For those wondering what’s island life like: it’s plate lunches in Hawaii!

What are plate lunches in Hawaii?

Plate lunches are essentially what they sound like. They’re a serving of lunch, usually with some meat, rice, and side dish. They’re really common at local restaurants and their intended purpose is as a to-go meal for the beach. Some common ones are chicken katsu and rice, Hawaiian BBQ chicken and rice, teriyaki chicken and rice. You get the picture. Almost all plate lunch dishes have macaroni salad on the side. It’s not healthy, low fat macaroni salad. It’s loaded mayonnaise and macaroni. It’s good stuff, and it’s really popular throughout the islands. White rice is a very common grain, if it’s not rice, then it’s noodles. That’s the common tendency for local plate lunches. It’s like local fast food. Fast food on the mainland are places like Chipotle and Cane’s. You can get a la carte items. Whereas in Hawaii, a majority of fast food menus are “plate lunch options.” If you’re not getting plate lunch, then you’re probably getting a poke bowl instead.


Another unique thing about plate lunches is that you can really see the blend of the Hawaiian and Asian cultures in them. For example, you’ll get the chicken katsu plate lunch or the Hawaiian BBQ chicken, both of which are a blend of local styles. The local style tends to use more fat and oil, but it’s local nonetheless. For example, Mac Salad (a typical side dish for plate lunches,) are loaded with mayonnaise, making it very fatty. But, it’s good, and you can’t deny that!

chicken katsu

Chicken katsu and rice is another awesome combo, highly recommend.

Why we love plate lunches in Hawaii

Plate lunches offer a lot of food for their price and are the iconic beach meals. People load up their plate lunches and beer and then head to the beach. It’s a common thing. They’re hot, transportable, and are equipped with silverware for consumption. They’re ready to go! It’s convenient to pick one up on the way to the beach. They’re also a way to have a full meal with every component without sitting down in a restaurant. Most fast food places, we think of single items like a burger or burrito but plate lunches in Hawaii got the whole thing for ya!

what's island life like

This is a classic example of a real Hawaiian plate lunch!

“Ono” plate lunches in Hawaii

Ono is the Hawaiian word for “yummy.” So when we want to say that something tastes good we say “so ono!” When you’re talking about plate lunches with locals, you might hear someone say that, so now you know what it means! You might even see businesses advertising their plate lunches with “ono plate lunches” and you’ll know what it means.

Hawaii food we love

Poke bowls are similar to plate lunches in that the whole meal is encompassed in one plate.

Tradition of plate lunches in Hawaii

Plate lunches have been around since the beginning of time. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a plate lunch. When I was in first grade and we would go on field trips, they would order us all plate lunches for lunch on the field trip. We’d put our order in if we wanted a spam bento, surf n’ turf, etc. There were many different options. The typical place to get them is Zippy’s, but there are so many local restaurants around the island that have them! Plate lunches are just part of tradition on the islands.

what's island life like

There’s that mac salad I was talking about!