What to Eat in Hawaii: 21 Hawaiian Specialties Sure to Tingle Your Taste Buds

Hawaii is a diverse landscape, and the food is no different. From savory, finger-licking good pork to raw fish dishes—it is an island, after all—and sweet treats you can eat with or after dinner, Hawaii has it all. So, if you’re wondering what to eat in Hawaii, the answer is everything! Like its island activities, Hawaii’s dishes don’t disappoint, which helps make the decision of what to eat all that much easier. The islands will spoil you with choices, so many that you likely won’t have the time to try them all. But, while you can’t try everything, you should make time for these 21 Hawaiian specialties that won’t just give you a taste of the islands but will have you coming back for more. 

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What to Eat and Where to Eat It in Hawaii

Don’t make the mistake of visiting Hawaii and not trying any of the delicious dishes that come from the island’s roots, some of them quite literally. If you like savory meals, sweet treats, and explode-in-your-mouth flavors, these 21 dishes serve mouthwatering goodness with every bite.

1. Poke

Billed by some as Hawaii’s favorite dish, poke, pronounced poh-kay, can be found all over the Hawaiian Islands. But what is it exactly, and why do you need to eat it on your next trip to Hawaii?

The word poke simply means “chunk” in Hawaiian. However, it’s common knowledge now that poke refers to chunks of raw seafood. Another critical aspect of poke is that the meat is marinated, even if only for a few minutes. That way, the seafood has time to soak up the flavors. As for garnishings, thanks to Hawaii’s strong cultural influences, you can find poke made with crunchy seaweed, kimchi, macadamia nuts, and even wasabi. 

Perhaps the best part is that poke comes in various forms, from poke bowls to poke nachos and haute poke. Big-time foodie travelers and families looking for a bit of fun might try making a game of hunting for their favorite poke dish among the many options the Hawaiian Islands offer. 

Where to eat it in Hawaii: Tanioka’s Seafoods & Catering

Head out of Honolulu to this always popular poke counter/okazuya for assorted poke bowls and a surefire burst of flavors.

2. Kālua Pork

Only two ingredients go into making this staple Hawaiian dish: pork butt roast and Hawaiian sea salt. It sounds pretty simple, but the preparation makes this dish unique and hard to replicate outside Hawaii. In traditional cooking, a pig is roasted whole in an underground oven called an imu. Then, with its body wrapped or lined with banana/ti leaves, it’s left to cook throughout the day. The process infuses earthy flavors into the meat, giving it a unique and mouthwatering taste.

Because of its popularity, you can find plenty of recipes online, replicating the process while leaving out the traditional elements. But, the only way to get a true taste of authentic kālua pork, short of building an imu in your backyard and roasting a whole pig, is by packing your bags and heading to the shores of Hawaii. Included on many restaurant menus, one of the best ways to experience this dish is at an authentic luau alongside other staples like poi and lau lau.

Where to eat it in Hawaii: Helena’s Hawaiian Food

Order this classic dish at this classic Hawaiian restaurant for a taste of home and Aloha. 

3. Luau Stew

Hawaiian cuisine is full of unique dishes, and one such dish is the luau stew. Made from the taro plant, the heart-shaped luau leaves are cooked with water and a dash of Hawaiian sea salt. The most common accompaniment to this dish is beef, but the fun of it is the variations you can have, from chicken to squid or even pork for a hearty meat stew. Others might keep it vegan-friendly, with ingredients like coconut milk, brown sugar, ginger, and other flavors. 

While not native to Hawaiian shores, the taro plant has become a core part of the Hawaiian diet. Luau stew is a classic dish you have to try where else but where these heart-shaped leaves are grown and where luau stew recipes have been passed down for generations.  

Where to eat it in Hawaii: Highway Inn

Go the adventurous route and try a hearty bite of savory squid luau. Select a tasting plate and sample this traditional Hawaiian dish alongside other Hawaii favorites!

4. Fish Tacos

Nothing says island life quite like fresh seafood, and it gets even better when bundled into the treat that is a tasty fish taco. These aren’t your standard Mexican tacos. Instead, swap out your salsa and guacamole for delicious fresh fruit like sweet mango, and you’re on your way. Like kālua pork, fish tacos boil down to two base ingredients, fish and tortillas.

But, much like the islands, you’ll find lots of extra flavors added in. With plenty of fresh seafood options, you can craft your perfect fish taco from tilapia, halibut, mahi-mahi, and more, while sprinkling on a variety of fresh toppings to enliven your tastebuds, from tomatoes and cilantro to spicy aioli and coconut pineapple slaw. 

Where to eat it in Hawaii: Fish Market Maui

Enjoy the freshest catch of the day while taking in the views, or grab it and go for a tasty treat on the move. 

