If you’re like me, half the thrill of a Hawaii trip is indulging in the island’s delicious cuisine. Sure, palm tree-lined beaches, towering waterfalls and sunrises atop 10,000-foot volcanoes are great. But make sure you balance things out with Hawaii cheap eats like loco moco, garlic shrimp, banana bread, spam musubi and macadamia nut pancakes.
My latest journey to Hawaii in March came aboard the Star Princess cruise ship and the itinerary called for one day each on Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island. We rented a car on each island to give us the flexibility to see the sights and eat the eats that we wanted. I highly recommend doing this if you like to go your own way.
And now, say mahalo to 15 quick bites that’ll make your Hawaii trip a tropical food paradise.
1. Malasadas at Leonard’s Bakery in Honolulu
Locals and tourists alike flock to Leonard’s Bakery, located on the outskirts of Honolulu, for the pipin’ hot hole-less Portuguese doughnuts known as malasadas. Fried just right on the outside, warm and airy on the outside, sugary all around, and sometimes filled with custard, haupia (coconut) or other specialty flavors (up to you), the malasadas definitely warrant the occasionally long lines that form inside and outside Leonard’s.
2. Macadamia nut banana pancakes at Boots & Kimo’s in Kailua
My first bite of the scrumptious macadamia nut pancakes at Boots & Kimo’s came in 2007, and I’ve been plotting my return ever since. It’s all about that macadamia nut sauce and crushed macadamia sprinkled on top. Pair the pancakes with the excellent hash browns and a side of Portuguese sausage, and drift into bliss.
3. Dole whip at the Dole Plantation in Wahiawa
When you think Hawaii, you think pineapples, so why not stop at the island’s pineapple mecca, the Dole Plantation? Located smack dab in the center of Oahu, the Dole Plantation makes for a good drive-by between Honolulu and the beach towns of the North Shore. There are all sorts of family-friendly pineapple-related attractions here, but we came for the classic Dole Whip (essentially pineapple soft serve), and we conquered.
4. Garlic shrimp at Big Wave Shrimp Truck in Haleiwa
Oahu’s North Shore is home to some of the world’s most renowned surfing spots and shrimp trucks aplenty. Hit the beach, then stop by one of these street-side meals on wheels and scarf down a plate of super tasty garlic shrimp, like this one from Big Wave Shrimp Truck.
5. Matsumoto Shave Ice in Haleiwa
Another North Shore classic, Matsumoto Shave Ice deals in sweet, colorful, Instagram-ready icy goodness. Lost in the voluminous menu of flavors, I opted for “The Matsumoto”—a cool collage of lemon, coconut and pineapple syrups. Light and refreshing and only $3 for the small shave ice ($3.50 for the large)!
6. Spam musubi at 7-Eleven (multiple locations)
I love me some spam musubi—grilled spam and rice wrapped in seaweed—and my original plan was to hit up Musubi Cafe IYASUME for a sampling of their many varieties of the simple Hawaiian cheap eat. To my consternation, traffic and lack of parking in Waikiki derailed those best laid intentions. Running out of time in Oahu, we opted for Plan B: stop by the nearest 7-Eleven and remind myself that I only want to live in a place where the 7-Elevens have spam musubi.
7. Banana bread at Four Sisters Bakery in Wailuku
Who doesn’t crack an ear-to-ear grin when they are presented with a warm loaf of banana bread? On Maui, they make some of the best banana bread ever. Case in point, Four Sisters Bakery in Wailuku—a satisfying bite before or after a visit to nearby ‘Iao Valley State Monument.
8. Maui Fish’n Chips in Kihei
You can’t go wrong with the plethora of seafood options at Maui Fish’n Chips in Kihei. The fried mahi mahi, seared ahi tuna, fried shrimp and furikake fries are all standouts. And completely out of left field, don’t sleep on their coconut iced coffee. Yum!
9. Banana cream pie at Leoda’s Kitchen & Pie Shop in Olowalu
Leoda’s Kitchen & Pie Shop near Lahaina is a recommended stop to satisfy all of your pie cravings. We were torn between the Banana Cream and Olowalu Key Lime, but ultimately settled on the former. We were not disappointed at all. I mean, look at this display of banana cream heaven.
We shall return for the key lime pie.