Popular Local Hawaiian Foods

What to Eat in Hawaii

Hawaii is a true cultural melting pot. With influences from China, Japan, and, of course, its Polynesian neighbors (to name a few), the tastes of Hawaii are wonderfully unique.

Hawaii prides itself on being the most culturally diverse U.S. state and, as such, has a food culture to match. And one of the best ways to sample some of the Islands' cultural diversity? Savoring some of Hawaii's culinary delights and sampling some of the foods that the locals enjoy. Not sure where to begin? No worries, we've got you covered. Whether you're looking for a quick snack or a full-on meal, these local Hawaiian faves will surely leave you satisfied.

— article continued below —

2024 Hawaii Visitor Guides

Visiting Hawaii soon? Be sure to grab a copy of one of our updated Hawaii Visitor Guides

Like many places worldwide, food trucks and out-of-the-way restaurants and cafés are some of the best places to eat, like a local in Hawaii. Whether it's bright and early and the Kona coffee is brewing, or the day is ending, and you still haven't had dinner, head to the local hangouts for some of the most delicious foods in Hawaii.

Eating at food trucks and non-touristy places is a great way to get to know locals. This is a beautiful way to gather insider tips on the area you're visiting, learn more about the local vibe, enjoy some pleasant conversation, or even make new friends. And while many hotels and resorts offer nothing short of outstanding cuisine, you'll have the most authentic Hawaiian experience by eating like a local. 

Plate Lunch

The plate lunch is a firm favorite with locals and very much loved, even by ex-president– and Hawaii native– Barack Obama. The plate lunch is jam-packed with calories, carbohydrates, (and goodness!) to keep you going throughout the day. It's the perfect lunch or even late breakfast to fuel your island activities.

The plate lunch consists of macaroni salad, white rice, and a meat of your choosing. The meat options usually include kalua pork (also called kalua pig), chicken katsu, laulau, barbecue chicken, and many more wonderful flavor combinations. We do not doubt that once you find your favorite plate lunch spot, you'll return for more.

Check out our recommended best places to get a Mixed Plate Lunch.

Crack Seed Snacks

Let us go from one extreme to the other here. If you are looking for a hefty main meal, the plate lunch is your go-to option, but if you fancy just a light snack, make your way to one of the many crack seed snack shops throughout the Hawaiian Islands.

These crack seed snack stores look like a Chinese apothecary, as the glass jars house a unique assortment of beautiful creations. Crack seed snacks are various preserved and dehydrated fruits that make you feel like a kid in a candy store for all your available options! Crack seed shops have so many flavor choices that we highly recommend asking for a sample before you buy. These snacks are normally coated in li hing mui powder made from dried and salted plums- a seemingly odd flavor combination that tastes delicious.

Photo by Joel via Flickr.


Poke is fast becoming a popular food on the U.S. mainland, but don’t be fooled when you see poke vendors popping up in a town near you; this meal has Hawaii written all over it. Moreover, buying poke in Hawaii is more authentic, and you can usually find it reasonably priced. If you seek lots of yummy value for your food budget, poke is an excellent place to start.

Poke is like a fish salad bar, and the flavor combinations are seemingly endless at a poke bar. You will find tuna in long trays served with seaweed, known locally as ahi limu. Be sure to try the wasabi avocado; the creamy and spicy flavor combo is fantastic! 

Check out our recommended locations to try Poke in Hawaii.


Whereas in many places, Christians celebrate the beginning of Lent by making pancakes with their friends and family, in Hawaii, they mark the beginning of Lent with Malasada Day. Malasada is a typical Hawaiian snack that will leave you begging for more. You'll want to get the recipe before you head home, as you won't get the same quality Malasadas anywhere else.

The most popular place to buy Malasada in Hawaii is Leonard's Bakery in the heart of Honolulu, on the island of Oahu. As you relish each delicious morsel, thank Portuguese immigrants for these wonderful balls of goodness. A malasada is a donut hole, risen by yeast and eggy in texture. There is a wide variety of malasada flavors; we suggest the haupia malasada, which has a coconut pudding filling for an authentic taste of island life. 

Discover where to find the best Malasadas on each Island in Hawaii.


Think about the excitement you experienced as a child when the ice cream truck came into your neighborhood. Now think about that excitement but picture a savory, meat-filled dim sum-style bun. The manapua vans that surf the streets of Hawaii are truly incredible and a surefire way to dine like a local.

The Chinese bao is the closest comparison we can draw for the manapua bun. These food trucks also sell noodles, rice cakes, and other dim sum styles. The manapua buns are either steam-cooked or baked and are stuffed full of marinated meat or sweet potato, which makes them an excellent snack for all vegetarian travelers.  

Explore the top places to get Manapua in Hawaii.

Shave Ice

Shave ice is the Hawaiian equivalent of the snow cone and is the perfect way to cool yourself down on a hot Hawaiian day. You'll get that sweet fix you crave after sampling Hawaii's savory culinary delights. Hawaiian shave ice can be topped with whatever you like. If you fancy going with the locals' choice, you should choose lilikoi or lychee syrup. If your taste buds crave a sweet and sour mix, try the li hing mui powder as the topping for your shave ice.

Believe it or not, shave ice can become more of a main meal, too! Many Hawaiians go all out and pile savory beans atop their shaved ice, and Azuki beans and mochi balls are divine toppings for this versatile Hawaiian snack.

Check out our recommendations on where to get the best Shave Ice in Hawaii.


If you're a mainlander, the thought of Spam may not immediately make your taste buds squeal with delight. If that's the case, you likely haven't had Spam Hawaiian-style. Spam is prevalent in Hawaii, and the canned meaty wonder is easily converted into many Hawaiian specialties.

In Hawaii, Spam is often served almost like sushi- paired with white rice and wrapped in nori. This fantastic little creation is served up with soy sauce to give the Spam that Asian-style flavor you'll love. If you are in town for the Waikiki Spam Jam, drop by and get your Spam fix before you leave.

Linda Smith
About the Author

Linda Smith

Linda is passionate about traveling and she is excited to share with you all her travel experiences and tips on her blog. Visit her website at easytravel4u.com or connect with her on Twitter and Facebook

Recommended Hawaii Tours
Terms of Use & Disclosures

This website's use is your expressly conditioned acceptance of the terms, conditions, and disclaimers found within our Disclaimer of Warranty and Limitation of Liability page without any modifications. Your use of this website constitutes your acceptance of all the terms, conditions, and disclaimers posted herein. If you do not agree with any part of these terms and conditions, you should not use this website. We also receive a small commission from travel partners for some of the links found on this website. All partners and related links comply with our Advertising Disclosures. For example, as an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. These links do not cost you anything and help provide the necessary funding to maintain this website. Mahalo!