5. All-Natural Shave Ice

Hawaii’s all-natural shave ice is tailor-made for hot days. If you’ve had a snow cone on the mainland before, you may think you know what’s up with shave ice in the Aloha State, but we guarantee your taste buds are in for a ride.

While regular snow cones are made from crushed ice, Hawaiian shave ice is made with thin ice shavings. This distinction may not seem like much, but the difference helps distribute the flavors throughout the ice, so you don’t end up with all the yummy syrupy bits in one bite. 

Speaking of syrups, those used in Hawaii originate from all-natural flavors—hence the all-natural part in the name. Of course, many people like to customize their shave ice with fun and delicious toppings like vanilla ice cream, azuki beans, and sweetened condensed milk.

Where to eat it in Hawaii: Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice

Cool down with a burst of sweetness and fun Maui-inspired flavors with this Valley Island staple.

6. Macadamia Nuts

Another tropical delicacy that’s sunk its roots deep into Hawaii’s shores, the macadamia tree is another surprising import from elsewhere in the world: Australia. But when contemplating what staple Hawaiian foods you must try, macadamia nuts demand their time to shine.

They’ve made their way into everything, and it’s not uncommon to find them as a topping or popular ingredient in a laundry list of desserts: cakes, cookies, pies, and ice creams. Of course, smothered in chocolate is probably the most popular route. Still, no matter how you try them, these rich, flavorful nuts are a must-add to your list of what to eat in Hawaii.

Where to eat it in Hawaii: Paradise Meadows Orchard & Bee Farm

Travel down this tree-lined drive for an idyllic farm visit and everything from macadamia nuts to Big Island coffee and sweet, delicious honey. 

7. Chicken Long Rice

On its own or as a side, chicken long rice is a Hawaiian noodle dish for which you can easily find yourself wishing for seconds. Light and flavorful, this dish utilizes chicken, cellophane noodles, green onions, garlic, and ginger to create an airy comfort food that’s as perfect for luau feasts and parties as it is for eating on a slow, rainy day. For a bit more substance, some like to eat chicken long rice over a bowl of rice, and while it may seem like a lot—and is—your taste buds certainly won’t be complaining. 

Where to eat it in Hawaii: Oahu Grill

Keep it casual with authentic Hawaiian cuisine served in its finest form and a flavorful bowl of chicken long rice that hits the spot.

8. Loco Moco

If you’re looking for exciting things to eat in Hawaii, look no further than the loco moco. Local Big Island restaurant owners created this dish in the late 1940s to feed hungry teens from a nearby sports club. The name came from one such teen, thanks to his crazy “loco” antics. When you get a good look at this dish, you just might call yourself loco for ordering it.

The loco moco consists of three layers: a rice bottom, hamburger patty, and fried egg, topped off with rich brown gravy. If that doesn’t sound like a lot, wait till you’re staring it in the face, having your own Man v. Food moment. This hearty meal makes for the perfect comfort food, one that will capture your heart—and your stomach—during your stay. 

Where to eat it in Hawaii: Hawaiian Style Cafe

Get your serving of local comfort food your way. Keep it classic with the Hawaiian Style, or try something different with the chicken cutlet or Big Mok. 

9. Malasadas 

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that everything deep-fried is better. The cinnamon and sugary goodness of malasadas go a long way toward proving that to be true.

Brought over by Portuguese immigrants in the mid-1800s, who brought a lot of other Hawaiian staples like Portuguese sausage and the ukulele, malasadas have become an intrinsic part of Hawaiian food and culture. Similar to a donut, the difference is all in the dough for this Hawaiian confection, which uses more egg and milk or cream. Crisp on the outside, the soft insides often hide a fluffy texture or a delicious filling. 

You may even encounter its flakier fusion counterpart, the crossada. Half malasada, half croissant, it’s also commonly filled with sweet concoctions from simple chocolate to inspired Polynesian vanilla Bavarian cream. 

Where to eat it in Hawaii: ​​Leonard’s Bakery

Follow the crowds to the hometown hero of confectionary delights. Stick with the standard plain sugar style or sweeten the deal with even sweeter coatings and toppings like cinnamon sugar and creamy custard.

10. Portuguese Sausage

While the name may not sound very Hawaiian, this dish is a Hawaiian food through and through. Introduced by Portuguese immigrants, Portuguese sausage has become enmeshed into Hawaiian culture, so much so you’ll find it on practically every breakfast menu on the islands—even the food trucks offer it! 

While the classic version, called linguica, has varying heat settings, those found in Hawaii lean more prominently to the sweet side, offering the perfect accompaniment to a warm breakfast of scrambled eggs and white rice.

