If you’re visiting the islands of Hawaii, there’s a ton of delicious, local dishes you should try!
Hawaiian cuisine today is a truly wonderful mix of flavours passed down from its original indigenous Polynesians and its diverse immigrants who came to the islands from places like Japan, the Philippines and Portugal.
Generally, traditional Hawaiian cuisine tends to feel pretty Asian-influenced. Proximity to the ocean also makes seafood an obvious Hawaiian staple! And some of the most popular and comforting Hawaiian foods are so simple—deriving from pretty cheap ingredients.
My visit to Maui, Hawaii was the first time I’d ever been to the islands and as such, I was on a mission to try as much traditional, authentic “Hawaiian food” as possible during this trip.
I’m excited to share some of the dishes I tried, popular, comforting local Maui food, to help you plan your eats for when you visit the island!
Watch my video blog to see some of the Maui food porn in action:
Or read my more expanded Maui food. recommendations below!
Note: you can likely find some form of the dishes recommended on any of the Hawaiian islands, but this list contains just what I tried in Maui.
Travel Guide: 12 Local Foods to Eat in Maui, Hawaii
Okay we’re starting with my beloved Hawaiian spam. If you had followed my social media posts during this trip, you’d know that I ate spam every single day during my week-long visit to Maui. I am obsessed with spam—a canned, pork luncheon meat that is actually pretty divisive. Many people think spam is gross but that’s because they think it’s just this weirdly pale pink-coloured meat that plops out of a can. Even straight out of a can I think spam is pretty good (I have fond memories growing up with my dad eating spam with rice and in sandwiches), but cooked/fried spam is the best way to eat it!
Hawaiians actually eat more spam than in any other place in North America (and I mean I think safe to say the world?) They consume 7 million cans per year with a population of only 1 ish million! In Hawaii, you’ll also find spam flavours that you can’t get anywhere else! In Canada we have regular, bacon, and there’s a low-sodium spam can, but in Hawaii you’ll find jalapeño spam, black pepper spam, garlic spam, cheese spam, tocino (Filipino sausage spam), Portuguese sausage spam, chorizo spam, bacon spam, and much, much more. This is why I unofficially call Hawaii the Land of Spam!
Spam was popularized on the islands during World War II because it was an easy way to feed lots of soldiers for cheap. It spread to locals from there. In Hawaii, the most popular spam preparation you’ll find is a “spam musubi” (pronounced moo-soo-bi).
Spam musubi is fried spam stacked with rice and wrapped in seaweed. It’s in almost any store on the islands. It’s kind like when you see taquitos or chicken tenders at 7-11. Spam musubi would be the quick, hot food item you can pick up for cheap at convenience stores in Hawaii—perfect for snacking, breakfast and lunch (and a bedtime snack for me! lols). Though personally I’ve always thought the rice to spam ratio on spam musubis are never right (half rice would be ideal!)
Spam is extremely high in sodium, fat and calories, so it’s not really good FOR you, but man, is it good for your taste buds… ha!
To get your spam fix in Maui, I recommend you visit:
- The Olowalu General Store near Lahaina for hot spam musubi (they have regular, teriyaki, jalapeño and with fried rice. The fried rice was my least favourite but damn the teriyaki and jalapeño was fantastic). I also ppicked up. a few spam musubis from ABC Stores in Maui.
- Da Kitchen in Kihei for deep fried spam musubi. This is one of the most unique spam preparations you’ll find on the island. I loved the texture and flavour. And it was once featured on the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Food show, lol.
- McDonalds for a Spam, Eggs and Rice “Locals’ Breakfast.” Seriously!! McDonalds in Hawaii has a special breakfast menu featuring spam, eggs and rice (and you can add Portuguese sausage) and it is really good (well, the spam, rice and sausage is, the egg is just okay).
- Grandma’s Coffeehouse near Haleakalā (upcountry) for a Spam and Hash breakfast (it’s called the ‘Bulls Eye’ and it features two eggs over easy with corned beef hash, sliced spam, rice, and ketchup). We didn’t try this on our trip. but my friend Chris did on his, and LOVED it.
- Foodland or Safeway grocery stores to stock up on your own cans of flavoured spam. We bought 16 cans for the trip home and my only regret is that we didn’t get more, lol.
- Lineage in Wailea for delicious housemade spam musubi!
