Hawaii offers food experiences that exist nowhere else in the world, from dishes based on foods eaten by ancient Native Hawaiians to plate lunches in which you can see the history of Hawaii, from postwar-era hole-in-the-walls where the only thing that’s changed is the prices to fancy dining rooms that spawned the birth of Hawaii Regional Cuisine. Asian food dominates, thanks to the state’s demographics (as of 2012, Hawaii is the country’s only majority-Asian state, comprising 56.9 percent of the total population). On Oahu, the most promising places to eat are often found in the most unexpected places. For the adventurous, eating here is like a treasure hunt.
Room Service from 50 Different Restaurants
You are not limited to the room service menu in your hotel room; Room Service in Paradise (tel. 808/941-DINE [941-3463]; www.941-dine.com) delivers almost a dozen different cuisines (from American/Pacific Rim to Italian to sandwiches and burgers) from oodles of restaurants to your hotel room. All you do is select a restaurant and order what you want (read the online menus or pick up one of the magazines in various Waikiki locations). You are charged for the food, a $7.25 to $8.25 delivery charge in Waikiki (more in outlying areas), and a tip for the driver. Both lunch and dinner are available; call in advance, and your food will be delivered whenever you want. Best of all, you can pay with your credit card.
Fix & Freeze Dinners
If you are staying in a condo or other accommodations with kitchen facilities, there is an alternative to eating out every night or slaving over a stove during your vacation, and its name is Dream Dinners. Dream Dinners, Niu Valley Shopping Center, 549 Halemaumau St. (tel. 808/373-1221; www.dreamdinners.com), is a "meal assembly kitchen," where you gather all the ingredients for your own heat-and-serve meals, using the recipes and prepared ingredients they provide. After signing up online and booking an appointment, you go through an assembly line choosing various fixings for your entrees. You can freeze or just refrigerate the meals and serve a gourmet dinner for a fraction of the cost of eating out. As of this writing, entrees (which included chicken with honey, garlic, and orange; lemon fish filets; arroz con pollo; lasagna; steakhouse sirloin; and risotto primavera) ranged in price from $5 to $7 per serving. The downsides of this great money-saver are that it's only best for groups or families (you choose 3-6 servings per dinner), it's located in Niu Valley (away from most visitor accommodations), and you need at least 1 to 2 hours to do your "shopping."
going local: Uniquely Hawaiian Eats
Talk to locals who move away from Hawaii, and these are the foods they miss. Everyone’s got their own go-to place and go-to dishes—people here could spend hours arguing over the best. Here are some of my favorites:
Poke--Ruby red cubes of fresh ahi (tuna), tossed with limu (seaweed), kukui nut, and Hawaiian chili pepper: Ahi poke (pronounced "po-keh") doesn’t get better than the Hawaiian-style version at Ono Seafood .
Saimin--An only-in-Hawaii mashup of Chinese-style noodles in a Japanese dashi broth. Join the regulars at the communal table at Palace Saimin, 1256 N. King St. (tel. 808/841-9983), where the interior is as simple as this bowl of noodles. Palace Saimin has been around since 1946, and it looks like it. (I mean that in the nicest way possible.)
Loco moco--Two sunny-side up eggs over a hamburger patty and rice, all doused in brown gravy. I love it at Liliha Bakery .
Spam musubi--Ah yes, Spam. Hawaii eats more Spam per capita than any other state. A dubious distinction to some, but don’t knock it before you try it. Spam musubi (think of it as a giant sushi topped with Spam) is so ubiquitous you can find it at 7-Elevens and convenience stores (where it’s pretty good). But for an even finer product, Iyasume Musubi’s, 2410 Koa Ave., #4 (tel. 808/921-0168), is the tops.
Hawaiian plate--Laulau (pork wrapped in taro leaves), kalua pig (shredded, roasted pork), poi (milled taro), and haupia (like coconut jello): It’s Hawaiian luau food, based on what native Hawaiians used to eat. But you can get it without the fuss at Helena’s Hawaiian Food , Highway Inn , and Ono Hawaiian Food, 726 Kapahulu Ave. (tel. 808/737-2275). (Sorry, I couldn’t pick a favorite for this one!)
Malasadas--Hole-less doughnuts, rolled in sugar, by way of Portugal. Leonard’s Bakery, 933 Kapahulu Ave. (tel. 808/737-5571), was started in 1946 by the descendants of Portuguese contract laborers brought to work in Hawaii’s sugarcane fields. I love Leonard’s malasadas dusted with li hing mui powder (made from sweet-tart plums).
Shave ice--Nothing cools better on a hot day than powdery-soft ice drenched in tropical fruit syrups. I go to Waiola Shave Ice, 3113 Mokihana St. (tel. 808/735-8886), for the nostalgia factor, but since you’ll probably need more than one shave ice while you’re in town, also hit up Ailana Shave Ice, 1430 Kona St. (tel. 808/955-8881), which offers a variety of homemade syrups from real fruit (a rarity).”
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.