If you have read any of my articles, you know that I’m a huge foodie. Recently, I even wrote an entire article focusing strictly on French and Belgian holiday foods. When I travel, I love to try local cuisine. There is something so exciting about trying new flavors and textures in a foreign context. Things were no different when we traveled to the 50th state. In fact, I set aside part of our budget just to try out Hawaiian food as we wanted to fully enjoy the local-color experience. Garrett and I are huge fans of fresh seafood, which we rarely get to eat in Oklahoma, so we made sure to splurge where it mattered.
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I loved Hawaiian food as I knew I would; it’s a hybrid between Asian and American cuisine with a note of Pacific. Before our trip, I had compiled a list of all the local dishes I wanted to try – a sort of food bucket list. Each meal we ate was local, and we always made sure to try something new. I finalized my list upon our return and provided you with thorough reviews. To make things a bit easier, I separated all food items into two categories: Sweet (mostly snacks and breakfast) and Savory.
Fresh exoctic fruits like mangoes, passion fruits (known as lilikoi in Hawaii), guavas, or even papayas grow all over Hawaii. You will find tons of fruit stands on the side of the road as you drive through the Aloha state, and I highly recommend you give them a try! There are plenty of them on the road to Hana on Maui. However, we chose to stop at the most adorable food stand between Waipi’o Valley and Hilo. Many stands offer a variety of whole fruits, but I wanted to try them all! Lilinoe Fruit Stand offered fresh cold coconuts and fruit plates. Local farmers grow these fresh, juicy, and extra flavorful fruits, making them the perfect road trip-snack. The custard apples were my favorite! Their flesh is nothing like apples’ but a lot more like bananas’. It was all delicious!
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Shave ice became Garrett’s newest addiction during our time in Hawaii. It is much like a snowcone, but not all shave ice is created equal. We tried many different kinds of shave ice on multiple islands, and most of them tasted like mere ice covered in an overly sweet and dye-rich liquid. You’ll find the best shave ice in Hawaii at Waikomo Shave Ice on the South side of Kauai. It is nothing like the other shave ice you’ll find everywhere else. The syrup is made with sugar cane and all natural fruit juice and the shave ice is served “snow capped” – topped with coconut milk, honey, and fresh fruits. Waikomo lets you choose between 9 natural fruit flavors and a compostable cup or a coconut souvenir cup. It was an unbelievable experience that I would recommend to anyone visiting Kauai!
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Acai bowls have gained popularity over the last decade and make the perfect Instagrammable breakfast or snack. Head to Mo’ Ono Hawaii on Haleakala Hwy near the Kahului, Maui airport for a healthy, refreshing, an flavorful treat. Acai bowls consist of pureed acai, granola, fresh fruits (strawberry pineapple, mango…), sliced almonds, coconut shavings and drizzled in lilikoi butter. Yum! Acai bowls boast many health benefits. The acai (ah-sigh-ee) berry is a “superfood” as it contains very high levels of antioxidants and helps lower cholesterol, improve digestion and immunity, and even boost your brain function. There is no reason to deny yourself this frozen delicacy!
Banana bread is a staple Hawaiian food. You’ll also find mango bread and chocolate macadamia nut bread. The best banana bread in Maui is found on the Road to Hana at a little roadside stand called Halfway to Hana near mile marker 17. If you miss the stand or aren’t hungry at the time, make sure you have seats to the Old Lahaina Luau.
If you’ve followed my advice and booked yourself a seat at the Old Lahaina Luau, you’ll get a loaf of delicious banana nut bread as a take-home gift. It is topped with caramelized macadamia nuts and baked freshly in house daily! We loved munching on the bread for breakfast the next day on our way to the Pipiwai trail.
Related: 10 Best Stops on the Road to Hana
Strawberry Guava Jelly
If you’re looking to add a Hawaiian twist to the usual peanut butter and jelly sandwich, consider subbing the grape jelly for strawberry guava. It’s the perfect start to a day on the beach, hiking in the jungle, discovering lava fields or whatever wonderful Hawaiian adventure you’ll take on.
Macadamia Nut Pie
Macadamia nuts are sold all over the islands. They come in different flavors: salted, chocolate-covered, honey-roasted… Popular brands include Mauna Loa and Hawaiian Host. But my favorite way to eat macadamia nut is in pie form. Much like pecan pie, macadamia nut pies are slightly nuttier and less sweet.
After spending our first day in Maui exploring the north shores, we enjoyed a late-night dinner at Kaleis Lunchbox in Wailuku and concluded our meal with a delicious chocolate macadamia nut pie that we shared. I highly recommend you try one on your next trip to Hawaii. You won’t be disappointed!
