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Eat like a local in Hawai‘i

by Tom Norman on 02 March 2016, 10:03AM

Best known for its idyllic scenery and laidback lifestyle, Hawai‘i is also a culinary mecca with plenty of hidden gems for eager foodies to unearth. If there is one thing you should know about Hawai‘i and its food… it’s that Hawai‘i locals love to eat and the islands boast a huge variety of restaurants, cuisines, experiences and produce.


First things first… what's what?

Plate Lunch: Consisting of two scoops of rice, macaroni salad, and everything from kalua pork, Korean barbecue, chicken katsu, beef teriyaki, or mahimahi, the plate lunch is a staple of local food.

Pupu: “Pupu” is the Hawaiian term for appetizer, and every local restaurant in Hawai‘i offers a wide range of creative pupu platters to dine on, from poke dishes to sushi.

Loco Moco: For big appetites, try a “loco moco,” which is a hamburger steak and egg over rice, covered in gravy. You can find loco moco’s throughout the islands, but Café 100 in Hilo on Hawai‘i's Big Island is said to have originated the name.

Shave Ice: No matter what island you’re on, grab a shave ice to cool off. These finely shaved snow cones are served with colourful flavours on the top with a choice of ice cream or azuki beans on the bottom.

Malasadas: Treat your sweet tooth to a hot malasada (a Portuguese doughnut). Although Leonard's Bakery in Kapahulu is popular on Oahu, ask any local and they can tell you their favourite bakeries on each island to find these fresh and tasty treats.


And secondly…a few places worth visiting!

Koko Head Café (O‘ahu) In the heart of Honolulu’s Kaimuki district is this modest little Hawaiian haunt by Chef Lee Ann Wong. Fans of brunch need not look any further than this Asian/Hawaiian fusion, as it serves up a number of classic brunch dishes with a twist. Personal favourite: Hawaiian style pancakes ($12).


Moon & Turtle (Hawai‘i Island) This place is so cool it doesn’t even need a website. Located in downtown Hilo, the menu changes daily to reflect the seasonality of locally sourced ingredients, meaning visitors will get a unique experience of Hawaiian cuisine, every time they go back. A favourite amongst locals and it is easy to see why.

Mama’s Fish House (Maui) Searching for dinner with a view? Mama’s Fish House sits prominently on the shore front of Pa'ia on the road to Hana. Considered one of the top fine dining restaurants in the US, this exemplary restaurant sources its fish from local fisherman every day, to ensure every dish is as fresh as the moment it was caught. A notable entrée is the Traditional Hawaiian – ‘grilled mahimahi with Hawai‘i Island wild boar slow cooked in a ti leaf, and octopus lu‘au, ahi poke and sweet potato’ ($52).

Side Street Inn on Da Strip (O‘ahu) It sounds like a 90’s street dance movie, but Side Street Inn on Da Strip is the home of Hawaiian comfort food. Resting in Kapahulu Ave, Waikiki, Side Street Inn provides cheap, but quality local fried food to fill those empty stomachs after a morning of frolicking on Waikiki beach. (meals from $11).


Merriman’s Restaurant (Hawai‘i Island) Chef Peter Merriman’s flagship restaurant has been a local favourite for over 20 years, as the esteemed chef was one of the first to establish Hawai‘i regional cuisine. Much like Moon & Turtle and Mama’s Fish House, Merriman’s prides itself on sourcing its ingredients from local farmers, ranchers, and fishermen; endeavouring to feature only the freshest locally-grown produce. The Kahua Ranch Lamb is to die for ($40+).

Fleetwood’s (Maui) Owned by Mick Fleetwood of the legendary British band, Fleetwood Mac, this swanky joint is the perfect place to grab a couple of hand crafted cocktails and a Fleetwood signature beef wellington ($65), and even possibly meet the man himself. Mick is known to frequent the restaurant and on occasion perform for diners with his blues band. If you are a fan, or you’re just looking for a little dinner and entertainment, head down to Fleetwood’s…but you don’t have to listen to us, ‘you can go your own way’.

Kaua‘i Grill (Kaua‘i) An elegant haven offering spectacular views of Hanalei Bay and Bali Hai, creating an extravagant atmosphere only matched by the restaurant’s stupendous menu, crafted by the talented Noelani Planas, Chef de Cuisine. Kaua‘i Grill is definitely on the indulgent side of things, but the dishes are truly exquisite. Try the charred chicken with coconut, caramel, spiced pineapple and lime ($45).

Alan Wong's Honolulu (O‘ahu) Placed on the 3rd floor of an office building, this restaurant might not sound like the perfect environment to spend an evening chowing down on some regional Hawaiian food, but the flagship restaurant is a culinary studio known for experimenting with new flavours, leaving patrons salivating at the innovative creations. If you’re in the mood to experience a unique twist on regional food, and an uncommon local environment – visit Alan Wong's Honolulu.


Pueo’s Osteria (Hawai‘i Island) Chef Jim Babian’s Osteria combines the freshest ingredients from local farmers and fishermen, with flavours of Italia. A step away from traditional Hawaiian food, this eatery offers an elegant alternative to local tastes, presenting visitors a little Mediterranean charm. (Meals range from $13).


The Dolphin (Kaua‘i) A favourite amongst locals and visitors alike, The Dolphin is renowned for its fresh fish and unparalleled Sushi lounge. Situated on the banks of the idyllic Hanalei River, The Dolphin is the perfect place to relax and enjoy the magnificent scenery whilst tucking into some freshly caught lobster and shrimp, or if you’re craving the meat sweats; a finely cut filet mignon.

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