A Hawaii Food Bucket List (From a Local)

A Hawaii Food Bucket List (by a Local)

Because Hawaii is a place of such diverse cultures, it became inevitable that elements of these cultures would overlap – particularly in the food.  Because of it, quite a few new dishes have been created, so, if you are ever in Hawaii, you should be sure to try them.  Without further ado, here is a Hawaii food bucket list (from a local).

What Are Some Foods to Try in Hawaii?

Spam Musubi

Everyone makes fun of Hawaii locals for eating Spam. Well wait until you try it in musubi form.  A musubi is traditionally a spam and rice roll wrapped in seaweed, but recently I’ve seen other items added to it, like egg, avocado, and even smoked eel.  While locals prefer to get their musubis from 7/11, you can also get some from the nearby ABC stores.

Fun fact: Spam is actually made in Minnesota.


Passion (fruit) Orange Guava Juice.  It’s delicious.  You can find it at almost any grocery store on the island. Plus, there’s a good chance that it’ll be served at a bunch of local breakfast and brunch spots too.

array of poke from Foodland, a local Hawaii grocery store


There’s been a poke craze happening around the world for the past couple of years, so everyone *thinks* they already know poke before they come to the islands. But that’s simply not true, and let me explain why.

Poke on the mainland (a.k.a. the continental U.S.) is essentially unseasoned, cubed raw fish with a bunch of toppings. That’s not authentic poke. The poke in Hawaii has the cubed raw fish sit in a nice marinade to absorb the yummy flavors — and there are no toppings, because all of the deliciousness is in that sauce!

In addition, poke in Hawaii is ALWAYS served on rice. You can find places that’ll put it on brown rice or hapa rice (half white, half brown rice), but it’s usually white rice. (There’s no option to put it on salad or zucchini noodles like I’ve seen outside of the islands).

All of that said, you’re probably wondering where you can have the best poke experience in the islands, and I’ve got you covered. Here are some of the best Waikiki and Honolulu poke spots, the best Oahu poke spots, and the best Maui poke spots to get you started.

Punaluu Bake Shop Bread

Hawaiian sweet bread from Punaluu Bake Shop may be a little harder to find, but trust me, these loaves of heavenly dough are worth it. Baked at the southern-most tip of the United States on the Big Island of Hawaii, the Punaluu Bake Shop sells sweet bread in a variety of my flavors – my favorites being traditional, guava, and taro. 

If you’re on the Big Island, pop into the bakery for the freshest loaves and rolls around. But if you’re on one of the other islands, check your local Costco, Sam’s, or Island Country Market.

Poi Mochi Donut foods you can only eat in Hawaii

Poi in Some Form

Poi is a traditional Hawaiian food made of pounded taro. It has an almost ooblek-like consistent, which isn’t my personal favorite, which is why I like it when the poi is baked into a treat, like Hawaiian sweet bread or mochi donuts.

That said, if you want to try traditional poi, you’re in luck! You can find poi at just about any Costco, Foodland, or Whole Foods in the islands. And if you don’t want to grocery shop for it, head to Waiahole Poi Factory on Oahu for a taste and maybe even a poi pounding demonstration.


The most famous places to get malasadas, a type of Portuguese donut, in Hawaii is either at Leonard’s Bakery or Pipeline Bakeshop & Creamery. These treats are definitely a local favorite worth trying. I would recommend the original, the cinnamon sugar, or, if you are feeling a bit adventurous, the li hing mui one (a bright red sweet and sour powder from pickled plums).


Manapua are meat-filled steamed buns.  Heavily influenced by the Chinese dish cha siu bao, the local manapua dish has incorporated a bit of Hawaiian flavor as well. 

two bottles of adoboloco hot sauce Hawaii food bucket list
Photo Courtesy of Adoboloco

Hawaiian Chili Pepper Water

Hawaiian chili pepper water is less of a food and more of a seasoning. Back in the day, ancient Hawaiians used to combine water, sea salt, and Hawaiian chili peppers to add a little kick to their dishes. Today, that seasoning is known as Hawaiian chili pepper water.

Over the years, many variations of this spicy seasoning have popped. The Hawaiian hot sauce from Kauai Juice Co. — one of the best Kauai restaurants, by the way — has tried to keep things as close to the original version as possible. Then, there’s the popular Maui-based Adoboloco hot sauce brand, which has come up with a dozen variations on this ancient Hawaiian spice.

Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck (Oahu-specific)

Many lists will tell you any North Shore shrimp truck will do.  That is not the case.  You must go to Giovanni’s. (I promise this is not a sponsored post! I just think it’s THAT much better than it’s competitors.)

