Aloha! Whether it’s your first time in Hawaii or your tenth time, there’s a wealth of food options all around you. Because of Hawaii’s colorful history, the island draws from a number of influences worldwide. Expect to find dishes with Chinese, Japanese, Polynesian, Portuguese and American influence – to name a few.
This “global fusion” approach makes it easy for even the pickiest of eaters to enjoy great Hawaiian food. Below, you’ll find a short list of popular Hawaiian plates you need to try during your time on the islands. You’ll also come across various restaurant recommendations to help you plot your adventure.
This contemporary Hawaiian dish is comprised of white rice, a hamburger patty, brown gravy and a fried egg. There are a few variations, but the aforementioned Loco Moco is the most traditional iteration. It dates back to the 1940s and can be found across Hawaii. One of the most beloved restaurants to feature this dish is Honolulu’s Rainbow Drive-In, which sells a Loco Moco bowl for just $3.95. What a steal!
The plate lunch is just as popular as Loco Moco – if not more. Made up of an entrée, macaroni salad and white rice, the plate lunch is heavily influenced by the Japanese Bento Box. The entrée, however, can range from an American hamburger patty to a Portuguese sausage to Korean soy bean sprouts.
Head over to Lahaina Luna Café for a wide selection of plate lunches as well as delicious tacos; the place is renowned for its mahi mahi tacos and crazy fries, the latter of which comes with shaved seaweed and spicy aioli.
Full disclosure: This is not food. Nevertheless, we had to include one of Hawaii’s most popular drinks: the Blue Hawaii. Rum, curacao, pineapple juice, and sweet and sour mix are the staple ingredients for this tropical concoction. Invented in the 1950s in Waikiki, the cocktail is known for its namesake color and its whimsical nature; glassware varies greatly, but you’ll always find a cocktail umbrella at the top.
For great tiki drinks in Hawaii, look no further than Tahiti Nui in Kauai. The hole-in-the-wall locale in Hanalei got some attention from the film The Descendents; George Clooney’s character was a patron of this bar in the movie. Aside from a Blue Hawaii, try another island signature drink: the Mai-Tai (rum, curacao and lime juice). Welcome to paradise!
Chances are you haven’t heard of this tasty dessert; it’s not as widely-known as the other foods/drinks that we’ve mentioned. Kulolo is a pudding-like dessert made from grated taro (a root vegetable) and coconut milk. The nutty flavor and mealy texture make it unlike anything you’ve ever tried.
Haupia is another coconut milk-based confection that’s a little more popular on the island; it’s commonly found at luaus and other social occasions. Haupia is typically served in blocks akin to gelatin. Check out the popular Young’s Fish Market in Oahu for not only these two desserts, but an assortment of other Hawaiian dishes including lomi salmon (salmon and tomato salad) and laulau (pork wrapped in taro leaf).
Poi is arguably the most authentic Hawaiian dish on this list. So why is it at the bottom? It’s an acquired taste – it’s worth trying, but it’s not for everyone. Poi is derived from taro corm; the corm is cooked and then mashed until desired consistency is achieved. If you eat it immediately, it’s sweet. If you let it ferment, it will become slightly sourer each day. You can find poi often served alongside fish; lomi salmon is a common accompaniment.
Waiahole Poi Factory should be your go-to spot for fresh poi in Oahu. Aside from poi, the restaurant serves popular items like chicken long rice (cellophane noodles in chicken broth) and squid luau (chewy squid in a stew of luau leaves).