Food in Honolulu: 14 Best Food Items and 6 Special Restaurants

The capital and the largest city of Hawaii, Honolulu flanking the south shore of Oahu is the gateway to the United States and the capital city of Hawaii. From the famed crescent beach in Wakiki neighborhood to the volcanic crater of Diamond Head, the historical Pearl Harbor bearing the attacks during World War II to the snorkelling hotspots of Hanauma Bay –There are lots to explore in Honolulu. However, nothing can match the magic of this ‘Sheltered Bay’ than its multi-cuisine food journey.

The nickname, Crossroads of the Pacific is perfectly apt in respect to the food in Honolulu as here you will find a fusion of Japanese, Polynesian and post-war American cuisine. If you think the specialties of Honolulu are only limited to pineapple juice, Hapa food and luau food, you need to visit the best restaurants, as well as the local shacks where you can taste the food with eastern and western flair.

Enjoy a laid-back vacation in this tropical paradise with the local drink and food specialties, no matter whether you are a hearty foodie or a health-conscious light eater. Here are the best food items to look for:

14 Best Items of Food In Honolulu

1. Malasadas

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Although a deep-fried doughy delicacy from Portugal, Honolulu has been famous for its hole-less doughnut since 1953. Made from scratch daily, the special dough, creamy filling or sugar coating can tantalize your tastebuds. The haupia or coconut flavored one is a must try.
Where To Get It: Leonard Bakery
Cost: USD 2.72

2. Li hing mui

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Also known as the sweet and sour powder, these sweet treats are available in restaurants, streetside bakeries and supermarkets. The different flavored powder is prepared from pickled ground plum skins, which is sprinkled on baked goods, candies, fruits and cocktails. It is a speciality from China during the 1900s.

3. Poi

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What makes these glazed golden-fried doughnuts so special is the violet starchy filling made of taro root. The squidgy texture is from the fermented root that is baked properly before pounding.
Where To Get It: Kamehameha Bakery, Liliha Bakery, The Ala Moana Poi Bowl

4. Shrimp Plate

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While traversing through the graffiti-adorned outpost of Hale’iwa, you will find several food trucks selling crepes and prawns. With the local people standing in queue, finding a table can be tricky, but you will love the shrimp scampi platter that has thick garlic coating and is served with rice.
Where To Get It: Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck
Cost: USD 14

5. Shave Ice

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On a scorching summer day, the shave ice can be the best cold food in Honolulu and it can be tasted right after tasting the shrimp from Giovanni’s. Sourced from Japan, this cool item was brought to Oahu by the immigrants arriving in Honolulu for work at the sugar plantations. It is served on a plate or in a conical paper container. You can choose different toppings like mocha ball, azuki beans, condensed milk and ice-cream. The Matsumoto rainbow combo made from lemon, strawberry and pineapple with condensed milk on the shave ice is a treat to watch, and to eat!
Where To Get: M Matsumoto, Monsarrat Ave Shave Ice (for fresh fruit-based organic syrups), Waiola Shave Ice

6.  Spam Musubi

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Sourced from the time of World War II, Spam Musubi and many of its fusion dishes like Spam sushi, Spam Wontons, Spam Teriyaki etc have been popular among the locals. A fried Spam slice is pressed into a sticky rice block and sealed with a seaweed strip. This luncheon meat speciality has even acquired a special place in the Spam Festival.   
Where To Get: 7-Eleven, Masubi Café lyasume
Cost: As low as USD 1.55 for 7/11 Teriyaki Spam Musubi

7. Saiman

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Although a nutritious and simple noodle soup specialty, Saiman is famous in Hawaii for its ramen egg noodles, fish cake, spring onions and thin Spam fingers –all dipped into light soup broth. Being served since the 1960's, it is even available in cup-size if you are full.
Where To Get: Rainbow Drive-in

8. Traditional Luau

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Enjoy a feast on the oceanfront with performance at Waikiki Pink Palace adjacent to Mai Tai Bar while sipping libation and tasting Kalua pig off the buffet table. You will be taken through a down memory lane journey with the Hawaiian culture through the show that is emceed by a 1968 television personality famed for the Hawaii Five-O cast. The Royal Mai Tai, which is sold in nearly a hundred thousand, is a must try.
Where To Get: Aha’aina Luau at The Royal Hawaiian

