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Eat like a Local - Hawaii Style

Hawaii is  a very unique and special place.  It is a melting pot of different cultures and the food here is no different.  From the trendier asian fusion restaurants to the mom and pop local plate lunch shops there's certainly something for everyone.  In fact, there are so many excellent places it's going to be hard to narrow it down, especially since I love to eat.  Hopefully you're a big foodie too - so for all of you that enjoy a good bite, this one's for you.
~ Nicole (Best Day Ever Hawaii)


1. Shaved Ice

While in Hawaii, you have to have a shave ice.  It's a local staple and something that we grew up with.  Not quite like the snow-cones that you may be used to, a good shaved ice is very fine and will melt in your mouth.  Here in Hawaii we like to stuff our shaved ice with treats like ice-cream, azuki beans and mochi balls.  Try all three, it's delish!  Snow-caps are fun too, condensed milk on top that make your shaved ice a little creamier (as if you needed it to be sweeter), trust me though, it's to die for.  

My first Shave Ice shop recommendation is Waiola Shave Ice.  This place has been around forever, and there's almost always a little crowd and line - it's that good.  Waiola Shave Ice is located both on Waiola Street (the original shop) and now also right of Kapahulu Ave. in Waikiki on Mokihana Street.  

Waiola Shave Ice (2135 Waiola Street, Honolulu, HI 96826)

Or, if you're ok with a little drive, Ice Garden in Aiea is to die for.  I swear the same two ladies have been there for over 20 years, and here's the kicker, they barely speak English - but there are pictures of everything on the wall which makes ordering easy.  The Taro Milk shaved ice with ice cream and azuki is my favorite, the custard is also really ono! (ono - means delicious in Hawaiian).  

Ice Garden (99-115 Aiea Heights Drive, Aiea, HI 96701)

Lastly, there is Matsumoto's Shaved Ice on the North Shore in Haliewa.  This place is very popular and there are often lines around the block.  The shaved ice here is tasty and if in the area it's worth the stop. 

Matsumoto's Shave Ice (66-087 Kamehameha Hwy., Haliewa, HI 96712


2. Hawaiian Food at Helena's

Helena's Hawaiian Food is one of those restaurants that you walk into and you're taken back a hundred years.  It's not a fancy place, but if you're looking to try some authentic Hawaiian food there's no place better.  I'm going to skip to the point here and tell you exactly what to order - kalua pig, lomi salmon, poi, squid luau, pipikala short ribs, butterfish, fresh ahi poke and haupia. Oh - and rice too!  This gives you a little bit of everything so you can try it all and see what you like.  Try getting a little bit of each dish on your plate, this is the best way to eat Hawaiian food - ie. mixing the starches with the meats, a little bland (poi/rice) with a little salty (meat/fish) with a taste of the lomi salmon.  Haupia is just what you get for the sweet tooth after you gorge yourself with this meal.  Hawaiian food is certainly something different and not for everyone, but give it a try - you might fall in love.  I know I do every time I step into Helenas. 

Helena's is located on School Street about 20 minutes from Waikiki.  
Helena's Hawaiian Food (1240 North School STreet, Honolulu, HI 96817)


3. Korean BBQ

Hawaii has some of the best Korean BBQ joints around.  It's an excellent spot to pick up an easy to-go plate lunch (a plate-lunch is a styrofoam box filled with different meats, fishes, starches, rice and lots of vegetables).  The best part is that most Korean BBQ places have photo menus which should make ordering really simple.  In short, you pick your meat (or fish) then you then get to pick 4-5 vegetable dishes from the window.  Korean plate lunches are Healthy and Tasty - can't beat that!  Plus, it's probably something you've never tried before and something just about everyone loves.  I'd recommend  Peppas, Gina's or Yummys, but there are ton's of others - just search for the nearest Korean BBQ place on Yelp.  Try the Meat Jun, Fish Jun (meat or fish fried in a tasty egg batter with a yummy dipping sauce), the Korean bbq chicken is always a good choice too, macaroni and potato salad is the perfect not-so-healty-but-oh-so-tasty side dish - and don't forget to add on the fried mandu!


4. Liliha Bakery

An all-time favorite, oldie but goodie, Liliha Bakery has been around forever, They have an excellent breakfast menu and are open at all hours.  It's the perfect place to go after a late night of partying.  It is also the perfect place to stop in for a tasty snack. They are most famous for their Coco Puffs - a light puffed pastry filled with homemade chocolate pudding topped off with a macadamia nut chantilly frosting.  Once you've had one, you'll be dreaming about it forever and craving it at random unexpected moments. They melt in your mouth and are so addicting you'll find yourself eating more than just one even though you know you shouldn't.  Everything here is made from scratch and is delicious.  It's a mom and pop kind of place perfect for a small meal. Or just stop in to pick up some pastries - and don't forget to get a few coco puffs!

Liliha Bakery (515 N. Kuakini Street, Honolulu, HI 96817)


5. Get a Plate Lunch - at Rainbows Drive-In

Locals here love their plate lunches.  Generally a plate lunch will come with some sort of meat (or fish), rice, and macaroni salad.  I wouldn't say that they're exactly healthy, but they are incredibly tasty. Rainbow Drive in, located in Waikiki, has been around for over 50 years and has some of the best local-style plate lunches around.  Try the mixed plate, bento, hamburger steak or shoyu chicken and top it off with a strawberry icee float.  Feeling gutsy - try the loco-moco.  It's a rice plate topped with hamburger, a fried egg and then smothered in thick gravy.  It's seriously oh-so-delicious.  The best cure for a hangover and the perfect fill-me-up breakfast dish.  

