Whether you’re from the islands or visiting from across the Pacific, you know or will discover that Hawaiian food isn’t all luau food and pineapple juice. These traditional Hawaiian foods may come to mind when thinking of the local cuisine, but the subculture of Asian-fusion foods, experimental eats, and quirky restaurants that live within the state is something that the rest of the world needs to know about.
Lately, Honolulu and its restaurants have become a hub for foodies with eclectic eats scattered across the city. Since Honolulu contains an endless plethora of must-tries, it was difficult to condense the must-eat-before-you-die spots and foods down into a single list. Although this list is not exhaustive of all the amazing eats of Honolulu, eating all of the foods that did make the cut (which is in no particular order) is a good place to start.
1. Poke from Paina Café
Often served over a bed of rice, Hawaii is infamous for poke, or raw, cubed, yellowfin tuna swimming in soy sauce or spicy tuna sauce. To get their hands on their daily poke, locals will head to Paina Café or Foodland, an island-wide supermarket.
2. Smoothies from Lanikai Juice
In a place where fresh fruit grows right in your backyard year-round, it’s a given that Hawaii is well-equipped for smoothies and juices. Lanikai Juice has a range of green, wellness, and classic “old school” smoothies for the hottest Hawaiian days.
3. Açaí Bowls from Haleiwa Bowls
Alongside California, Hawaii was one of the first adopters of the açaí bowl trend. There are endless options for açaí across the island, but for the best of the best, head to Haleiwa Bowls on the North Shore, or Diamond Head Cove Health Bar in town.
4. Poi Donuts from Kamehameha Bakery
Home of the Hawaiian twist on a classic American favorite, Kamehameha Bakery in Kalihi is the founder and curator of the island-famous glazed poi donut.
5. Brunch from Moena Cafe
Even though brunch is big just about everywhere, what makes it special in Hawaii are the local twists and flavors that go into the classic brunch dishes. Locals choose to spend their Sunday mornings at Café Kaila, Moena Cafe, and Koa Pancake House, to name a few.
6. Cheesecake from Otto Cake
Otto Cake in Kaimuki is a quaint little bakeshop that specializes in cheesecakes with a wide range of flavors including almond cookie, orange chocolate chip, and cookie butter. Any flavor is a good choice, but the original cheesecake literally takes the cake.
7. Katsu from Kimukatsu
Kimukatsu, a tiny establishment in Waikiki, serves up crispy katsu that’s melt-in-your-mouth perfection. Choose from zanier katsu flavors, like cheese, black pepper, and garlic.
8. Kona Coffee from Island Vintage Coffee
Made with 100% Kona coffee, Island Vintage brews and blends some of the tastiest drinks for your caffeine desires. Order one of their lattes, açaí bowls, or ice blended caramel Kona mochas.
9. Shave Ice from Waiola Shave Ice
Shave ice (“shave” not “shaved”) is the quintessential treat for that post-beach craving. Waiola Shave Ice has been Hawaii’s favorite since the 1940’s, but check out Monsarrat Ave Shave Ice if you’re looking for a fruit-based shave ice.
10. Honey Toast from Shokudo
In addition to their teriyaki quesadillas, spicy tuna crispy rice, and sushi pizza, Shokudo is one of the first restaurants in Honolulu to perfect the art of honey toast.
11. Bubble Tea from Taste Tea
The bubble tea craze has been sweeping the globe for a while now, and Hawaii is no exception. Taste Tea and Mr. Tea Café are two of the islanders’ go-to spots to get their boba on.
12. Zip Pack from Zippy’s
Established in 1966, Zippy’s is one of the first eateries that locals go to upon returning home from off-island. Order a zip pack or try their island-famous Zippy’s chili.
13. Udon from Marukame
It’s simple — you just can’t beat four-dollar udon, and Marukame in downtown Honolulu or Waikiki serves up one of the best bowls on Oahu.
14. Hot Pot from Sweet Home Cafe
One of the most popular hot pot spots in Honolulu is Sweet Home Café. One of the best parts of the meal is the complimentary (and delicious) dessert of shave ice with tons of toppings.
15. Coffee from The Manifest
A coffee shop by day and a bar by night, The Manifest in downtown Honolulu serves quality drinks round-the-clock in their brick stone warehouse space.
16. Soups and Sandwiches from Fresh Café
This eco-friendly, designed-for-collaboration café completely embodies the spirit of the artistic Kaka’ako district of Honolulu. With light soups, salads, açaí bowls, and coffee drinks, Fresh Café is the perfect lunch spot for downtown dwellers.