Where to eat it in Hawaii: Broke Da Mouth Grindz

Enjoy breakfast as other regulars do, with a tasty Portuguese sausage or two to compliment your eggs and rice. 

11. Lau Lau

Taro leaves make another appearance in this popular Polynesian dish. Considered an essential Hawaiian food, lau lau’s preparation is similar in some ways to kālua pork. However, for lau lau, fatty pork or butterfish are wrapped first in taro, which is part of the meal and contains lots of nutritional benefits, and then again in an outer leaf casing made of ti leaves. Finally, it’s placed in an imu and left to steam underground.

Once it’s ready, it’s time to dig in. It’s common to have lau lau with other Hawaiian foods like poi, sweet potato, and lomi lomi salmon. Just don’t forget to unwrap it first! The outer ti leaf covering is only for steaming and presentation, not eating. 

Where to eat it in Hawaii: Yama’s Fish Market

Follow the locals to this little-known spot and unpack your own little taste of heaven in lau lau form.

12. Haupia

Travelers with a sweet tooth will appreciate a bite of haupia. Known as a Hawaiian coconut pudding, it’s more like a cross between pudding and jello, with a softer, bouncy consistency. Like many dishes in Hawaii, you don’t need a lot of ingredients to make haupia, just coconut milk, sugar, cornstarch, and water. And, also like a lot of Hawaiian foods, you can find haupia in various dishes. On top of being a common feature in plate lunches, you’ll discover haupia paired with other sweets, such as layered in gelato, stuffed inside malasadas, and drizzled over shave ice.

Where to eat it in Hawaii: Ted’s Bakery

Head to the north shore across from Sunset Beach and get your haupia on pie crust layered with chocolate, haupia, and yummy whipped cream for a delicious treat.

13. Manapua

Chinese immigrants first introduced manapuas to the Hawaiian Islands, but this popular dish was quick to find a home on its new tropical shores.

Called char siu bao, it first became popular among plantation workers, but it’s not hard to see how this dish quickly became a fan favorite around the islands. Soft, doughy bread stuffed with flavorful pork, Hawaiians first called it Mea ‘Ono Pua’a (meaning delicious pork thing) before settling on manapua. 

Fillings range from savory, like classic char siu or curry chicken, to sweet, like black sugar and Okinawan sweet potato. Decide whether you’re a fan of savory or sweet but make sure you don’t miss taking an onolicious bite of manapua during your Hawaii visit.

Where to eat it in Hawaii: Royal Kitchen

Stop in for a bite of the best manapuas in town. These lightly baked, fluffy and savory treats promise to melt in your mouth.

14. Ulu

Among Hawaii’s many delicious fruits, Ulu often doesn’t get as much limelight as other tropical treats like pineapple or mango. But while the name may be unfamiliar to mainlanders, Ulu is a sustainable superstar on the Hawaiian Islands.

Legend says that during a severe famine, the Hawaiian god Ku sacrificed himself to become an ulu tree and feed his family. It’s easy to see how such a seemingly simple fruit could stave off hunger. The fruit is versatile, resembling bread when baked, and can also be prepared as a fruit or vegetable. Many enjoy ulu raw, steamed, or baked into various forms like pancakes, pizzas, and pasta. 

Where to eat it in Hawaii: Sweet Cane Cafe

Enjoy an accessible farm-to-table experience and chow down on this superfruit in various forms, including poke bowl and veggie patties.

15. Poi

Called Hawaii’s staple starch, you’ll find poi offered with just about everything because it goes with just about everything. With its sweet and tangy flavor and pudding-like texture, poi works as a dipping sauce, side dish, or even eaten on its own! But what is poi, and why is it such a fan favorite to eat in Hawaii?

When you trace the roots of this classic Hawaiian dish, it goes back to the literal root of the taro plant. The taro root is grown underwater and can’t be eaten raw but must be peeled, then baked or steamed. From there, the taro root is pounded until it becomes pa‘i ‘ai, then water is added to make poi. While it’s a labor-intensive process to make it, the sweet and tangy taste is worth it.

Where to eat it in Hawaii: Waiahole Poi Factory

Grab a bite of the purple stuff as a side or your main dish. Pile on some onions and dash Hawaiian sea salt on top for the perfect blend of sweet and savory, or enjoy it alongside your other Hawaiian favorites. 

16. Plate Lunch

Looking for an inexpensive meal that’ll fill you up while delivering mind-blowing flavors to your taste buds? Say hello to the tropical version of the south’s meat-and-threes. Like the southern dish, the star of the plate lunch is protein flanked by tasty sides, but while the protein changes, the sides always remain the same: rice and macaroni salad. Served in compartmented paper boxes, you have your classic plate lunch.

