Try new tastes with local Hawaiian dishes at the islands’ best restaurants.
Hawaii is home to a number of unique dishes that were inspired by the islands’ tropical flavours and Asian influences.
We share the best dishes and treats to try while visiting and tell you where you can find them on Maui and in Honolulu.
Plus we’ve got you covered with the trendiest bars for an evening cocktail.
Hawaiian food you must try
Taro is often used in Hawaiian dishes and laulau is no exception.
Fish, chicken or pork is wrapped in taro leaves and cooked in a hole in the ground under a rock until the meat turns smoky and soft, and the leaves take on a cooked spinach consistency.
You could liken poke as being the Hawaiian version of Japanese sashimi, but instead of thinly sliced fish it consists of thicker chunks. It doesn’t have to be raw fish either that’s used, but can be other seafood such as octopus. Most commonly however, it’s tuna.
This can be served in a variety of ways, including on its own, tossed with a salad or as a poke bowl, which is a bowl of rice with the “poke” piled on top.
This treat is similar to the Chinese steamed pork dumpling, and is likewise filled with a sweet pork stuffing.
Its Hawaiian name literally translates to “delicious pork thing”, and you certainly get what it promises.
Spam is a popular product in Hawaii, and a snack that’s good to eat on the go is Spam musubi.
The Spam, which is like a thick piece of ham with a strong flavour, is glazed with soy sauce and sugar, then wrapped in rice and seaweed.
Saimin is the ultimate Hawaiian comfort food, a seafood-based broth with noodles, topped with ham, green onions and fish cake. It’s heavily influenced by Chinese noodle soup, Japanese ramen and Filipino pancit, made of wheat noodles (like Chinese soup), served in dashi (like ramen) and topped with wontons (Chinese) or gyoza (ramen).
Like pancit, it can sometimes be fried.
The must-try dessert on Hawaii is shave ice, which is ice that is finely shaved and flavoured with syrup from a tangy fruit called lilikoi, and coconut.
You can top it with all manner of goodies such as ice cream, mochi balls or condensed milk.
Top Hawaiian restaurants, cafes and bars
Alan Wong is one of the original creators of Hawaii Regional Cuisine, and since 1955 his restaurant has been serving drool-worthy Asian-fusion dishes. It uses local ingredients such as seafood, beef and tropical fruits to create unique dishes.
1857 S. King St. #208, Honolulu
Geste Shrimp Truck
Geste Shrimp has been voted the best food truck on Maui for two years in a row. It’s best known for producing flavoured shrimp plates such as lemon pepper or spicy pineapple.
Kahului Beach Road, Next to Kahului Harbor, Maui
Helena’s Hawaiian Food
To experience how traditional Hawaiian food should taste, head to Helena’s Hawaiian Food, which serves up dishes using family recipes from the original founder.
If you want to try a bit of everything, order “Menu D” to sample a range of Hawaiian dishes.
1240 N. School St, Kalihi, Honolulu
ULU Ocean Grill and Seafood
For an ocean view and a great selection of wine and fresh seafood, go to ULU Ocean Grill and Seafood.
It sources 75% of its menu from local Hawaiian farms and serves specialities such as Big Island wild boar, and Kekala beet salad.
72-100 Ka'upulehu Drive, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii Island
Dude’s Waikiki Barefoot Bar
The perfect spot to walk to from the beach for an icy cold cocktail while you take a break from surfing.
You can show up in a bikini and boardshorts, and the casual vibe is paired well with delicious island drinks and panoramic views of the Pacific.
2335 Kalakaua Ave, Honolulu
Tiki’s Grill and Bar
This hot spot is located a few floors up in the Aston Waikiki Hotel, perfect for drinking in a picturesque Hawaiian sunset.
You will often be entertained with live music performances and hula dancers.
2570 Kalakaua Ave, Honolulu
Food tours and cooking classes
With so many local dishes to sample, the best way to experience as many as you can is to take a food tour. Let a local expert explain the history behind each dish, and get a taste of all the Hawaiian flavours.
Aloha Plate Food Tour
Honolulu Food Tour
Food Tour of Chinatown in Honolulu