Hawaiian Cuisine 101: Must-Try Local Dishes and Where to Find Them
18th May 2023
Next time you're visiting Hawaii, do yourself a favor by skipping the tourist traps, and diving into true Hawaiian traditional cuisine.
Traditional Hawaiian food takes inspiration from all over the world, with its origins deeply rooted in the native Polynesian culture.
From fresh fish to poi, and pork to pineapples, Hawaii offers an abundance of awesome cultural dishes that are guaranteed to tantalize your taste buds and help you fuel the fun.
If you've ever wanted to explore authentic flavors of the Hawaiian islands while supporting small local businesses, then this is the guide for you.
Read on as we break down all things Hawaiian cuisine - from our favorite must-try dishes to top recommendations on where to find them (no sponsors here, just honest local opinions!).
If you're planning a trip to Hawaii, make sure to dive mouth-first into some authentic Hawaiian poke.
This deliciously fresh and colorful dish combines seafood with bold and vibrant flavors that are sure to awaken your taste buds from any lingering jet lag.
Ahi poke (tuna) and Tako poke (octopus) are two of the most famous varieties of Poke that you'll see.
After all, nothing beats a poke bowl after a long day of swimming, surfing, hiking, or just lounging on the beach absorbing all that glorious Hawaiian sunshine.
Da Poke Shack in Kailua-Kona and Ono Seafood in Honolulu are just two highly-rated spots to indulge in this local delicacy. But you can find poke in numerous other restaurants and markets just about anywhere on the islands!
So don't be afraid to try something new - your taste buds (and your Instagram feed) will thank you.
2. Kalua Pork
If you want to try a Hawaiian dish that's melt-in-your-mouth amazing, you've got to give Kalua pork a go.
Kalua pork is a traditional Hawaiian version of pulled pork, and it's one of the tastiest cultural dishes at any Hawaiian feast.
It's prepared by cooking pork in an underground oven called an imu, which infuses the tender meat with a mouthwatering smoky flavor.
Kalua pork is typically served at a luau alongside sides of poi (pounded taro root) and lomilomi salmon (a tomato and onion salad).
For some of the best Kalua Pork in Hawaii, head to Helena's Hawaiian Food in Honolulu or Kono's North Shore in Haleiwa.
Swimming, surfing, and hiking might be on your outdoor to-do list, but trust us, hitting up a local joint for some of this meaty, shredded deliciousness is an experience you won't forget.
3. Loco Moco
If you really want to tap into traditional Hawaiian culture while you're on holiday, Loco Moco is a dish that should absolutely be on your list.
While it's not always for everyone, it's a unique must-try dish if you're feeling bold and adventurous!
Loco Moco (meaning 'Crazy Burger' in Hawaiian) is a meal in itself. This hearty dish packs a flavor-filled punch with rice, a burger patty, gravy, and a fried egg on top that's going to send your taste buds on their own vacation.
It was invented in Hilo in the 1950's, and since then many local joints have put their own spin on it that makes it one of the best dishes to try in Hawaii.
For the ultimate Loco Moco experience, make a stop at Koko Head Cafe in Honolulu or Cafe 100 on the Big Island.
4. Shave Ice
Shave Ice is Hawaii's awe-inspiring answer to a snow cone.
It's a tasty and refreshing dessert made by shaving a block of solid ice down into a fluffy pile and coating it in flavored syrup (and condensed milk if you want an extra touch of creamy goodness).
With countless flavors to choose from, including tropical island hits like guava and passionfruit, shave ice is the perfect sweet treat to enjoy while you're kicking it on the beach or cooling down in the hotel room after a long day of surfing.
One of the most popular spots to indulge in this epic dessert is Matsumoto's Shave Ice in Haleiwa, as well as Wishing Well Shave Ice in Hanalei, but you can also find praiseworthy places to try this dessert at almost any location.
If you're looking to treat your cultural palate while soaking up the sunshine, then look no further than malasada.
Malasadas are similar to doughnuts but without the hole, and are coated in sugar or cinnamon. You'll often find bakeries that put a modern twist on their malasadas by filling them with a fruit or cream filling.
This Hawaiian dish boasts its origins from the Portuguese, who brought lard and frying pans to the Islands back in the day.
Since then, these sweet doughy treats have become a favorite of locals and visitors alike, and are a delicious snack to pack for your next beach volleyball game or hike through the stunning Hawaiian hills.
Pipeline Bakeshop & Creamery in Kailua and Leonard's Bakery in Honolulu are two of your best bets to get your hands on these delicious treats.
Take a Bite out of Life
Now that you've read this article, you're ready to sink your teeth into some of the most epic Hawaiian dishes you've ever tasted.
With our insider list of must-try local dishes and where to try them, you'll be feasting like a true local in no time!
Whether you're a seasoned foodie, or a first-time visitor, you're going to love all the foods and traditions that Hawaii has to offer.
So don't wait, treat yourself to the island culinary love affair that is Hawaii!