9. Hurricane Popcorn

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A perfect go-to food in Honolulu, the popcorn snack is made from seaweed flakes or Nori and is tossed in melted butter. The Japanese rice crackers are added to it and baked in the microwave.  
Where To Get: The Royal Hawaiian

10. Mai Tai

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The most instagrammable picture from your trip To Hawaii will be with a glass of Mai Tai and the Mai Tai Bar being the original home to this iconic adult beverage can be your best spot. Relax on the beach with the sweet and strong flavored Mai Tai made of almond, rum and citrus topped with a paper umbrella and fresh fruit chunks.
Where To Get: The Mai Tai Bar at Royal Hawaiian Hotel

 11. Haupia

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For sweet food in Honolulu, the aromatic white desert made from the coconut milk can be a great option to try. This custard can be soft like pudding or firm like jello. Many restaurants and bakeries bake this item into pies and you can even see it as topping on white cakes.   
Where To Get: Sweet Revenge Bakery

12.  Lomi Lomi

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The Lomi Salmon is a must try dish for those who love fish items. It is served traditionally as a side dish or salad at luau feasts. Chopped raw salmon is massaged by hand with diced onion and tomatoes to prepare this dish.   
Where To Get: Seafood markets of the city, for example the Yama’s Fish Market

13. Kalua Pig

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Also known as Luau Pork, Kalua Pig is very popular in any Hawaiian feast and it was once reserved for the royalties and head chefs. Sea salt is rubbed around the pork, wrapped with leaves and then cooked for over 12 hours in the imu or underground oven till the meat gets tender and juicy enough to be shredded.  
Where To Get: Helena’s Hawaiian Food

14. Poke

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Poke or Poke Bowl contains raw ahi tuna cubed and smothered in sauce that is served with rice as sides. However, many restaurants have now combined this dish with different fishes like shrimp, sardine and octopus or added jalapeno poppers for that tangy hot taste.  
Where To Get: Paina Café, Ono Seafood, Alan Wong’s (for Avocado Salsa Stack and Chopped Ahi Sushimi)
Now that you are aware of the special dishes to try in Honolulu, there are hundreds of restaurants, local joints and bakeries to try those items. Here are the signature places where you can taste the best food in Honolulu:

6 Restaurants To Get Special Food In Honolulu

1. Rainbow Drive-in

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Famous for its convenient location near the entrance of Waikiki, Rainbow Drive-in offers hearty portions of plate lunches. The founder with roots from Japan had come up with the concept about sixty years ago for working class customers.
Special Food: Boneless chicken platter with macaroni salad (pasta in egg mayo) and white rice

2. Skull & Crown Trading Co

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Enjoy cocktails served in the porcelain skull and have a fruity yet fiery taste to tantalize your senses. Team it up with the three signature rums namely in-house cinnamon syrup, fresh grapefruit and lime juice and spicy John D. Taylor Velvet Falernum.

3. Wicked HI Café

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The sourdough waffles made from a mixture of bee pollen, water and flour are fermented for over thirty hours. It contains honey, eggs, vanilla bean and Italian flour to get that chewy caramelized brioche texture with pearl sugar bits sprinkled above. Choose your toppings like whipped cream, fruits, egg, cheese or bacon.

4. The Daley

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For the best smash burgers that remain juicy inside and crunchy outside, visit The Daley where the patties are smashed with a spatula end on the grill. The beef is topped with an American cheese slice, dijonnaise, diced pickles, diced onion and it sits on the potato bun.

5. Sunset Smokehouse

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For Texas food in Honolulu, check out Sunset Smokehouse where central Texas meat is smoked upward for fourteen hours. The brisket slices are crispy with charred fat edges and the dry rub is juicy from the slow heating.

6. Karai Crab

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For locals and tourists alike, Karai Crab has been serving garlicky shellfish bowls for over eight years. Choose Karai special Cajun seasoning or garlic butter, choose spice level according to your palette and add the snow crab legs. During Happy Hour, you can get garlic noodles, chicken wings and various beverages.   

Whether you visit the Mai Tai bar for cocktails or upmarket Azure for seafood delicacies, Surf Lanai for Hawaiian and American food or Royal Hawaiian Bakery for banana bread, the food in Honolulu will stay with your memory for long. If you have tasted some special food or visited a restaurant offering unique food items, let us know in the comments.

This post was published by Rachana Jain

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