2. Loco Moco
A Loco Moco is another traditional Hawaiian comfort food that has humble roots. The Loco Moco is said to have been created at a restaurant on the Big Island in 1949 as a dish to feed hungry teens cheaply. A plate of rice topped with a hamburger patty, egg and loaded with gravy resulted in a truly delicious and filling Hawaiian plate lunch that can now be found in restaurants across all the Hawaiian Islands. Sometimes the gravy is slathered on top. Sometimes it’s placed underneath the egg. Sometimes the beef patty is fish or shrimp instead. There’s different variations of a Loco Moco but the beef patty is the original, and I think the gravy is what really distinguishes one Loco Moco from another.
We loved the Shiitake Mushroom Gravy Loco Moco from Joey’s Kitchen at Whaler’s Village in K’aanapali/Lahaina, which featured Maui Cattle Co. ground sirloin. It was so delicious that after we had it for dinner one night, we went back for breakfast the next day. I also tried the Loco Moco from Ono Kau Kau which is also in Lahaina, and found, while it satisfies the Loco Moco craving, the gravy there wasn’t as good as the one at Joey’s. (Though later I’ll talk about what dishes at Ono Kau Kau are delicious!)
I am told that Hawaiian cafes called 808 Grinds are where the most delicious Loco Mocos are but we didn’t get a chance to try it there during our trip so if you go, let me know if you’d recommend it!
Poke is a Hawaiian cuisine that is perhaps most recognizable on the mainland. Over the last few years, poke shops serving delicious, diced raw fish have been popping up all over North America including in my hometown of Edmonton (where there are two poke places Ono Poke and Splash Poke).
There’s all sorts of raw fish and seafood that can be used for poke, and now there are also cooked proteins that get included with poke offerings too, but tuna and salmon are probably the most popular fish used for poke.
During my Maui visit, I tried poke at grocery and liquor stores! Yes, a liquor store! That sounds weird, but that’s how common and popular poke is in Hawaii, that there are just fresh poke counters inside your local grocery and liquor stores. Isn’t that neat? And they’re priced by the pound (so for instance, I’d get a half pound of poke at each stop).
Back home I typically eat poke as a full meal with rice but in Hawaii I found I ate it more as an appetizer, just fish no rice (so I wouldn’t get too full and could eat more things LOL).
Please try poke from Tamura’s Fine Wines and Liquors, Foodland, and Safeway!
All the poke I tried from these stores were deliciously fresh and the sauces flavourful. The Foodland by the airport in Kahului has a separate seafood business operating their poke counter so I’d encourage you to try poke at a Foodland elsewhere and a Foodland in Kahului to see if you note any quality differences. My poke server there told me they hear from people all the time that the Kahului Foodland is the best poke they’ve had (but of course the server for the poke counter I was buying from would say that lol).
I’d rank the Safeway poke and Foodland Kahului poke fairly evenly in terms of texture and flavour, then Tamura’s, but I think that’s only because the Tamura’s poke I picked had less sauce lol. They were all still really good.
One day during our condo stay at the Aston at the Whaler K’aanapali Beach (which we LOVED by the way, more on that in another post), I ended up getting poke as part of our spread for a home-cooked dinner but since we also had some other dishes for the meal, I saved the rest of the poke in the condo fridge and had it the next morning for breakfast! I have really fond memories of sitting out on the condo balcony and having poke for breakfast in Hawaii, listening to the ocean waves crashing in.
4. Fresh Fish/Seafood
Speaking of fresh fish and seafood, eating any fish dish in Hawaii should taste incredible because the fish is RIGHT THERE!!
The baja fish tacos at Fish Market Maui in Lahaina were also awesome. This Fish Market also serves poke and a ton of other fresh seafood. When we went, there was a huge crowd!
I also really enjoyed the Seafood Lāwalu from the Tiki Terrace restaurant at the lovely hotel we stayed at for part of our trip (K’aanapali Beach Hotel, also more on that in another post). This dish is a seafood smorgasbord featuring lobster, fish, scallops and shrimp served over porcini mushroom risotto, baby bok choy greens with white truffle oil. It is one of the most popular dishes on the Tiki Terrace menu and a perfect meal at the open-air restaurant. Dine between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. for complimentary Hawaiian music and hula show!
