Dining on Molokai

There was once a time when Molokai dining meant “two scoops rice and plate lunch,” but lately Molokai has begun to mature with its selection of culinary offerings.

At Hale Kealoha, inside Hotel Molokai, grab a seat at the only oceanfront restaurant tables in town, and order from a menu of succulent cuisine that’s heavy on local produce. While the menu can rotate around what’s in season, dinner selections could be shrimp scampi with shrimp raised right here on island, or fresh mahimahi, ono, or ahi, all caught by local fishermen. For lunch, order a turkey ulu burger with locally grown ulu, or breadfruit, and there’s also a breakfast menu of omelets all named for Molokai towns.

Closer to the center of Kaunakakai, Paddler’s Inn is a local institution and longtime Molokai favorite, where the heaping chicken katsu plate can compete with the best in the islands, and the fish and chips and mahi burgers use fresh, locally-caught fish. Aside from the hefty, filling portions that are cheaper than Hale Kealoha, Paddler’s is also the closest thing that Molokai has to a sports bar, with cold beer on draft, sports on TV, and even a weekly “Ladies Night” at the island’s most happening “nightclub.”

For a casual dinner of pizza or pasta, Molokai Pizza Café has been a local classic since 1992, and their selection of games for younger children has made it a welcoming family spot that’s popular with visitors and locals. It’s also another Molokai venue that doesn’t offer plate lunch, and like many of its fellow Molokai restaurants, it’s a cash-only establishment.

For healthier options than teriyaki beef—or even a slice of pizza—The Store House counter in Kaunakakai has a wide range of natural foods, including kale smoothies and tropical bowls topped with almonds, granola, and honey. Pick up a salad or sandwich for the road, or maybe a cup of kombucha, and it’s a great place to grab a picnic lunch when planning a beach day out west.

Even with the growing diversity of options that are popping up on Molokai, Hawaiian plate lunch is still a staple of nearly all Molokai’s restaurants. At Kanemitsu Bakery in Kaunakakai, sit down to a breakfast of loco moco, smothered in gooey brown gravy, or feast on a plate of teriyaki chicken for a filling midday lunch. There, of course, are also baked goods with breakfast, but the most popular baked goods from Kanemitsu Bakery are actually served at night, when the back alley window of “Hot Bread Lane” opens up at 8pm. Set down a dark, narrow side alley that leads behind the bakery, the take out window has loaves of sweet bread that are literally the size of your head, and drizzled in strawberry, hot butter, cinnamon, and flavors to tackle your sweet tooth.

Also in town for plate lunch or burgers is aptly named Molokai Burger, as well as popular Maka’s Corner with their heaping bowls of saimin.

For all the restaurants you’ll find in a town of 3,500 people, the options for dining on Molokai are slim once you venture outside of Kauanakakai. The most popular restaurant outside of town—and arguably the entire island—is old school Kualapu’u Cookhouse in down home Kualapu‘u. A swinging screen door announces your arrival and the atmosphere is welcomingly casual, and you’ll get your food whenever it’s ready—so settle in and get comfortable. On the east end of the island, heading out towards Halawa, the take out window of Manae Goodz and Grindz has exceptional banana pancakes, and local classics like chicken katsu you can take to the beach in Puko‘o.

Sure, if you stay on Molokai for a week you’ll eventually eat someplace twice, but dining on Molokai has come a long way from the days of choosing the meat you want to accompany macaroni salad and rice.