Related: The Perfect 5-day Maui Itinerary
Poke, pronounced poh-kay, was by far my favorite Hawaiian food. I finally tried it on Maui and had it 3 times over the course of the next 4 days. Initially, I was a bit apprehensive at the thought of eating raw fish, but I love sushi, so I figured I would give it a try. And, boy, was I glad I did! If you’re hesitating about trying out poke, don’t; just go for it!
Hawaiian poke consists of diced, raw ahi fish marinated in soy sauce and served on a bed of rice often accompanied by seaweed salad. There are multiple variants including spicy Kim Chee or hurricane style with aioli and furikake (dried seaweed) seasoning. I recommend trying different kinds of poke to see what you like best. It’s sold everywhere, including at Foodland which has its own poke bar. The fish is always extra tender, and the glaze takes away from the rawness that may seem repulsive to some. I had the best poke at Like Poke, a small food truck near the Kahului airport, which only sources fresh, local ingredients for its poke bowls.
I have to admit I was not a fan of spam musubis, but I’m still glad I tried it. If you are looking for a budget lunch, know that spam musubis are super affordable. They cost anywhere from $2 to $4 at the gas stations, and one or two is enough to fill you up! Spam musubis are small rice cakes covered in a layer of spam and wrapped in seaweed. Enjoy them with a side of crunchy Maui Onion chips for the cheapest Hawaiian picnic combo!
Loco Moco, meaning crazy burger in Hawaiian, can be found in Hawaiian diners and consists of rice topped with a hamburger patty, a fried egg, and brown gravy. Yes, because sticky sushi rice is served with e-ve-ry-thing in Hawaii. As with any other dish, Loco Moco is much better homemade than frozen or packaged, so make sure you only select high-quality meat and homemade gravy for the best experience.
Featured in this photo is Garrett’s Hawaiian drink of choice: the one and only Aloha Maid. These non-carbonated soda juices come in different flavors: pineapple orange, strawberry guava, as well as iced teas.
Huli Huli chicken
Huli Huli chicken comes from huli, the Hawaiian word for turn. As the chicken roasts, it turns on a skewer above the fire. If you’re looking for cheap and delicious huli huli chicken, head to Koke’e State Park on the road to Hana. The portions are huge, so don’t be afraid to share! You can always go back for one of their yummy desserts if you’re still hungry. Oh and did I mention you get to lounge on a beach chair with ocean views?
If you like pulled pork, you’ll love Kalua pork. It’s smoked and shredded but not served with barbecue like its southern counterpart. Instead, it comes with rice (no way!) and a side of delicious macaroni salad – very popular in Hawaiian cuisine. Pictured here is a plate of Kalua Pork from the Volcano House at Volcano National Park. After hiking over 13 mi/ 21 km through the Hilo rainforest and volcanic floor, we were worn out and ready for a nice dinner. This Kalua pork hit the spot!
Saimin is a Japanese-inspired Hawaiian food. It is a broth full of fat noodles, dumplings, ham, imitation crab and veggies cooked in broth. Saimin comes in different varieties and is a cheap, easy meal you can even grab at gas stations. We tried out Hamura Saimin on Kauai; their portions are extra large, and their price unbeatable. This is a good meal if you’re looking to stay full.
Fish tacos are a Hawaiian staple, and who doesn’t love tacos? Not surprisingly, we both thoroughly enjoyed our fish tacos. Hawaiian fish tacos are soft corn loaded with fried fish, red cabbage, and homemade tartar sauce. If you’re looking for delicious fish tacos, swing by Coconut’s Fish Cafe in Kihei.
I know that luau isn’t a specific food item, but I could not create this Hawaiian food bucket list without mentioning the luau food. I booked us a table at the Old Lahaina Luau because it was the most authentic luau on Maui, but we will remember it forever for its ambiance and its food! Part of it may be that I had low expectations for the food after reading reviews that said the food was just okay and that it was more about the experience. Whoever wrote this review is the kind of person who says the Grand Canyon is just a big hole… I’m a foodie. I’ve tried lots of different foods in lots of different places, and the food at the Old Lahaina Luau is not okay; it’s amazing!
Not only is the luau food delicious, you also get to try over 20 different foods throughout the night, all served in bite-size portions. Since the service is all inclusive, you can ask for seconds of anything you want, not that you would have much room for it. From the taro hummus, to the honey guava butter on palaoa, and sweet potato mash, our 5-course meal was a dream experience for our taste buds. I cannot recommend the Old Lahaina Luau enough!
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