One of the best things about Hawai‘i? The food. From garlic-butter prawns served out of a beachside food truck to mahi-mahi pulled fresh from the ocean, Hawai‘i offers unique flavours and each island has a vibe of its own. From O‘ahu to Maui and the Island of Hawai‘i to Kaua‘i, here are the best places to eat across the Aloha State.
Where to eat on O‘ahu
Look beyond the Waikīkī waterfront and you’ll find that O‘ahu dishes up fare ranging from the simple to the sophisticated.
At island-style brunch house Koko Head Café, local ingredients abound in Chinese, Japanese and Korean-skewed dishes. Order the poke omelette or their spin on loco moco (a Hawaiian comfort food combo of rice, hamburger patty, brown gravy and fried egg) that includes tempura kimchi.
Fête is a neighbourhood eatery where chef Robynne Mai’i serves seasonal New American fare (she’s also one of several local chefs taking part in the 12th annual Hawai’i Food and Wine Festival, which runs from 20 October to 6 November 2022). Mai’i’s menu celebrates “all our favourite things we enjoy eating and drinking” such as ragu, risotto and rocky road ice-cream.
Street food doesn’t get any more delicious than at the Hale‘iwa food truck lot. Besides Giovanni’s famous garlic-butter prawns, there’s North Shore Crêpes Cafe’s version where garlic prawns are nestled on a crepe with tomato, avocado, spinach and pesto. Over at the Kahuku Sugar Mill food trucks, stop by Papi’s Tacos for fried frog leg tacos, and Kalena’s Hut, famous for barbecue lunch plates like the teriyaki chicken and Kalua pork with cabbage.
Sweet tooth? In Honolulu, Leonard’s Bakery is famous for malasadas, or Portuguese doughnuts. And the Coco Puffs – or tiny choux pastries stuffed with choc pudding and crowned with gooey frosting – are a must-order at Liliha Bakery’s four locations.
Where to eat on Maui
There’s a reason celebrities flock to Maui – they can lay low while the farm-to-table cuisine and inventive drinks hog the spotlight.
Located in Maui’s north coast hub of Kahului, celebrity chef Sheldon Simeon’s takeaway-only joint, Tin Roof, is the place to sample his mochiko chicken marinated in “world-class” Big Island ginger. A seven-minute drive away, Simeon’s second venture, Tiffany’s, incorporates Hawaiian, Puerto Rican, Filipino, Korean, Chinese and Portuguese influences – try the house fried rice, speckled with egg, bacon and Spam.
Overlooking Kū‘au Bay on Maui’s north shore, Mama’s Fish House is a landmark seafood restaurant where the menu lists who caught what and where – before it was encrusted in macadamia nuts, the mahi-mahi was “caught by Noah Berger along the shores of Kuau Cove”.
Book for happy hour on the beachside rooftop of Fleetwoods on Front St. bar and restaurant in Lahaina. Owned by Fleetwood Mac’s Mick Fleetwood, it’s the ideal spot to grab a Spicy Lilikoi Margarita bursting with flavours of passionfruit, chilli and lime.
North at Ka’anapali, Hula Grill’s Barefoot Bar is the only place pouring Barefoot Brew – amber ale spiked with macadamia nut blossom organic honey. Head inland to MauiWine to taste wines made from estate-grown grapes, pineapple and raspberries. Hali’imaile Distilling Company, in Maui’s pineapple country, uses the tropical fruit in its Paniolo Blended Whiskey.
Where to eat on the Island of Hawai‘i
With its retro eateries and unhurried pace of life, it can feel like time is standing still – which makes Hawai‘i’s largest island the perfect place to enjoy the old-school classics.
A champion of regional cuisine, Peter Merriman has four eateries to his name throughout the islands, including his signature Merriman’s restaurant in up-country Waimea, where the menu is big on local ingredients and producers, such as nearby Kahua Ranch which supplies the lamb.
Hula is performed by men and women at lū‘aus throughout the Hawaiian Islands but at Outrigger Kona Resort and Spa’s, lū‘au comes with a difference. Before the show, try your hand at ancient crafts such as ’ohe kapala (bamboo stamping used to decorate kapa cloth) and kui lei (lei making). You’ll also sit down for a family-style meal of sliced papaya and pineapple, smoked island fish dip, and taro and sweet potato chips, followed by lū‘au classics like Kalua pig and lomi salmon.
In Hilo, visit the Kawamoto Store, an okazuya (Japanese deli) where workers have been picking up plantation-style lunch boxes since 1947. Nearby Café 100 is said to be the home of loco moco. The café’s 30-plus varieties include grilled fish or Spam loco.
Where to eat on Kaua‘i
With dramatic sea cliffs and valleys lush with taro and healing plants, the wild Garden Island will revive you in every way.
Kauai Farmacy is a seed-to-table, farm-to-apothecary set-up tucked into the North Shore, where owners Doug and Genna Wolkon have transformed a 1.6-hectare horse paddock into organic gardens and orchards bursting with medicinal plants. Take a seat on the lanai for a Kaua‘i-grown tea tasting and sample serums, herbal tinctures and herb-infused honeys, then hit up the farm store for superfood powders, spices, salves and balms.
At Ko‘a Kea Resort’s Red Salt restaurant, Kona lobster is the star of a breakfast lobster benedict drizzled with mango and chive hollandaise. Prefer your crustaceans at dinnertime? There’s lobster risotto and you can even have it in a burger with Wagyu beef, pineapple and smoked bacon.
The best place to sample Hawa’i’s superfood root vegetable known as kalo (taro) is at Lyndsey Haraguchi-Nakayama’s Hanalei Taro & Juice Co food truck. Enjoy it in a smoothie or veggie burger, as hummus, mochi cake or poi (a sweet-sour paste that’s often an acquired taste) on a plate lunch.
Over at the Princeville Makai Golf Club, grab drinks from the Makai Grill, pop them into your golf cart’s cooler and savour the sights on the Sunset Golf Cart Tour. Keep an eye out for nesting albatross and the state bird, nēnē (Hawaiian goose), which has feet that evolved to grip rough lava rock, as you mosey towards the clifftop seventh hole to see the sun’s golden rays gild Makana Mountain.