My go-to is always the garlic shrimp – and I recommend that for everyone. For those of you who are going to walk up to the shrimp truck and order the extra spicy shrimp to seem extra macho, don’t do it.  I have never met a single person who could tolerate the spicy shrimp.  But we all know that’ll make you want to order it more.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Haupia in Some Form

Haupia is a coconut-pineapple pudding dessert that you definitely need to try.  Ted’s Bakery has some in pie-form for ya, ready to go!

If you’re looking for more of Hawaii’s sweet treats, this Hawaii desserts article is a fantastic read.

Dole whip Hawaii food bucket list

Dole Whip

I’ve noticed that on the mainland (also known as the continental United States), many ice cream places are trying to pass off their version of the dole whip.  But nothing will compare to the original dole whip of the Dole Plantation of Oahu.

Pro Tip: if you have a local friend, have them come with you.  They can get a bit of a discount on this delicious treat for ya.

Loco Moco

Loco Moco is composed of a scoop of rice topped with a hamburger patty, a fried egg, and gravy.  Don’t knock it until you try it (hopefully at L&L).

Kalua Pig

This typical luau food is a must-have.  If prepared traditionally (which is still sometimes done), the whole pig is actually cooked in a hole in the ground. While it’s quite the extensive process, the result is worth it.

To get the best kalua pig in the islands, be sure to visit one of these fantastic Hawaiian restaurants in Hawaii.

Huli-Huli Chicken

You’re most likely to find huli-huli chicken at a school fundraiser or a random grill on the side of the road.  Because the term “huli-huli” was trademarked, you aren’t about to see this teriyaki-infused, constantly-turned, grill-flavored chicken on any menu, so keep your eyes peeled for those alternative options.

Shave ice foods you can only eat in Hawaii

Shave Ice

Just about everyone else on the entirety of the internet will tell you go to go to Matsumoto’s Shave Ice.  But I think that place is a Hawaii tourist trap.  The shave ice there is a little too sweet even for my taste – and I have a serious sweet tooth.

Instead I recommend Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice, because they use all-natural fruity flavors and a smooth ice texture. As a matter of fact, Ululani’s is my favorite shave ice spot anywhere in Hawaii! For now, they have locations on Maui and the Big Island.

*Pro Tip: It is shave ice.  Not shaved ice.  If you are going to go around calling it shaved ice, you better get used to iced cream too.  Any place that says shaved ice isn’t making it right.


I just recently came to realize that saimin is a local dish.  It’s kind of like a combo between Japanese ramen, Chinese mein, and Filipino pancit. And surprisingly this combo works quite well.

Li Hing Mui

Li Hing Mui is kind of like a sweet, spicy, sour plum powder. You put it on shave ice, malasadas, and fresh or dried fruit. Honestly, you have to try it to understand how good it is.

Fresh Guava

To get a whole guava, you’ll have to go to either a local farmers market or a Foodland (a local grocery store).  Usually, you’ll get to buy some pink guava, but on occasion you may come across some white guava as well.

lilikoi mochi ice cream Hawaii food bucket list

Mochi With and Without Ice Cream

I found out that many mainlanders think that mochi is mochi ice cream.  In other words, the ice cream is a part of the mochi. No, that is not the case.  There is mochi without ice cream, and it is bomb. You can easily buy some at Foodland.

If you’re committed to mochi ice cream, Bubbies is the brand to get. They used to have a brick-and-mortar storefront in Hawaii Kai, but they expanded beyond belief, so now you can find boxes of their stuff in frozen sections of many grocery stores (even ones on the mainland!)

That said, I feel like there are two things that determine how fantastic Bubbies mochi ice cream is: the temperature that it’s stored at and how long it’s been in the freezer. When Bubbies mochi ice cream gets too cold, the flavors are dulled and the mochi is just hard. And when its been in the freezer too long, the mochi on the outside of the ice cream gets a weird texture.

To combat this issue, I splurge a little bit and buy Bubbies mochi ice cream from Whole Foods by the each. They store it at the perfect temperature, and, since they buy such small batches, it never tastes old!

Homemade Butter Mochi

You have to have some local connections to get this one, but there is a third kind of mochi that’s absolutely fantastic.  Butter mochi.  Instead of the sticky mochi texture, butter mochi is almost pound-cake like.

Without a doubt, butter mochi is best if it’s homemade.  I’ve tried buying it at local grocery stores or farmers markets, but it’s just not the same cake-y, butter-y flavor.