17. Gelato from Via Gelato
Enjoy a petite cup or cone of creamy goodness at Via Gelato in their minimalist-décor scoop shop. Try any one of their eclectic flavors like black sesame, green tea, sweet potato, or haupia.
18. Tan Tan Ramen from Gomatei
Bowls on bowls of ramen await you at Goma Tei. The shoyu ramen is great, but if you’re feeling adventurous, try the tan tan ramen with a side of gyoza.
19. Mochi Ice Cream from Bubbies
One of the most iconic names in local ice cream, Bubbies Homemade Ice Cream and Desserts not only carries a deliciously creamy range of flavors but is most famous for their game-changing mochi ice cream.
20. Malasadas from Leonard’s Bakery
Malasadas are extremely hard to come by outside of Hawaii. I’ve yet to find a malasada, a deep-fried donut-esque Portuguese dessert, anywhere in the mainland U.S. If you’re a malasada connoisseur, you know that the best spot to get these little balls of happiness in Honolulu is at the historic Leonard’s Bakery.
21. Ahi Tuna Melt from Andy’s
Supporting local isn’t hard when you’re grabbing lunch at Andy’s. Conveniently located in Manoa Valley, aficionados recommend the guava cream smoothie paired with their famous ahi melt.
22. Homemade Spam Musubi
Spam is awesome, despite what everyone on the mainland thinks. And spam is even more awesome in musubi form. Similar to a giant Spam sushi, a 7-11 spam musubi is the iconic after school snack for any Hawaii kid. However, if you want an authentic taste of contemporary Hawaiian cuisine, ask any Hawaii kid’s mom to make you a spam musubi.
23. Soft Serve Guri Guri from Samurai
Hawaiian guri guri ice cream is even better in soft serve form. Most go to Samurai for a strawberry-vanilla swirl guri guri.
24. Chicken Katsu Curry from Curry House
The literal go-to dish for any potluck or event, chicken katsu is best served with fluffy white rice and Japanese-style curry.
25. Loco Moco from L&L
Hit up any of the older diners or eateries on the islands and you’ll be sure to stumble across a loco moco on the menu. This quintessential contemporary Hawaiian eat consists of rice topped with a hamburger patty, fried egg, and gravy.
26. Dinner from Town
Kaimuki is slowly emerging as a culinary district thanks to Ed Kenney and his many locally-sourced restaurants in the area. Town is probably the most popular of his restaurants. Some favorites at this New American-Italian-Hawaiian fusion spot include the ahi tartare risotto cakes, gnocchi, and all of their inventive desserts.
27. Soft Serve from Banán
Based out of a surf shack-themed food truck, Banán turns local fruits into soft serve treats, complete with an edible papaya bowl. Be warned – you will post a pic of these bowls on social media.
28. Lemonade from KCC Farmer’s Market
If you’re looking to pick up local produce, buy some Hawaii-grown floral arrangements, or grab a plate lunch, the KCC farmer’s market should be your next stop. No matter the reason you decide to go, it’s a rule to get the fresh mason jar lemonade at least once (if not multiple times).
29. Bentos from Shirokiya
Reminiscent of a Tokyo marketplace, Shirokiya is the place to grab a quick Japanese meal. From bento to takoyaki to ramen, Shirokiya consists of many different vendors that come together to create the Japanese marketplace of your dreams.
30. Soondubu from So Gong Dong
The definition of a hole-in-the-wall find is So Gong Dong, a Korean restaurant located a block away from Ala Moana Shopping Center. Order their seafood pancake, bibimbap, or their widespread favorite, the soondubu tofu soup.
31. Homemade Hurricane Popcorn
After eating hurricane popcorn my whole life, plain buttered popcorn just doesn’t cut it. Hurricane popcorn, which is popcorn with butter, kakimochi (rice cracker), and furikake (seaweed seasoning), is quite literally a hurricane of flavors and deliciousness.
32. Li Hing Mui On Everything
Along with hurricane-style, li hing mui powder is another popular way to season and eat popcorn. It’s a salty dried plum powder and is also traditionally shaken and served on fruit, shave ice, or gummy bears.
33. Garlic Shrimp from Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck
If you’re looking for bomb garlic shrimp, look no further than Giovanni’s Aloha Shrimp truck on the North Shore of Oahu. Grab a bowl and take it down to the beach to enjoy while sitting on the sand, watching the waves roll in.
