enjoy as a finger food or as part of a larger dessert spread.


The flavor of haupia is a delightful blend of rich coconut and subtle sweetness, making it a refreshing and satisfying treat, especially in the tropical climate of Hawaii.


While haupia is delicious on its own, it can also be incorporated into other desserts. It serves as a delightful topping for cakes or pies, adding a creamy tropical touch. Haupia can also be used as a filling for sweet bread rolls or pastries, infusing them with the irresistible flavor of coconut.


For an authentic taste of haupia, seek out local bakeries, food trucks, or even attend cultural events where you can find this beloved Hawaiian dessert. Many establishments take pride in using fresh coconut milk and high-quality ingredients to ensure a true taste of the islands.


The simplicity and versatility of haupia make it a beloved dessert among locals and visitors alike. It is a sweet reminder of the beauty and abundance of the Hawaiian land and the tropical flavors that thrive in the region.


So, be sure to treat yourself to a taste of haupia during your visit to Hawaii. Indulge in the smooth and creamy delight of this beloved dessert and let it transport your taste buds to a tropical paradise.



Embarking on a food travel adventure through Hawaii is an experience that will tantalize your taste buds, introduce you to unique flavors, and immerse you in the rich cultural heritage of the islands. From the iconic poke bowls and plate lunches to the traditional delicacies like kalua pig and haupia, every dish tells a story and showcases the vibrant culinary landscape of Hawaii.


As you traverse the islands, you’ll discover the fusion of indigenous, Asian, and American influences that create the diverse and enticing culinary scene. It’s a cuisine that celebrates the bounties of the land and sea, incorporating the freshest seafood, succulent meats, and tropical ingredients that thrive in Hawaii’s fertile soil.


Part of the joy of food travel is not just in savoring the flavors but also in engaging with the locals, exploring food markets, and uncovering hidden culinary gems. Whether you’re sampling authentic malasadas from a family-owned bakery or experiencing the traditional imu cooking process for kalua pig at a luau, these interactions add a human touch and create lasting memories.


Immerse yourself in the world of food travel and enjoy the beauty of discovering new flavors and cultural traditions. Embrace the opportunity to eat like a local, try new dishes, and appreciate the stories behind each bite.


As you explore the culinary wonders of Hawaii, remember that food travel is not just about satisfying your hunger; it’s about exploring the uniqueness of a place, connecting with its people, and gaining a deeper understanding of its heritage.


So, embrace the spirit of aloha and let your taste buds guide you through the vibrant world of Hawaiian food travel. From the colorful shave ice to the comforting flavors of plate lunch and the traditional delicacies like poi and lau lau, let the captivating flavors and rich cultural traditions of Hawaii leave a lasting impression on your culinary journey.