If you don’t have a friend who makes fantastic butter mochi, head to Kahuku Farms, one of the best restaurants on the North Shore. There, they have lilikoi (passion fruit) butter mochi that’s absolutely fantastic. Just be sure to order some before they sell out!

Something Lilikoi-Flavored

Lilikoi means passion fruit in Hawaiian.  And you can’t leave Hawaii without getting something lilikoi-flavored.  Lilikoi shave ice, lilikoi mochi ice cream, lilikoi cheese cake, or if you go to fancy restaurants, sometimes they’ll add lilikoi sauces to their dishes.

Honolulu Cookie Company’s Fruit-Flavored Cookies

Yes, I know, fruit-flavored cookies sound odd.  But trust me on this one.  Where else are you going to be able to try pineapple, guava, or mango cookies?  And these Honolulu Cookie Company cookies also make a great souvenir to take home.

Acai bowl topped with apple banana slices, macadamia nut granola, and lilikoi butter from Kahuku Farms

Locally-Grown Acai Bowl from Kahuku Farms 

For some reason, many people hold the misconception that acai bowls originated in Hawaii.  While this is not the case, Hawaii is the prime climate for growing acai berries.  So while you’re here, why not have an acai bowl made from locally grown acai berries?

At Kahuku Farms, they do just that, topping the acai mixture off with some tasty granola and tart lilikoi butter. It’s absolutely delicious, so it’s no wonder that Kahuku Farms is one of the best restaurants on Oahu. And don’t forget to take a stroll around the grounds, where you can see the acai trees growing!

Apple Bananas

These miniature bananas are so much sweeter and smoother than normal bananas. They are a must-try while you are on the islands. Find them at just about any grocery store or farmers market. Even if you don’t, the vast majority of banana-using menu items in the islands use apple bananas rather than “normal” bananas.

*Tip: Unlike mainland bananas, if there are small brown spots on the peel of apple bananas, the inside should still be unaffected. As a matter of fact, when there are little brown spots, the apple bananas are at their best!

Mauna Loa Macadamia Nuts

Not only do Mauna Loa macadamia nuts make a fantastic souvenir, they make a tasty (and filling) snack to try while you’re on island.  They have tons of fun flavors, from Kona coffee to mango chipotle to honey sriracha to Maui onion and garlic.  My personal favorite is the honey roasted macadamia nuts.

Local Foods to Try in Hawaii 100% Kona Coffee

100% Kona Coffee

In all honesty, 100% Kona Coffee should’ve made it onto the first list.  But since I’m not a coffee drinker, I didn’t think to add it.  Grab some from a local grocery store to take home or stop by a local coffee shop, like Island Vintage Coffee, for a taste.

While many visitors assume that most coffee in Hawaii will be 100% Kona coffee (or at least 100% Hawaiian coffee), that’s not the case at all. Be sure to carefully read either the menu or the bag (depending on the context) to make sure that you’re getting the good stuff.

Lomi Lomi Salmon

Lomi lomi salmon is a dish typically found at luaus (Hawaiian feasts). It’s basically a mixture of diced, raw salmon with diced tomatoes and onions.

Hawaiian Hurricane Popcorn

Instead of putting extra butter or cheese powder on popcorn, many locals choose to put the Hawaiian Hurricane topping on it instead. This mixture combines Japanese arare (small rice crackers) and nori (seaweed) flakes with the usual buttery topic for a completely different popcorn experience. The crunchy, salty topping makes for a one-of-a-kind popcorn eating experience.

Local Foods to Try in Hawaii Hawaiian Honey Big Island Bees

Hawaiian Honey

I’m a bit of a honey fanatic.  Whenever I see a new type of honey, I buy it (assuming it’s not some absurd price).  Despite the dozens of different types of honey I’ve tried – from avocado to Australian to sunflower to Swiss to ginger – the ohia lehua blossom honey from Big Island Bees is my absolute favorite. 

While once upon a time, Costco had this big ol’ jar of Big Island Bees ohia lehua blossom honey for sale for a great price, that’s no longer the case. Instead, think of it as a splurge, which you can buy from the Big Island Bees website or from various foodie and souvenir stores dotted throughout the islands.

Fresh Lilikoi

Lilikoi is the Hawaiian word for passion fruit. When you’re searching the island for some fresh lilikoi (trust me, it’ll be quite the struggle), you have to call it “lilikoi,” not “passion fruit” (most people have no idea that both terms refer to the same fruit – here are more local words you need to know before visiting Hawaii). 