Rainbow Drive In (3308 Kanaina Ave, Honolulu, HI 96815)


6. Haliewa Joes

I'm recommending Haliewa Joe's not because they have a 5-star menu, but because the atmosphere and view is something you won't find anywhere else.  The food is pretty tasty too, just not as fancy as some other places you'd find in town.  Haliewa Joes is a restaurant out in Kaneohe that sits facing the Ko'olau Mountain range.  When you dine here it is as though you are in a little paradise, off the beaten path and away from the hustle and bustle of Waikiki.  Pupus (or appetizers) are delicious and they have a nice open seating bar area.  Theres a dinner only section too and everything is open-air allowing you to really take the scenery in.  On weekend nights there is usually live music which makes the ambiance top-notch.  A great place to visit if you're looking for some place to relax and enjoy the evening outside of Waikiki with good views, great music and a tasty meal. 

Haliewa Joes (46-336 Haiku Road, Kaneohe, HI 96744)


7. Giovanni's Shrimp Truck

A pile of large sauteed garlic shrimp on top of a bed of rice - does it get any better? You can order lemon butter, garlic butter and spicy...  all are delicious.  Cooked perfectly, it is a simple and easy dish, but sometimes the simplest dishes are the best dishes - if you're a seafood and shrimp lover, you'll really enjoy this.  When out on the North Shore, definitely make a stop at one of the shrimp trucks.  Giovanni is amazing, Macky's is wonderful as well.  

Giovani Shrimp Truck
(66-472 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa, HI  96712)  http://www.giovannisshrimptruck.com/
Giovani's Shrimp Truck Yelp Reviews

Macky's Shrimp Truck
(66-632 Kamehameha Hwy, Haliewa, HI 96712
Macky's Shrimp Truck Yelp Reviews


8. Agu Ramen

Ramen noodles is something that locals here in Hawaii love.  I'm not talking about the 30 cent bags you see at the grocery store that you'd crack open and then microwave with water.  At Agu Ramen the noodles and broth are cooked for hours and made from scratch.  They are topped off with some of the freshest and tastiest toppings - including char siu, green onions, and even parmesan cheese.  My favorite is the Yuzu Jidori, but the Tonkatsus are delicious as well.  If you find yourself stuck in your hotel on a colder day (yes, it does occasionally rain here in Hawaii), definitely check out Agu Ramen.  Gomma Tei and Rockin Ramen are also fantastic.  

Agu Ramen (925 Isenberg Street, Honolulu, HI 96826)


9. Dim Sum in Chinatown

What is Dim Sum? It's small chinese appetizer-like dishes that come around on little carts for you to view, choose, and taste.  Think mini-fried won-tons, pork dumplings, fried taro balls, and eggplant dishes.  It's a fun and inexpensive lunch that is a little out of the ordinary.  Eating dim sum, is a wonderful and really experience. if you've never done it before. Not sure what to get?  Just take a guess and choose whatever looks good - dishes are usually less than $5 so you can choose a bunch of different things.  There are pics on the menu's so that helps a bit.  The best dim sum places are in Chinatown but you'll find a few at the Ala Moana mall as well.  

Try Jade Dynasty at Ala Moana Mall on the 4th Floor (http://jadedynastyhawaii.com/) 


10.  Okonomiyaki Chibo


Teppanyaki Okonomiyaki, or in plain english - Japanese vegetable pancakes, are absolutely fantastic.  Sounds strange, I know, but they are sooooo good!  Okonomiyaki is Chibo's signature plate and consists of a pancake-like dish made up of cabbage, mountain yams and a mix of whatever you choose from meats to shrimp to extra vege's, all topped off with a Japanese plum sauce, mayo sauce, seaweed powder and bonito flakes.  It's the strangest thing you've ever seen but oh-so-fun to watch them make right in front of you.  Plus, and you just have to trust me on this, everything is super tasty. They also do Yakisoba and other Teppanyaki dishes such as garlic sirloin steak, lobster tail and mahi mahi.  Teppanyaki is a style of cooking where the chef will cook the dish on a giant hot plate right in front of you.  It's really fun to watch and often they'll do little knife and fire tricks as they're cooking.  It's quite impressive and an art that only the best can do.  Food is excellent, ambiance fun, and it's in Waikiki - probably a hop and a skip away from your hotel.  Check it out you won't be disappointed. 

Okonomiyaki Chibo (2201 Kalakaua Ave, Honolulu, HI 96815

blueberry scones

11.  Cream Cheese Scones at Diamond Head Bakery

Made fresh every morning, Diamond Head Bakery has the best blueberry cream cheese scones.  They're usually hot if you come before 10am - and they're Huge!  I have dreams about them, seriously, they're that good.  If you're in the area, stop by and grab one, or two, or three.  They'll go perfectly with that morning or afternoon coffee. 

3158 Monsarrat Ave. Honolulu, HI 96815

acai-bowl- hawaii

12. Acai Bowls at Diamond Head Cove Health Bar

Hawaiian acai bowls are a healthy and refreshing treat on a hot day.  Acai, granola, bee pollen, strawberries, bananas, blueberries and honey - does it get any better? They have other options and variations but all are delicious.  Plus, it's right at the tip of Waikiki and probably just a short drive from your hotel.  Next door is Bogarts, another awesome place for breakfast.  Lines can get long there but their bagel sandwiches are worth the wait. 

3045 Monsarrat Ave #5, Honolulu, HI 96815