Last Updated on January 16, 2024 by Kelly
If you’re planning a trip to Hawaii, you’ll want to make sure you try as much of the local food as possible! I’ve been to the Hawaiian islands on numerous occasions, and one of the things I look forward to most is getting to eat authentic Hawaiian food.
In this post, I’m sharing 22 Hawaiian dishes you absolutely have to try during your next trip to the islands. I’m sharing some of my favorite Hawaiian dishes, but be sure to ask around. The locals always have the best recommendations. Be a respectful visitor and enjoy!
The Best Hawaiian Food: 22 Dishes You Have to Try
While in Hawaii, you’ll want to try Native Hawaiian dishes. You’ll also want to try Asian-fusion dishes, as there is a heavy influence from Japan, Korea, and the Philippines. Many Hawaiian dishes are also influenced by Portuguese dishes.
1. Loco Moco
The Loco Moco is a popular brunch dish that you can find all over the Hawaiian islands. It was first invented in 1949 to feed a group of teenagers that were hungry after a day of surfing. The teens wanted something inexpensive but also different from a sandwich. The Loco Moco features white rice, a hamburger patty, gravy, and fried eggs. It’s one of my personal favorite Hawaiian dishes!
If you visit the North Shore, you’ll see lots of food trucks selling garlic shrimp. The dish is super satisfying: lots of fresh shrimp cooked with lots of garlic. It’s typically served with rice or french fries. We ordered garlic shrimp from a food truck in Waikiki. It was super satisfying!
Shave ice is the perfect dessert to cool off while you’re in Hawaii. The dish is comprised of shaved ice and flavorful syrups. It’s way better than any shaved ice I’ve ever had on the mainland! We’ve heard that one of the best places you can get the refreshing treat is at Matsumoto’s on the North Shore.
When we last visited Hawaii, we must have ordered coconut shrimp at least a half dozen times. In this classic dish, fresh shrimp are covered in a coconut batter and then fried. Pure deliciousness!
Anywhere you go in Hawaii, you’ll see dishes inspired by pineapple. We visited the Dole Pineapple Plantation and their gift store had pretty much everything you could think of in a pineapple flavor! They had pineapple cookies, jams, syrups, and more. We also liked drinking smoothies from fresh pineapples!
One of Hawaii’s main agricultural exports is the macadamia nut! The Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Visitor Center is located on the Big Island. It recently was renovated and recently re-opened. If you find yourself on the Big Island, definitely check it out! I visited the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Visitor Center back in 2007 and I really enjoyed learning about macadamia nuts. You can order the macadamia nuts directly from their website. Whether you get them plain, covered in chocolate, or roasted with Maui onions, they’re sure to be a hit!
One of my favorite things to do while on vacation is to drink fresh coconut juice. It’s such a refreshing drink, and a healthy one too!
Whenever I visit Hawaii, I order lots of poke! This dish consists of raw, marinated fish. If you like sushi but have never tried a poke bowl, be sure to order one while in Hawaii.
When you’re at a bakery, you might be tempted by the sweet pastries, but you have to order at least one butter roll. It may seem like a “plain choice”, but I promise you they are absolutely delicious! I remember trying my first Hawaiian butter roll in 2007, and it was sooooo good.
Kalua Pork is one of the more commonly-served luau dishes. The pork is slow-roasted and shredded. The above picture shows a Kalua Pork BBQ Sandwich. It was really tasty!
The Liliha Bakery is famous for serving up their Coco Puffs. The dessert is made from puffed pastry filled with decadent creams. You can find the Liliha Bakery at the International Market Place in Waikiki.
The perfect way to start your day in Hawaii is with a refreshing acai bowl. Acai bowls first originated in Brazil. The dish is a cool and creamy mix of acai berries with lots of toppings. Popular toppings include fresh fruits and granola. We ordered acai bowls all the time during our trip. It was a great way for our toddler to have a healthy breakfast while on vacation!
