Jess Munday is a luxury travel designer and Traveloso’s resident Hawaiian travel expert. As a Hawaiian native, Jess takes you on a Hawaii private tour of her favourite food hot spots. Between the luxury hotels on Waikiki Beach and further afield in the far-flung pockets of this amazing Hawaiian island chain, there are mouth-watering treats for the best food lovers. Welcome to Jess’s exclusive Hawaii.
Food doesn’t just sustain us; it sparks joy and creates memories. I don’t know about you, but my stories abroad always have a headliner: ‘best hot chocolate’ in Paris, ‘best pizza’ in New York City, or ‘best bloody mary’ in Shanghai. So, let’s get you a few ‘ono’ ones of your own, ones the ‘kama’aina’ frequent. Without further ado, below are just a few of my favorite eats around Hawaii.
We’ll start on Maui and its infamous and dangerous zig-zagging road to Hana, not far from Hawaii luxury resort. Navigate carefully and be mindful of the speeding locals who tend to appear out of nowhere and take those blind corners on faith alone. You’ve been warned.
Da Best Huli Huli Chicken, as featured in Gordon Ramsey’s Uncharted, is hands down a Hawaiian staple. You’ll find them tucked under ‘easy-corners’ (aka tents) erected on a grassy patch on the ocean side of the road to Hana. With views of the incredible black sand beaches, this cash-only BBQ is a stop to make. Multiple families share the space and the chance to serve you a simple, overflowing plate of rotisserie chicken, slow-roasted, with sides of rice and mac salad (another Hawaiian staple). Huli means to turn, so throw the marinated chicken on the grill and slowly huli, huli, huli – you get it. The secret ingredient is wood—Kiawe wood, to be exact. Similar to mesquite, the smoke from the burning wood is where this specific flavor comes from and what sets it apart from the rest. Hungry yet? Let’s keep going!
Cafe des Amis in Pa’ia, Maui, serves a mix of Mediterranean, French, and Indian cuisine. The drinks range from smoothies to cocktails, with their mains a choice between sweet or savory crepes, wraps, and various curries. My personal favorite is the Butternut Squash & Garbanzo, Coconut Curry. Love. The serves are massive and irresistible. How to fit it all in comes down to pure determination. If your travel companions are feeling generous, share a few different curries to max out your taste buds, and top it off with a fabulous crepe for dessert. And don’t forget the Chutney!
Poke. It’s not a place; it’s a way of life. Poke is a Hawaiian-style bowl of fresh seasoned fish in the raw. Poke bowls are pretty popular these days. I frequent at least three cafes in a 10km radius near my home in Noosa that make poke bowl creations. In my humble opinion, they tend to be more salad than poke. In Hawaii, it’s 99% poke. Any day of the week, we head into our local grocery store to the poke bar. Similar to the deli or cheese section in shops in Australia, you’ll find an exciting variety of poke-stuffed containers, from the spicy sriracha-mayo salmon to the original tuna serve. If you’re driving around the islands and need a hit, pop into shops like Foodland, Times, or Safeway. You can’t go wrong!
Fun facts about poke, it’s usually made with ahi tuna, soy sauce, scallions, and sesame oil. The word poke (poh-kay) is Hawaiian for chopped bits of raw fish marinated, and we serve it with rice and vegetables. Bon appetite!
Oahu is Hawaii’s third largest island, where most holiday-makers will arrive from overseas, taking their first breaths of the warm, humid Hawaiian air. Known as The Gathering Place, Oahu is home to Waikiki, Honolulu, Pearl Harbor, and the iconic Diamond Head. The luxury hotels on Waikiki Beach are filled with cafes and restaurants to entertain that special foodie in your life. But let’s swing over to the east coast of Oahu and taste the other side of paradise.
Buzz’s Original Steak House On the beach of Lanikai, Kailua, since 1962. Old-world charm meets laid-back island life with a strict dress code of ‘no tank tops after 4:30 pm’. It’s one of our family traditions to dine here whenever we are home. Whether it’s just a quick bowl of chilled ceviche after a long hot day at the beach or date night, we find a way to fit it in. Ever heard of pupus or a pupu platter? It simply means starters, an appetizer, canapé, or hors d’oeuvre. Starting with Buzz’s Pupus menu, appetizers range from sweet-chili beef spring rolls to escargot. The steaks are cooked to perfection, and you can’t go wrong with the delicious surf n turf! Treat yourself to a sumptuous feast and full bar while listening to the gentle crashing of the ocean waves tucked away from the hustle of Waikiki.
