Our Picks for Hawaii’s Best Eats

Grind: verb meaning to eat; see also pound

Grindz: noun meaning food
Broke da mout: the highest compliment one can give to a meal
Kanak attack: temporary paralysis brought on by pounding too much broke da mout grindz

Oahu is home to an incredibly diverse population, reflecting the waves of immigrants who came to the islands, first from other parts of Polynesia, and later from all over the world to work in the sugarcane and pineapple fields. Each of these groups contributed to the delicious melting pot that is the cuisine of Hawaii. Visitors and residents alike find plenty of culinary adventure throughout Oahu, From Polynesian poi to Chinese steamed buns to Japanese ramen to Korean bibimbap to Filipino pancit to Portuguese malasadas to Puerto Rican pasteles, we have taken every cuisine and made it our own. From the fanciest white-tablecloth establishments to the most casual mom-in-the-kitchen hole in the wall, there’s never an excuse to go hungry-or bored-wherever you find yourself on Oahu.

Looking for some suggestions to get you started on your culinary adventures? We asked a panel of experts, aka our co-workers, to tell us about their favorite Oahu eats. After all, who’s in a better position to know the best spots than people who live-and eat-here?

One Oahu institution that just about everyone agrees on is found on the North Shore: the famous shrimp trucks. While everyone seems to have their favorite spot, all agree that a dish of super-fresh, locally-raised shrimp is a must any time they visit the North Shore. Some of the places named by our experts include Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck, Romy’s Kahuku Prawns Shrimp Hut, and Lani’s Loco Moco (more on that later!) and Plate Lunch Truck. Garlic shrimp seems to be the favorite way to enjoy these tasty critters.

Another can’t miss all-star of the local dining scene is the culinary treasure known as loco moco. Originally invented to feed hungry surfers after an adrenaline-fuelled morning riding the waves, loco moco is a hamburger patty (or two) on a scoop (or two) of white rice, smothered in brown gravy and topped with a fried egg (or two). It’s sometimes accompanied by a scoop (or two) of mac salad. Surfing burns a lot of calories.


Loco moco fits into a broad category known as “local food.” These are the loved-by-everyone dishes brought by those generations of immigrant groups mentioned above. Other dishes in this category include teriyaki beef and chicken katsu, often served as part of a plate lunch alongside a scoop (or two) of white rice and a scoop (or two) of mac salad. Rainbow Drive-In is famous for their plate lunches. On the sweet side, fried dough called malasadas are wildly popular. Leonard’s Bakery in Kapahulu and Paalaa Kai Bakery in Waialua are both famous for their malasadas. And we wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t mention Spam musubi, affectionately known as the Hawaiian power bar. Available virtually everywhere, it’s a thick slice of Spam placed on a block of rice and wrapped with dried seaweed called nori. People swear by it.

What are some of our favorite places to get our fix of local grindz? Steve and Johann both love Side Street Inn. In West Oahu, Hauoli recommends Countryside Cafe, and Kapiolani Coffee Shop in Central Oahu. On the North Shore, she likes Papa Ole’s Kitchen. Aloha was kind enough to share her secret favorite place for local food. Called North Shore Grinds, it’s located in the Kaimuki neighborhood.


Local food should not to be confused with Hawaiian food, which is associated with the original Polynesian inhabitants of the islands. Probably the best known dish in this category is poi, the steamed and pounded corm (root) of the taro plant. Poi can be an acquired taste, which is why it’s usually served in tiny cups at commercial luaus. In recent years, there’s been an explosion in popularity on the US mainland and elsewhere of a Hawaiian dish called poke (be sure to pronounce it correctly: poh-keh). It’s cubes of raw fish tossed with seaweed and other seasonings that traditionally included kukui nuts and limu, a type of algae. Another Hawaiian staple is laulau, which is made from pork and fish wrapped in ti leaves and steamed in an underground oven known as an imu, which is also used to cook kalua pig, another Hawaiian favorite. Perhaps a bit more adventurous, but no less delicious, is squid luau. This is squid cooked with young taro leaves (called luau) in coconut milk.


The hands-down favorite for Hawaiian food among our experts is Waiahole Poi Factory, located in Kaneohe on Oahu’s Windward side. Closer to Waikiki, Haili’s Hawaiian Foods is Aloha’s favorite. Jim, our resident poke expert, recommends the to-go offerings at Tamura’s, with three locations around Oahu.

It’s been said a relationship is mostly two people endlessly asking each other where to go for dinner until one of them dies. In Hawaii, the question can easily be answered by Jerry’s favorite: Zippy’s. Many locations are open 24 hours a day, and with a huge menu and outposts all over the island, there is something to satisfy every craving.

List of Our Favorite Eats in Hawaii:

  • Side Street Inn
  • Giovann’i Shrimp Truck
  • Giovann’i Pastrami
  • Romy’s Kahuku Prawns Shrimp Hut
  • Lani’s Loco Moco
  • Rainbow Drive-In
  • Leonard’s Bakery
  • Paalaa Kai Bakery
  • Countryside Cafe
  • Kapiolani Coffee Shop
  • Papa Ole’s Kitchen
  • North Shore Grinds
  • Haili’s Hawaiian Foods
  • Tamura’s
  • Zippy’s