Hawaii’s rich, multicultural history and location in the Pacific make it a veritable melting pot, with a unique cuisine that brings together the flavors of East and West. And while a new generation of young chefs has brought a vibrant food scene to cities like Honolulu, beloved traditional treats like poke and “shave ice” are still easy to find at the neighborhood corner store. From fine dining to mom-and-pop restaurants, here’s our list of must-eat places in Hawaii.
Helena’s Hawaiian Food (Oahu)
First-timers might eye poi’s gray color and gluey consistency with skepticism, but locals know this cool, starchy paste provides the perfect balance to rich meats like kalua pig, and salty fish like lomi-lomi salmon. Now run by the grandson of the original founder, Helena’s has been a Honolulu favorite for homestyle Hawaiian cooking for more than 70 years.
Leonard’s Bakery (Oahu)
Think of malasadas as donuts on steroids: a ball of sweet dough that’s deep fried and rolled in sugar. If you can’t make it to Leonard’s – which has served up these Portuguese treats since 1952 – keep an eye out for the bakery’s roving “Malasadamobile.”
Pig and the Lady (Oahu)
In the heart of Honolulu’s bustling Chinatown, this foodie favorite offers a modern take on Vietnamese cuisine with dishes like octopus-chorizo bucatini, and enough interesting cocktails to satisfy the thirstiest hipster.
Founded by a pair of pedigreed chefs inspired by Hawaii’s rich food traditions, Senia was the most buzzed-about restaurant in Honolulu in years when it opened in 2017. The main dining room offers a rotating menu of innovative dishes based around seasonal ingredients in a casual setting, but for $185, you can sample a luxurious tasting menu at the restaurant’s “chef’s counter.”
Tin Roof (Maui)
Top Chef alum Sheldon Simeon founded this casual lunch counter as an homage to the humble foods of Hawaii’s plantation camps. Try the pork belly plate, a juicy dish of roasted, then fried meat topped with a fresh tomato-onion lomi (chopped salad) and a six-minute egg.
O’o Farms (Maui)
This eight-acre working farm in idyllic Upcountry Maui provides farm-to-table produce for many of the island’s best restaurants. But it also offers a three-hour lunch tour that includes the chance to pick your own ingredients for a gourmet outdoor meal.
Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice (Maui)
A powder-soft mound of ice and a rainbow of flavors makes shave ice the perfect treat to cool off on a hot Hawaiian day. On Maui, Ululani’s has become a local favorite for its house-made specialty syrups like sweet lilikoi (passionfruit), mouth-puckering tamarind, and delicate “wedding cake.”
Moon and Turtle (Hawaii Island)
This unassuming cafe on Hilo’s waterfront features a rotating small-plate menu of thoughtful dishes featuring fresh, local ingredients like Hamakua mushrooms and wild boar sausage. Wash down a plate of perfectly sliced sashimi with a soursop martini, one of the restaurant’s many creative cocktails.
Da Poke Shack (Hawaii Island)
The “poke bowl” craze may have reached the US mainland, but Hawaii is still the best place to try the real deal. Made with the freshest fish, Da Poke Shack serves up traditional Hawaiian ahi poke made with salt and seaweed, along with a wide range of other varieties, including sesame, shoyu (soy sauce) and spicy “Pele’s Kiss.”
Greenwell Farms (Hawaii Island)
Founded in 1875, this historic coffee plantation on the Kona Coast offers daily farm tours that include a chance to see how coffee beans are grown, harvested, and roasted. The tours are free and no reservation is required.
Hamura Saimin Stand (Kauai)
A no-frills bowl of saimin is what you’ll get at this mom-and-pop lunch counter, which has been serving the comforting noodle soup since the 1950s. Fresh noodles and a satisfying made-from-scratch broth are what has earned Hamura’s a loyal fan base – and the James Beard Foundation’s “American Classics” award in 2006.
Mark’s Place (Kauai)
If you’re wondering where locals eat in Hawaii, head to this popular take-out restauranton Kauai. Beyond the traditional plate lunch – a hearty protein like chicken katsu or beef stew alongside two scoops of rice and a side of potato-macaroni salad – you can snack on SPAM musubi (rice cake garnished with a slab of luncheon meat), or test your stamina against the classic “loco moco” – two hamburger patties topped with fried eggs and gravy on a bed of white rice.