Hawaii Food – ONO!

You can find most of the food you’re used to eating in the mainland US, but there is also an incredible variety of food that you have probably never seen before or even heard of. When I walked through the Chinatown market, or the Filipino market in Waipahu, I was always amazed at the variety of foods there were to choose from. Local Hawaiian, Japanese, and Filipino foods are easy to come by, and you are sure to find some new favorite foods as you sample them over your time in the islands.

12 Must try foods in Hawaii:

Ahi Poke – This is a local dish with chunks of freshly caught raw yellow-fin tuna, tomatoes, garlic, sesame seeds and oil, shoyu (soy sauce), pepper water, chili pepper, sea salt, inamona (relish made of roasted and mashed kukui nuts), and bits of limu (seaweed). There is Limu Poke that has a lot of seaweed, and there are about ten different styles of poke you can try in the islands. I used to wake up early on Saturdays when I lived on Oahu, and drive all the way up to Kahuku Superette to get their poke. I thought it was the best on the island.

Seared Ahi – I really love tuna. I could add “Ahi on the grill” too, but I won’t. If you get the chance though, throw some ahi and marlin on the grill on a skewer with some tomatoes, and douse it liberally with shoyu as it cooks. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Seared ahi is best done at one of the Roy’s restaurants on the islands. On Maui it’s located in Ka’anapali on the 18th hole of the Ka’anapali Kai South golf course. This is my favorite restaurant for nearly everything they made. Each month I made sure Roy’s got enough of my money, so they stayed in business!

Taro (Colocasia esculenta) – this is a very popular paste that accompanies meals as a dipping paste usually. Taro chips are also made. It is almost like purple potato. The taste is mildly sweet or even tasteless when made into the paste.

Mahi-mahi (Coryphaena hippurus) – Called dolphin, or dorado. This is an excellent tasting fish that is common in Hawaii restaurants. A mahi-mahi sandwich is a must try. These fish are commonly speared by locals jumping off kayaks. I’ve seen this activity on the West side of Oahu a couple times.

Ono (Acanthocybium solandri) – Ono means “delicious” in Hawaiian, and it certainly is the best tasting fish I’ve ever had. The fish is called “wahoo” or “peto” more commonly. It is a type of Spanish mackerel, but without the harsh oil taste in the dark meat found in that fish. I had wahoo with walnut sauce in a great little restaurant on Kauai overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and I have to count that as among the best meals I have ever had in my life. Ono!


Lomi lomi salmon is a delicious Hawaiian food.

Now that’s a big bowl of Lomi-lomi! Copyright Gregg Tavares, Flickr.
Lomi Salmon by greggman is licensed under CC BY 2.0. Image may have been resized or cropped from original

Lomi Lomi Salmon – Small cubes of high grade salmon with Maui onion, tomato, and chili peppers.

Kalua Pig – If you’re in Hawaii, you might as well pay the fee and go see a Luau. There you will most definitely have succulent Kalua pig. Kalua in Hawaiian means, ‘to cook in an underground oven.’ Indeed, pit is dug, filled with sticks and the pigs are put in there to cook while the show goes on. They are pulled out for the feast. The pork is tender, soft even. It is stringy because it is pulled off in strings. It is marinated and comes with cabbage. One of the simplest, and yet most delicious meals in Hawaii. Don’t miss this if you’re a meat eater.


Opihi – These are cone shaped shells shaped something like the famous “Chinaman’s Hat” island on Oahu that stick solidly to rocks in the tide. You will only find them (alive) where the water is splashing them every so often to keep them wet and provide them with nutrients. They are scraped off with a flat-edge blade and put in a bucket. They can be eaten raw, and that was the only way I’ve ever had them. They are every bit as delicious as any raw shellfish I’ve ever had. I like them mixed in shoyu (soy sauce), sliced ginger, garlic, and something spicy, I think it was wasabi mixed into it. Delicious! (Ono grindz!)

Huli-huli Chicken – Grilled chicken cooked on a rotisserie (turned) and marinated in a mixture of brown sugar, ginger, and shoyu (soy sauce).

On the windward coast next to Waimanolo Beach is a place called Bellows Air Force Station. It’s a lovely beach and picnic area that I frequented a couple times each month. At the entrance to the park was a mobile huli-huli chicken truck. They served it with scoops of rice, shoyu, and a macaroni salad. Anyway, if you see a sign for it on the side of the road, get yourself some, it’s quite good.

Manapua – A steamed, oval shaped white bun with reddish meat paste filling inside. The filling can be pork, chicken, Kalua pig, yams, hot dogs or whatever else they want to throw in there. You can find it fresh at roadside stands, or frozen in the markets.

Dragon Fruit – Pink, roundish fruit larger than oranges and apples at their biggest. These have a lightly-sweet white or pink flesh with thousands of tiny seeds suspended throughout that are edible. The taste is similar to mulberries. This is one of my favorite fruits. My other favorite is next.

Rambutan – Pink, red, or green golf-ball sized fruit with fuzzy green tentacles covering the exterior. The inside is like a large grape with one seed in the center. These alien looking fruit grow on trees. The flesh is absolutely delicious like no other fruit I’ve ever had.

Other Foods

Of course you can have whatever fast food you usually do in the mainland, all the usual ones are in Hawaii too. Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut, KFC, etc. There are also a number of island specific restaurant chains that have sprung up. I treated myself to the calorie-filled grilled chicken at Jack in the Box every now and then.

If you live in Hawaii, then according to my survey of local residents, they spend on average around $250 to $500 per month on food per person. In a family, the costs per person were closer to $250. For singles, they seemed to eat out more often and spent closer to $500. I’ve said in previous articles that by myself I spent over $800, and probably closer to $1,000 per month on food. It’s one area I don’t attempt to save money!

Average Eating Out Costs Per Person in 2018

Average Hawaii breakfast cost?

Super cheap for $9. Average about $12. Tourists about $20.

Average lunch?

Super cheap for $10. Average about $15. Tourists pay around $20.

Average dinner?

Super cheap about $15. Average about $20-30. Tourist pay around $40 or more with drinks.