Thanks to Hawaii’s diverse medley of cultures, you can find plenty of inclusions in the modern plate lunch, from loco moco to Spam musubi and kālua pork. A paper box of protein and carbs is the perfect meal to load up before you set off into adventure.

Where to eat it in Hawaii: Rainbow Drive-In

Don’t argue with a local favorite. You can substitute your rice and macaroni for fries and coleslaw, but this is one dish worth trying in its original form for a taste of classic Hawaii.

17. Lomi Lomi Salmon

You can’t have a proper Hawaiian meal without lomi lomi salmon. Made by combining salted salmon, onions, green onions, and tomatoes, lomi lomi looks a lot like salsa but, in reality, is a tasty salad that perfectly rounds out a classic Hawaiian meal. Served chilled, you can eat it with a spoon or topping another dish. It’s a common feature in plate lunches, parties, and restaurant menus.

Where to eat it in Hawaii: Costco Hawaii 

Make a pit stop here and grab a big container of lomi lomi salmon you can split with your travel buddies and eat on the go. 

18. Spam Musubi

Inspired by the Japanese onigiri, here’s the Hawaiian take. Caramelized spam sits atop a fluffy white rice bed, held together by a crispy seaweed wrap. While spam gets a lot of flack, even nay-sayers will get a kick out of spam musubi’s perfect blend of sweet and savory flavors. Add on its convenient packaging, which makes for a great on-the-go snack, and it quickly becomes clear why this is such a highly regarded dish.

While it always features rice and seaweed, creative takes have paired it with other ingredients to fit your cravings, like eggs and bacon for a breakfast spin or swapping out the spam for some Portuguese sausage instead.

Where to eat it in Hawaii: Musubi Cafe Iyasume

Grab a bite and hit the beach. With an assortment of flavors, we won’t blame you for succumbing to the temptation to try a taste of each!

19. Pipikaula

Big beef fans wondering what to eat while in Hawaii should be putting pipikaula at the top of their list. Salty, semi-dried, and seasoned with soy sauce, this beef dish has a lot in common with beef jerky. That said, it has some subtle but obvious differences, from how it’s dried, not completely, to the extra cooking step after the drying process.

Pipikaula can be eaten in one of two ways. The first is the way of the Hawaiian cowboys (paniolos) of the 1800s, who we can thank for this “beef rope” dish. At least, it’s the closest we can get anyway: a room-temperature snack on the go. The other way to enjoy pipikaula is piping hot and deliciously juicy.

Where to eat it in Hawaii: Helena’s Hawaiian Food

Share a plate if you like, but no one would blink an eye at you for ordering a large portion of this juicy, savory goodness to yourself.

20. Huli Huli Chicken 

The Hawaiian word huli means “ turn,” and that’s precisely how you make this particular Hawaiian favorite. The chicken gets its mouthwatering taste from hours-long marination in sweet huli huli sauce. From there, it’s then slow roasted over a grill of mesquite or native kiawe wood.

As the name huli suggests, the chicken is turned over the fire, so you get a nice, even roast over the whole chicken. It’s a cooking process that carries on a decades-old tradition for an authentic and uniquely Hawaiian taste of a well-known meat.

Where to eat it in Hawaii: Koala Moa

Go for the whole chicken or only a part; it doesn’t matter. Just get ready to sink your teeth into a plate of juicy rotisserie-style chicken.

21. Coco Puffs

Credit: Liliha Bakery

This unique item isn’t a traditional Hawaiian dish by any stretch. Yet, it’s so popular that thousands are sold every day! Now while that may leave mainlanders scratching their heads, there is a reason for it. Because while many of us know Cocoa Puffs as the cereal gracing breakfast tables since the 1950s, the Hawaiian version is far less corn puff and more puff pastry.

Not only is this light and airy puff filled with delicious chocolate pudding, it’s also topped with buttery chantilly frosting, and the latter has been credited for the Coco Puff craze. Likened to a German chocolate cake frosting, the exact recipe is kept under wraps, but what’s clear is that this 70-year-old dish is an island superstar.

Where to eat it in Hawaii: Liliha Bakery

Join everyone else that’s cuckoo for these singular Coco Puffs at the only restaurant that sells these delicious morsels.

What Is Hawaii’s Number One Food?

It’s hard to pick a single, number-one food when you can find Hawaii’s favorite staples enjoyed almost everywhere you go. But suppose one king of Hawaiian cuisine exists. In that case, it has to be the quintessential, widely recognized poke, dubbed by Hawaii Magazine as Hawaii’s hamburger.

With its rich cultural history, delicious flavoring, and widely adored status, poke is the dish to eat in Hawaii. So, while you may have a hard time deciding which island to visit, rest assured, you never have to wonder what to eat amidst your many island adventures. You can never go wrong with a tasty, savory bowl of classic poke. 

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