Mixed plate, or plate lunch, is arguably the ultimate Hawaiian meal. Like many if not most traditional Hawaiian dishes, its various resemblances and outright connections to other traditional dishes around the world are numerous, but never complete. It is truly, globally unique.
So, what is it? For those unfamiliar, plate lunch in its standard form is very simple: macaroni salad, white rice, and one entree. Multiple entrees typically mean you’re now eating a mixed plate - but such distinctions aren’t necessarily set in stone. What the entree happens to be can of course vary, but generally some kind of meat, such as kalua pork, could be considered standard procedure.
How plate lunch came into existence as a Hawaiian original is not widely agreed upon. A prevailing theory is that it is a direct descendent of bento from Japan. Part of the reason this isn’t certain, however, is that the list of potential influencers is both long and diverse. Hawaiian plate lunch first emerged, and long reigned supreme, as a laborers’ meal. Sugar plantations in Hawaii saw migrants from all over the globe: primarily Portugal, China, Japan, The Philippines.
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One of the most popular places to get a plate here is at Honolulu’s Rainbow Drive-in. Like a few other iconic spots in the state capital, this food spot is surprisingly old - “cookin’” as they say since 1961.
Plate lunch is clearly the focus here, and the menu is proudly extensive. You could, just by attending this one restaurant, traverse the gap from plate lunch novice to seasoned aficionado. There’s plenty more on the menu as well, from breakfast, to sandwiches, to other soulful Hawaiian dishes like loco moco and saimin.
The Rainbow Drive-in has 5 locations in and around the Honolulu area. For hours, locations, and even online ordering, simply check their website here.
The Big Island
Being the biggest and whatnot, the Island of Hawaii has tons of killer options in terms of the mixed plate.
Perhaps the most famous is Broke Da Mouth Grindz in Kona. Just across the street from Kona International Market, this neighborhood favorite is often busy with hungry visitors. The plates here are raved about as much if not more than any other local spot. One raver is Guy Fieri, who had lots of high praise to deliver after trying a plate with fried chicken on his Food Network show.
Broke Da Mouth Grindz is open every day except Sunday from 11 AM to 7 PM.
Featured before on our site, a hands-down local favorite on the island of Maui has always been Da Kitchen. When they were forced to close during COVID-19, many were heartbroken.
But now Da Kitchen has been reincarnated as Piko Cafe in Kihei. This is something of a hybrid - a coffee shop which also offers breakfast and lunch that will be warmly familiar to any fans of Da Kitchen.
There’s no doubt that plate lunch is a specialty here. There’s plenty more to try, from burgers to saimin noodles; but the classic Hawaiian plate lunches are probably the most popular, and the reason so many are thrilled to see the kitchen’s resurgence.
Piko Cafe is located at 1215 South Kihei Road. They are open every day except Sunday and Monday from 8 AM to 2 PM.
When it comes to the mixed plate on the island of Kauai, Mark is king. Having received a fair amount of press over the years, this adored local spot is so known for plate lunch that it has its own signature, best-selling mixed plate, which comes with chicken katsu, teriyaki beef and beef stew.
Mark’s Place has been in Lihue since 1998, when it was first founded by chefs Mark and Wendy Oyama. The restaurant has been routinely listed among the best food places in Kauai, if not all of Hawaii outright. Most impressively, Mark Oyama was recently inducted into the Hawaii Restaurant Hall Of Fame.
You’ll find Mark’s Place at 1610 Haleukana Street, open on weekdays from 11 AM to 6 PM.
Hawaiian plate lunch and mixed plate constitute what many might call an essential part of the cultural experience. Not only is this dish an original creation of the Hawaiian Islands, but it is one that has traveled around the world and made connections to customary dishes in countless other places.
Being such a classic, it is easy to find, but its most storied creators and greatest incarnations are worth pursuing. We hope you find this guide helpful and that you enjoy your lunch!
Have you checked out the Common Ground Kauai Marketplace yet?
They have locally made products that would be great for gift giving.
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