Coffee beans grow super-well in Hawaii’s tropical climate. Be sure to try lots of fresh coffee during your trip, and you can even bring home coffee beans as a souvenir. We recommend trying Kona Coffee Purveyors. (You can also find their store at the International Market Place in Waikiki).
If you go to a luau, you will definitely see poi as one of the menu items. Poi is made from the taro plant, and it’s one of Native Hawaiian’s main starches. It’s not always the most popular among tourists, but you have to try it at least once!
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While you’re visiting Hawaii, you might also see saimin on many local menus. Saimin is a noodle soup dish that is kind of similar to ramen or pho. The dish is comprised of a clear broth, lots of noodles, and toppings.
Cacao also grows extremely well in Hawaii. We tried some chocolates at the Dole Pineapple Plantation, and they were some of the best chocolates I’ve ever tasted. I’m normally not much of a dark chocolate person, but I fell in love with their dark chocolate. (And of course their milk chocolate too!) I highly recommend the chocolate from Waialua Estate.
You will see shortbread cookies all over the place in Hawaii. We especially like the macadamia nut shortbread cookies from Honolulu Cookie Company. (We brought these cookies home to give as souvenirs to our family.)
Malasadas are a Portuguese-inspired donut. The best place to get malasadas is from Leonard’s Bakery in Honolulu. The malasadas are served hot. We really enjoyed the plain malasadas coated in sugar, but we also liked the malasada puffs (filled with creams). The guava-filled and haupia-filled malasada puffs were out of this world.
You’ll find that a lot of Hawaiian foods are sprinkled with Li Hing. (We even had a malasada covered in Li Hing!) We didn’t know what it was until we traveled to Hawaii. Li Hing is a dried plum powder that’s used to top a lot of local Hawaiian dishes.
I would normally say I don’t like to eat spam, but I make a definite exception when it comes to spam musubis. It’s one of the most popular snacks in Hawaii. Spam is grilled and placed on top of white rice, and then wrapped in nori (dried seaweed).
Lau Lau is is made from steamed pork and butterfish. It’s wrapped in leaves and then steamed. It’s a traditional dish served during luaus. In the above photo, the lau lau is in the bottom left.
Macaroni salad is a super-popular side dish often served as a part of a plate lunch. It’s often served alongside barbecue meat and steamed white rice.
You will find lots of fresh fish on the Hawaiian islands, which makes for some pretty incredible sushi! Be sure to check out a sushi spot while you’re visiting.
While you’re in Hawaii, you’ll also want to try the tropical drinks!
We had lots of smoothies while in Hawaii. They’re the perfect healthy breakfast or snack. Smoothies were a great way to make sure that our toddler was also getting enough fresh fruit while on vacation. One of our favorite smoothies was a pineapple smoothie from Blue Water Shrimp & Seafood in Waikiki (pictured above).
The Blue Hawaiian was invented at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in 1957. The bright blue drink contains rum, vodka, blue curaçao, pineapple and sweet-and-sour.
Perhaps the most famous Hawaiian cocktail is the Mai Tai! It was first served at the Royal Hawaiian resort, and today the resort has a dedicated Mai Tai bar. The picture above shows the a Mai Tai from the Royal Hawaiian’s luau.
Pina Coladas weren’t invented in Hawaii, but they’re the perfect fit for the islands because they feature coconut and pineapple flavors (plus rum!). We really enjoyed visiting Hawaii and having creamy Pina Coladas!
Bubble tea consists of tapioca balls and tea. The drink first originated in Taiwan. There’s lot of bubble tea stores all around the island.
Summary: The Best Hawaiian Food
We love visiting Hawaii not only for the tropical climate and pristine beaches, but also for the delicious Hawaiian food! We hope this article inspired you to try some of these dishes during your next trip to Hawaii!
Disclaimer: We always strive for content accuracy. Since the time of publishing, travel-related information regarding pricing, schedules, and hours may have changed. Please see individual websites embedded in this post for the most current trip-planning information.