With an abundance of unique seafood and produce grown in rich volcanic soil (and some deep culinary roots), it’s no surprise that young chefs have been working hard to make the Hawaiian Islands a gastronomical destination. While there are a number of new and exciting restaurants in the island of O’ahu, there is still something deeply alluring about the tried-and-true local favorites. Here is our guide on how to eat like a king, and a local, in Oahu.
For the Traditionalist
One of the most popular Hawaiian delicacies is a seafood salad called poke, which can be served on its own, as an appetizer, or over rice. This is a perfect treat for fans of ceviche and tartare, and there are unending combinations of seafood and seasonings throughout the island. Make it a quest to find a favorite by visiting the best poke spots around the island. The traditional ahi poke is always a great choice, but there are plenty adventurous choices, like the dried ahi poke at Yama’s Fish market, the tako (octopus) poke at Tamashiro Market, and the wasabi masago ahi poke at Alicia’s Market.
If food authenticity is more important than entertainment, skip the ‘Luau’ at the hotel, and head instead to one of the two great Hawaiian Food spots in the island; Helena’s Hawaiian Food and Ono Hawaiian Foods. These cash-only places both serve traditional kalua pig, roasted overnight in an underground oven, poi—a lavender-hued mash made from local taro roots, and pipikaula— salt-and-sun cured beef. Finish the meal with some haupia, coconut-milk custard cubes that provide just enough of a sweet taste after such a savory meal.
Quick, Easy, & Delicious
Another staple of the local diet are plate lunches—a combination of rice, macaroni salad, and an entree. Plate lunches can be found on almost any corner of the island, but locals favor L & L Drive-In, specializing in Hawaiian Barbecue, Rainbow Drive-In, where you can also get specials like Barbecued Ahi, and Zippy’s, which offers Sweet & Sour Ribs and Hawaiian Stew. All three of these places also serve Loco Mocos, a plate lunch with rice, hamburger patty, fried egg and smothered with gravy. For those adventurous enough, there is always a Spam Musubi, a rice cake, topped with fried spam and wrapped in seaweed.
Every local (and visitor) knows that Leonard’s Bakery is the place to go for malasadas — the Portuguese-fried dough that found a second home in Hawaii, but there are plenty of other places to find sweet treats on the island. Lihia Bakery specializes in coco puffs—airy cream puffs stuffed with chocolate or green tea cream and topped with macadamia chantilly. There is usually a line at the bakery, so make sure you get a full dozen (or two, we won’t judge) once you get up to the counter.
Close To Home
There are hundreds of hotels in Oahu, with the majority of them clustered around Honolulu. The Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort is a great option, especially because Duke’s Waikiki, a favorite for visitors and locals alike, is located at the hotel. Just steps from sand and the ocean, Duke’s live music on Sundays, and a real laid-back attitude, makes this a go-to place for special occasions!
Looking for edible souvenirs to take back to the mainland? Head to a supermarket, like Tamura Superette or Foodland for macadamia nut pancake mixes, li hing mui powder, dried seafood, like cuttlefish, seasoning salts, and a variety of tropical jams and jellies!