Local Cheap Eats for Newcomers
If you only have a limited time in Hawaii or don’t know where to start, these are some tried and true places. Don’t worry if it’s your first time coming to the islands, this list of dining favorites that will get you mingling with residents and experiencing authentic “local food.” Be warned though, many of these places are “hole-in-the-wall” spots that are cash only.
This Oahu institution has been serving up plate lunches to visitors and residents at its Kapahulu location for the last 50 years. Plate lunches, for those unfamiliar, consist of an Asian-inspired meat entree (normally teriyaki beef or chicken) served with 2 scoops of rice and 1 scoop of macaroni salad. The world has begun to take notice of this local gem and it has been featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives and also the Travel Channel.
Try: Loco Moco (a hamburger patty with egg served over rice with gravy), Chili and Rice, Mixed Plate (your own entrée combination choice)
Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck
There are quite a few shrimp trucks on the North Shore, but none of them compare to Giovanni’s Shrimp. Even though they have a small menu, these trucks (locations in Haleiwa and Kahuku) serve up some of the freshest and tastiest shrimp you’ll ever have. Beware though, they close up relatively early so don’t miss out after a long day of sightseeing.
Try: Shrimp Scampi, “No Refunds” Hot and Spicy Shrimp
Matsumoto’s Shave Ice
Nothing is more divisive among locals than the argument of which establishment has the best shave ice. Shave ice is not like a snow cone on the mainland, as the “ice” in our treat resembles freshly fallen snow. On Oahu, it could be argued that Matsumoto’s Shave Ice on the North Shore has the best tropical flavors and toppings. Don’t take our word for it though. Try it yourself!
Try: Rainbow Combo (always a classic) with sweetened condensed milk topping
Tasaka’s Guri Guri
Tasaka’s in Kahului has been serving their cool Japanese inspired concoction for almost a century. Don’t call it sherbet or sorbet though, guri guri is in category of its own. Strawberry or pineapple flavored guri guri is sold in paper cups with wooden spoons, the same way it has been since the day store opened, adding to their no-frills ambiance. Tasaka’s is one of the only places that sell guri guri, making it a unique Maui treat.
Try: Strawberry Guri Guri
Grandma’s Coffee House
Grandma’s has been the to go to place for a morning coffee in Upcountry Maui since 1918. Four generations later, they’re still growing, handpicking, and roasting their own pesticide-free organic coffee. Stop in for the strong coffee drinks, breakfast, and lunch specials. It’s a secret spot among locals. Don’t tell them I told you!
Try: Coffee, Paniolo Pork Chops, Belgian Waffle w/ fruit
Da Kitchen Cafe
Da Kitchen (locations in Kihei and Kahului) has taken average plate lunches and added a unique spin on local and Hawaiian cuisine, making it a must-visit place while on Maui. Their fried spam musubi, one of their specialties, has attracted the likes of the Travel Channel and various print publications. Come on an empty stomach though. Trust us, the portions are huge!
Try: Da Kitchen Burger, Fried Spam Musubi, Polynesian Moco
This family-owned establishment in Lihue has been serving up saimin, the local comfort food of choice, since 1951 and people flock here in droves. Saimin is a combination of Japanese dashi broth and Chinese noodles topped with green onions, luncheon meat, and kamaboko (fish cake). The wontons and noodles are still handmade every day in the owner’s great-grandmother’s house, making this a uniquely Hawaiian experience.
Try: Special Saimin Wonton Mein, Lilikoi Chiffon Pie
Brick Oven Pizza
Although Brick Oven Pizza has a few locations, the original in Wailua has been cranking out some of the best pizza on Kauai for the last 30 years. Not only can you get the usual pepperoni or mushrooms on your pizza, but add on local favorites like Portuguese sausage, alongside kim chee tofu as a starter. Brick Oven Pizza has won Best of the Best Pizza on Kauai for the last 8 consecutive years.
Try: Ultimeat, Hawaiian BBQ Chicken Pizza
Jo Jo’s Shave Ice
On Kauai, Jo Jo’s (in Waimea and Hanalei) is the must-visit location for some of the best shave ice on the island. With combinations of flavors written daily on a chalkboard, you’ll never have to worry about choosing what to order. At Jo Jo’s, an order of shave ice with ice cream at the bottom is a must.
Try: Haupia Creme & Vanilla Creme
Hawaiian Style Cafe
If you’re searching for an authentic eating spot on the Big Island, Hawaiian Style Cafe is the place for breakfast. With locations in Kamuela and Hilo, Hawaiian Style Cafe serves up some of the best local food on the island and most of it in gigantic portions in an “old-timey” atmosphere. Their “broke da mouth” pancakes have won countless awards in print publications around the country.
Try: Kalua Hash, “Hawaiian Style” Pancakes, Mixed Plate
Kona Brewing Company
If you’re a beer lover, head over to Kona Brewing Company’s Kona Pub & Brewery for great pub food that complements their great beers. They have 11 of their beers on tap, plus a rotation of seasonally brewed beers. If you end up falling in love with their beer, don’t worry. You can find it in stores in 36 states and at restaurants around the world.
Try: KBC’illa Po’okela, Elua Hummus, Hawaiian Lu’au Flatbread Pizza
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