Right near the top of my list of reasons I love to travel is the opportunity to eat local specialties. This is true of whether I’m going to New York or New Delhi. Everywhere in the world, as far as I can tell, has its own special cuisine—something they do better than anywhere else. Hawaii, of course, is no exception. Here, in words and pictures, are my favorite Hawaii eats.
(Please note, I am not much of a food photographer. This is primarily because I am a top-notch food eater, and I either get so excited about my food that I forget to photograph it at all or I get so anxious to eat my food that I fail to take a good photo. I’m sorry.)
No trip to Oahu is complete without a trip (or was it three? or four?) to Leonard’s, home of the island’s most famous malasadas. For all of you sad souls have never had one, malasadas are Portuguese donuts. Best eaten straight from the grease and piping hot, traditional malasadas are served covered in sugar, though at Leonard’s, you can also opt for malasadas stuffed with chocolate, custard, haupia (coconut milk custard), or the flavor of the month (it was pineapple in February, macadamia nut in March). Expect lines out the door at Leonard’s, but don’t let them deter you. The malasadas are totally worth it.
Another Hawaii must-have is shave ice (note: it’s called shave not shaved ice). To be clear, shave ice and snow cones are completely different things. Shave ice is about one million times better than snow cones, because of the way that the ice is shaved very, very finely with an incredibly sharp blade so that the ice actually absorbs whatever flavoring is added to it unlike with a snow cone where it all drops to the bottom. It’s very common in Hawaii to eat your shave ice with ice cream or red beans at the bottom. I’ve never tried the beans, but the ice cream is a fun choice because it gets all the leftover syrup and thus makes for a tasty treat. As for flavors, I like to stick with the tropical choices, including liliko’i (Hawaiian for passion fruit), mango, and pineapple. Probably the most popular shave ice shack in Hawaii is Matsumoto’s on Oahu’s North Shore. I’ve had it and can vouch for it, though this time we tried Aoki’s and I would rate it just as highly.
I’m a big fan of seafood, especially when it’s served in a casual atmosphere, and it’s hard to get much more casual than the shrimp shacks and trucks dotting the islands. The biggest collection of them that I am aware of is in the vicinity of Kahuku on Oahu. These “restaurants” keep things simple with a small menu that basically consists of shrimp served in a couple different ways (with butter and garlic sauce, with cocktail sauce, with a hot and spicy sauce). They’re delivered in a styrofoam container with the common two scoops of rice, and there’s really nothing to do but dive in and get messy. The shrimp are ridiculously huge and delicious. The only negative is how long the wait can be. This is not fast food; waits of 40 minutes are not uncommon. But, hey, you’re in Hawaii. This is island time. Get used to it. As for recommendations, I’ve tried both Giovanni’s Aloha Shrimp Truck and Romy’s Kahuku Shrimp Shack and can vouch for both of them, though if you’re a fan of spicy, I’d suggest Giovanni’s. Their spicy shrimp live up to the billing.
I’m a sucker for farmer’s markets, so of course, I made it a point to seek one out in Hawaii and I’m definitely glad I did. We happened to arrive in Po’ipu on Kauai on the day that the farmer’s market was being help in nearby Koloa. As we pulled up, I thought that there must be something else going on in the park where it was held, because of the overwhelming number of people, but nope, people just take their farmer’s markets seriously on Kauai. (There was a gate keeping people out until the designated start time, and there was a huge crowd waiting at it, so to get the good stuff, get there early.) The market wasn’t huge, but the offerings were delicious, with a special emphasis on the tasty fruit grown on the island. We loaded up with apple bananas (my favorite!), oranges, grapefruit, papaya, pineapple, starfruit, and tomatoes, all of which were awesome. I highly recommend seeking out a farmer’s market while in Hawaii. Each island seems to have a near-daily farmer’s market, though they rotate locations (every Monday in one town, every Tuesday in another, etc.).
Sadly, I didn’t get photos of the other food we enjoyed in Hawaii, but on our list of favorites was the ahi tuna (just barely seared; so good), Kalua pig, saimin and other noodle soups, the Korean barbecue, and the sweet bread rolls.
Other restaurant recommendations include:
Nico’s on Pier 38 (Honolulu): Casual seafood right on the pier. Get the ahi.
Pizzetta (Koloa): The pizzas are really delicious. Pasta servings are large and tasty as well.
Scotty’s Beachside BBQ (Kapa’a): The brisket sandwich was really good, and I loved the baked beans. Nice view as well.
Duane’s Ono-Char Burger (Anahola): We only had the milkshakes were (nice and thick), but I’ll go back for the burgers next time.
Kona Inn Restaurant (Kona): If you’re looking for a splurge, I enjoyed the classic Hawaii atmosphere here. The view is good too, and the ahi was excellent. If you opt for the mud pie, share it with the whole table. It’s ridiculous.
Kona Brewing Co & Brewpub (Kona): Fun atmosphere, good beers, and good pizzas.
Bite Me Fish Market & Grill (Kona): Right in the marina, Bite Me does the seafood proud. Picnic-table eating with a view of the water is teh way to go. (Don’t opt for a salad here. They’re very sad.)
Thai Thai (Volcano): Food options in Volcano are extremely limited, so if you’re staying in Volcano bring food with you or be prepared to drive down to Hilo. Or you could just eat all your meals at Thai Thai, where we found excellent curries and stir fries.
*Be sure to check out other Photo Friday fun at Delicious Baby.