Adela’s Country Eatery. A ‘plate lunch’ in Hawaii is simply a takeaway order. As far as I can remember, it’s usually delicious BBQ beef or Chicken with two scoops of rice and macaroni salad. This is true and more at Adela’s Country Eatery in Kaneohe, where the selection of Plate Lunch is top-notch. What sets this up-and-coming take-away-only eatery apart is its modern creations, like its Ulu Noodles with Alfredo sauce. These are specialty noodle bowls. With an angle on sustainability, their mission is to use local Hawaiian produce like ulu (breadfruit), taro (a potato-like root), and sweet potato to create fresh, made-in-Hawaii noodles instead of the usual imported flour-based noodles. It’s homegrown and home-made, and if food could ‘go viral,’ these noodles bowls would catch fire. Call ahead with your order as they are not fast food; instead, it’s a made-to-order system, guaranteeing freshness.
Cruising along the coast to the North Shore, away from the luxury hotels on Waikiki Beach, you’ll work up an appetite watching the big wave surfers risk life and limb trying to catch a bomb, the perfect wave. Surely the next stop would be the picturesque little town of Haleiwa. We like to start at Killer Tacos and then do a short circle-back for the world-famous Matsumoto’s Shave Ice.
Killer Tacos, North Shore. No, tacos are not a native Hawaiian delicacy. But there’s something about filling your belly with a burrito stuffed with Hawaiian kalua pork, beans, and rice as you hang out at the North Shore that feels right. Their selection of Killer Pupus is less of an appetizer and more of a full meal. So, what’s not to love? It’s all delicious, and the heat level can be fine-tuned if desired, which takes us across the street to a favorite local dessert to chill the burn.
Matsumoto’s Shave Ice, North Shore. The original, family-owned shop in Haleiwa, Matsumoto’s General Store and Shaved Ice, is a monument to the island’s rich history. They are loved by locals and visitors of all ages. The not-so-secret-secret is the scoop of vanilla ice cream at the base of the bowl, hidden under the flavored ice, soaking up the syrup and bringing it back home. Be sure to pick up a retro souvenir t-shirt after the sugar hits. The vintage t-shirt is the perfect bit of flare to flaunt at your next home BBQ.
If you are taking your own Hawaii private tour, you may pass Giovanni’s Shrimp Shack on the famous Kamehameha Highway in Kahuku and Haleiwa. They say they were the original shrimp shack before all the copy-cats and hand to heart, that’s how I remember it. You may not say this is luxury Hawaii however, this is heaven to the taste buds and quintessential Hawaiian shrimp. But the tricky thing was, that truck was always moving. The Shrimp Shack was a converted bread truck that would park at various locations along the road to the North Shore. Eventually, they settled in Kahuku and built a covered pavilion for guests to sit back and enjoy. The menu hasn’t changed much, with just three types of shrimp plates. I’m a creature of habit and always get the Shrimp Scampi plate. The lemon butter and caramelized garlic from this plate stay with you. I’ve always said one day I’ll try the ‘No Refunds’ hot n spicy plate, but I’ve never been brave enough. The menu warns the customer that it’s so spicy it will ‘hurt so good.’
It’s easy to find Giovanni’s between the shrimp farms and Turtle Bay Resort. Just look for the White food truck with graffiti covering it. A little secret, the graffiti is signatures and messages from their customers from all over the world. I hear they still keep a cup of pens near the window in case you feel the need to leave your mark after they’ve left theirs.
Mitch’s Fish Market Honolulu. Back on the west side, tucked behind the Honolulu International Airport, casually hidden amongst the old industrial sheds, you’ll find a surprising hole-in-the-wall fish market and sushi bar. Here three master chefs prepare truly authentic Japanese Sushi using high-quality imports from Japan and New Zealand. It’s the perfect blend of fine dining meets accessibility. So, whether you need a moment of relief from the humidity, relaxing in the sushi bar’s air conditioning, or are sadly heading to the airport after an amazing time at one of Hawaii luxury resorts, Mitch’s sushi bar is the answer.
Speak like a local:
Ono (Oh-no) = delicious
(Kah-mah-eye-nah) = local residents
Da = The
Huli (Who-lee) = to turn, as in Huli Huli Chicken, a way to cook chicken
Poke = to slice, cut crosswise, chunk. We don’t say it unless we talk about food
pupu = appetizer. Usually, a Pupu platter of finger foods before the actual eating begins
Ulu (ooo-loo) = Breadfruit
Taro = potato-like root, usually purple when mashed and called ‘poi’. Not universally loved by visitors. It’s an acquired taste.
kalua (kah-loo-ah) = to cook in an underground oven, called an Imu
Kamehameha = literal meaning: ‘the very lonely one’ or ‘the one set apart.’ Historically it is the name of the king who united the islands of Hawaii under his rule. First of his name.