If its passion fruit season, your best option for trying to find lilikoi is at a farmers market – Kailua Farmers Market and Kakaako Farmers Market both seem to have consistent lilikoi finds during the season. But if you don’t find any there, go hiking on the Maunawili Falls Trail, one of the easiest hikes on Oahu, and pick some! (Do note that as of 2024, the Maunawili Falls Trail is closed for restoration.)

Mochiko Chicken

Mochiko chicken is kind of like an Asian spin on fried chicken.  The chicken is typically coated in mochiko (rice flour), soy sauce, garlic, ginger, sesame seeds, and green onion before it is fried. You can often find some at local grocery stores, like Foodland or Island Country Markets, or on the occasional restaurant menu.

Here’s a recipe from Foodland, a local grocery store, if you want to make it at home.

But What If I’m Not Coming to Hawaii Any Time Soon? How Can I Try These Hawaii Food Bucket List at Home?

Want to try some of these foods while you’re at home? I HIGHLY recommend purchasing  Maui local, Alana Kysar’s cookbook, Aloha Kitchen. In it, Kysar documents all of the recipes that Hawaii locals love! Written by one Hawaii local, and recommended by another – how much better could this Hawaii cookbook get?

Do you have any more items to add to this Hawaii Food Bucket List?  Write them below in the comments!

Did you like reading this?  Pin it for later!

A Hawaii Food Bucket List (From a Local)
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  1. I’m all about the spam. Was just in Maui recently and somehow didn’t get any the entire trip. I legit made us stop at Foodland so I could grab some before we had to go return the car and go to the airport, ha.

    1. I know, right?! I actually cut a few items of this list because it was getting way to long lol.

  2. A food bucket list! There’s so many things I want to try like Mochi, POG, Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck, Dole Whip, Loco Moco and Shave Ice! I’m a huge foodie and I love trying out local stuff when I travel!

    1. Yeah it’s quite the interesting dish. I didn’t even know it was a local thing until just a couple of months ago!!

  3. Wow what a selection of weird and wonderful foods! I did not see hardly any of these when I visited Hawaii. To be fair it was a long time ago…. so, perfect excuse to visit gain and feast on all those treats you’ve recommended 🙂

    1. Oh yeah, for sure! You can always find another great excuse to come visit Hawaii again :).

  4. This is the best thing ever!! Hawaii is a top bucket list for me and all yoru suggestions are going in my mouth!! YUM!

    1. LOL glad that you loved it so much!! And yes, you should definitely find a way to make it to Hawaii!

  5. I’ve never been to Hawai’i!! *insert crying face emoji here* Oh my days, the food makes me wanna extra go now. You know, all this while, I’ve been referring to it as “shaved ice”…whoopsies! Lol. As for the spicy shrimp…girl, in my country, there’s a soup aptly named “peppersoup” and I can assure you that it ain’t sweet. If I survived that from childhood till today, I can handle Hawai’i spicy shrimp. Lmao. This post is mouth-watering!!!!!

    1. You should try to make it here one day!! And lol if you survive Giovanni’s spicy shrimp, PLEASE let me know 🙂 !!

    1. Thank you! And lol I guess I did focus on the sweet stuff – there’s probably a few more savory things to try that I forget about because I definitely love sweets :).

  6. Some of these sound so strange!!! I’ve heard about the Hawaiian obsession with spam, but I just don’t understand, ecspecially is sushi form!! LOL. But some of the other things I could definitely get behind, like the sweet bread and that shrimp truck!

    1. LOL I guess they would sound strange to someone who’s not local. I think spam musubis are delicious, but it’s a 50-50 shot that someone who visits will like it (in my experience).

    1. Lol that’s the goal (well, and it to get you to try some of the foods eventually 🙂 ).

  7. I now really want to order the spicy shrimp ???? Haha. What a great list! Almost all of them are new to me, but will definitely be trying them out when I finally make it over!

    1. We have so much more! I’m happy that I was able to expand your horizons a bit.

  8. I dream about going back to Leonards. I mean melt in my mouth malasadas. We loved Oahu and look forward to returning to Hawaii for the all the mentioned food

  9. My travel itineraries are usually guided by food, if I’m ever lucky enough to go to hawaii is going to be no different, these foods looks amazing!

    1. Ooh mountain apples are so good! Thanks for reminding me, Laronna! They’re so hard to find that I forgot about them, but, if you’re lucky, you might be able to find them at a farmer’s market.

  10. I love coconut candy. I don’t know that it’s specific to Hawaii but I first had it on Maui. It’s melt in your mouth delicious!

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