Golden beaches, lush landscapes, excellent surf and mastery of the good, barefoot lifestyle aren’t Hawaii’s only accomplishments. These beautiful Pacific islands also host delicious gastronomic experiences. It’s all thanks to its luscious island ingredients (fresh seafood, tropical fruits) and influences from its Polynesian roots as well as China, Japan, the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Portugal.
On Oahu alone, great restaurants, roadside eateries and food trucks abound not just in Honolulu, Hawaii’s largest city, but also in the communities and small towns that pepper the island. There are many spots to scratch off your foodie bucket list, but here are five of them to start.
You and your belly WILL get lucky at this predominantly Japanese restaurant in the northern section of downtown Honolulu. Lucky Belly gets the lines and the long waits, but trust us when we say that every dish in this place is to die for. Match them with a nice, modern ambience and drinks to boot, and you’ve got yourself an unforgettable feast worth every waiting minute.
The ticket here is to come for dinner, order a number of things off the menu and then share, as you’re going to want to sample everything. the pork belly bao, lobster shumai and scallop cone-sushi are great appetizers to start. Follow those up with the miso-braised pork belly, the bi bim bap and the Lucky Bowl. 50 N Hotel St, Honolulu
Don’t let Rainbow Drive-In’s kitschy, diner al fresco look fool you. While it might be hard to find confidence in this joint because of its chosen aesthetic, trust the thousands of travelers and locals that have praised its down-home food. This counter service place is a Honolulu icon, thanks to its comforting Hawaiian dishes.
There are many plates and lunches to choose from, but you might start with the mixed plate, which includes BBQ beef, fish, boneless chicken and sides of rice and macaroni salad, so you get a bite of a few things. Or get one of the special plate lunches that are only available on certain days. You might just understand what “Polynesian Paralysis” feels like. 3308 Kanaina Ave, Honolulu
Helena’s Hawaiian Food
If you really want a Hawaiian food institution, then you need to make a trip out to the neighborhood of Liliha, Kapalama where Helena’s Hawaiian Food has been serving up some incredible home cooking for more than 64 years. For traditional Hawaiian food in a simple, traditional eatery setting, this is the place to go, even if you have to wait in line behind locals and other tourists.
Get a bit of everything and dine in family-style. Dishes to try are the Pipikaula short rib, Kalua pig and luau chicken. Or you might get Menu D, which includes the pig and short ribs plus the Lomi salmon and luau squid. Brave the poi, which is a bit of an acquired taste. For dessert, try the Haupia. Oh. Bring lots of cash. 1240 N School St, Honolulu
Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck
Seeing as shrimp is a big thing on Oahu, especially on the North Shore, there are a number of shrimp trucks and eateries everywhere. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you might end up at a truck or joint that will overcharge you for good enough shrimp dishes. Make a beeline for Giovanni’s in Haleiwa to ensure an excellent shrimp feasting experience.
Try the super garlicky shrimp scampi, served with two sides of rice and a smothering of garlic lemon butter sauce, and the jumbo garlic aloha dog, also served with rice and butter sauce. Or if you’re brave, take on the “No Refunds” Spicy Shrimp challenge. Take everything “to go” and have an impromptu picnic at the nearby Hale’iwa Beach Park. 66-472 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa
For a bit of a Portuguese flair and desserts you’ll be dreaming about for weeks, Leonard’s Bakery is a must stop. This spot located east of Waikiki made its name baking the warm, sugary, fluffy deliciousness that are the Malasadas since 1953. These Portuguese donuts are the stuff of dessert legends and just the ticket to top off that hearty Hawaiian meal, if you still have space, that is.
Consume these heavenly pastries while fresh and warm, and try the different fillings: custard, chocolate and haupia. While there, try the other goodies they make. 933 Kapahulu Ave, Honolulu
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