34. Dole Whip from Dole Plantation
A tangy twist on traditional soft serve, Hawaii’s Dole Plantation serves up a must-try pineapple ice cream called Dole Whip. While you’re there, get lost in the pineapple maze and check out the pineapple-themed gift shop.
35. Pancakes from Eggs ‘n Things
For a classic local breakfast of bacon, eggs, and rice, or rich chocolate chip pancakes, check out Eggs and Things. They’ve been around since 1974 and clearly know what they’re doing.
36. Rice from literally anywhere in Hawaii
Rice, rice, rice. We can’t explain it, but trust us when we say that you haven’t lived until you’ve had Hawaiian rice. No matter where you grab a bite to eat in Hawaii, the rice is guaranteed to be on point.
37. Tempura Ice Cream from Doraku
If you’re feeling relatively fancy, Doraku is the perfect place to dine in an upscale atmosphere without paying a crazy high price. Ordering their assorted sushi rolls is a given, but make sure to leave room for their tempura ice cream.
38. Spicy Tuna Roll from Waipuna
Another popular Manoa joint, Waipuna Sushi makes the most bomb (and generously portioned) spicy tuna bowls. Many choose to grab one of their signature rolls, most of which are topped with their famous spicy tuna.
39. Manapua from Chun Wa Kam
A Hawaiian take on the Chinese cha siu bao, the manapua is a fluffy, pork-filled bun. While there are tons of local bakeries that serve up this classic eat, many hit up Chun Wa Kam for their manapua needs.
40. Guava Chiffon Pancakes from Cinnamon’s
Three words: lilikoi chiffon pancakes. If you still have room after finishing one of their gooey and buttery cinnamon rolls, order a stack of Cinnamon’s famous pink guava chiffon pancakes.
41. Saimin from Tanaka Saimin
Inspired by a combination of Japanese ramen, Chinese mein, and Filipino pancit, saimin is a noodle hybrid dish that every local kid grew up chowing down on. Similar to the Okinawan soba, saimin consists of thin noodles served in a light and salty broth. If you find yourself at Tanaka Saimin, opt for their saimin burger.
42. Homemade Butter Mochi
Taking the traditional rice-based dessert to the next level, the-true-to-its-name butter mochi is indeed buttery, rich, and delicious. Most would agree that butter mochi is best when it’s homemade.
43. Dumplings from Lucky Belly
Downtown Honolulu is becoming the hub for eclectic eats and restaurants with aesthetics, and Lucky Belly fits the bill. Crowd favorites at this rustic restaurant include the pork belly bao, oxtail dumplings, shrimp gyoza, and their famous belly bowl.
44. Pho from The Pig and the Lady
The Pig and the Lady, although Vietnamese in its roots, is known for their creative fusion of Asian flavors. Locals continuously come back for the French dip bánh mì, Laotian fried chicken, and pho. You can’t leave without ordering something from Chef Rachel Murai’s dessert bar, like the boozy milk and cookies, or the soft serve swirl of the week.
45. Sandwiches and Coffee from Kissaten
If you’ve gone to school or had to pull any sort of study-related all-nighter in Honolulu, you’re well familiar with Kissaten, the 24-hour coffee bar. In addition to their fresh coffee and artistic ambiance, Kissaten offers killer sandwiches, soups, and salads.
46. Dim Sum from Happy Days
Although not in Chinatown, Happy Days has some of the best dim sum on the island. You can’t go wrong with anything on their carts full of dumplings, noodle dishes, and pork buns.
47. Cornflake French Toast from Koko Head Cafe
After hiking Koko Head, reward yourself to a cornflake French toast from Koko Head Cafe. Their amazing breakfast dessert consists of cornflake-coated French toast topped with two thick strips of bacon and a dollop of gelato.
48. Donuts from Regal Bakery
Baking up quirky flavors such as strawnana chip, pumpkin spice crunch, and maple bacon, Regal Bakery is one of Hawaii’s favorite shops to grab a donut.
49. Yakiniku from Gyukaku
One of the best yakiniku (grill-it-yourself) restaurants in Hawaii is Gyukaku. You can’t beat their happy hour specials, appetizers, or the satisfaction of cooking your own meat to perfection.
50. Fish from Nico’s
Poke, mahimahi, shrimp, and other fresh catches never disappoint at Nico’s Pier 38. This waterside restaurant serves Hawaii-caught seafood, fusing French and Hawaiian cuisine with fish fare.