Really though you’ll find fresh fish on almost any restaurant menu on the island, so wherever you go, give the fish a try! We also bought fish from the local grocery stores to bring back to our condo (during the condo part of our stay) for home cooked meals. Swordfish in particular was our condo go-to fish. Delicious.
In Hawaii there’s also something called Lomi Lomi Salmon which is a popular side dish of diced tomatoes, cured and salted salmon and onions. Lomi Lomi has a kind of salsa texture, and is usually found at luaus (but can also be found accompanying some other traditional Hawaiian dishes). It’s named after the movement used to create the dish—a massaging ‘lomi’ kind of motion used to mix and mash the salmon.
The last thing I’ll say about seafood in Maui is that when you are looking for great seafood on this island, a lot of people will probably rave and recommend Mama’s Fish House in Paia as *the* restaurant you need to try. That was probably the #1 recommendation we got when we asked for restaurant suggestions before our trip. Heck, even the Jonas Brothers have eaten there (lol).
Although we didn’t actually enjoy our overall experience at Mama’s Fish House (service we thought was poor for the price that you pay), I did think the fish was pretty good and it was really cool that most of the fish served is actually caught fresh by restaurant employees! Menu descriptions include “mahi mahi caught near our deep ocean buoys by Donniven Polendy” and “onago caught by Kyle Hashizaki in deep reefs near Kaupo” for example. That’s really neat!!
We did really like the Mama’s Stuffed Fish with lobster and crab, baked in a macadamia nut crust, as well as the Ahi, Ono, and Mahi Mahi in Panang Curry, but wow was it pricy ($60 and $58 per plate that we had), and as I said, with service being poor we didn’t feel like the food and overall experience was worth the price. We were also tucked away in a lounge corner so we didn’t get the impressive ocean view that most people who dine here get (so if you do WANT to try it, be sure to make a reservation).
The beachfront at Mama’s Fish House is gorgeous though, and if you’re in the Paia area, definitely worth a stop to explore the grounds (whether you choose to dine there or not… I would say your $120+ USD could be better spent on food elsewhere!)
5. Noodles (Saimin, Somen and Ike Mazemen)
There are some excellent noodle dishes in Maui! Our very first meal after we landed was at a popular local comfort spot Sam Sato’s in Wailuku for their saimin dry noodles and plate lunches. The plate lunches (which I’ll talk a bit more about later in this post) are good but the noodles are what you need to order!
The cold Somen noodle salad from K’aanapali Beach Hotel’s Grab N Go counter was filling and flavourful (and handy for, as the name of the counter suggests, grabbing and going!)
The cold Ike Mazemen black squid ink noodles from Star Noodle in Lahaina is absolutely delicious, and comes with blue crab, yuzu kosho and a taro bacon purée. This was quite possibly my most favourite noodle dish on the island!! I just kept tasting it even after the meal had long ended and it made me want more. And Mike had an awesome ramen bowl from here as well.
Finally, the garlic noodles from the Tin Roof in Kahului makes for a perfect lunch (to-go! Because Tin Roof is tiny and most people order to go, or grab a spot on the limited bench seating outside the building). At Tin Roof, we ordered “Chef Sheldon’s Combo” which came with roasted then deep fried pork belly, the garlic noodles, tomato onion lomi, ginger scallions, cabbage banchan, and chili oil. Excellent noodle texture, perfect topping and sauce combinations. I love in general how so much food in Hawaii feels simple and casual, but 100% delicious.
6. Pie, specifically from Leoda’s Pie Shop
Leoda’s Kitchen & Pie Shop is a beloved institution in Maui. It’s on the side of the road on your way in and out of Lahaina / K’aanapali so it can’t be missed. When you go to Maui, you must visit Leoda’s Kitchen & Pie Shop. They offer all sorts of homemade pies—regular size and minis, sweet pies like banana cream, key lime, strawberry, coconut cream, macadamia chocolate, apple crumble, berry, pumpkin, or savoury pies like mushroom, corn, carnitas pork, chicken and more.
Leoda’s also serves breakfast, lunch and dinner too! I had my very first seared ahi tuna eggs benedict at Leoda’s, an interesting breakfast dish that really makes the most sense in Hawaii, but unfortunately this was not my favourite eggs benny preparation. The pies are really the star here and what you should be coming for. We even came back a second time just for some pies to-go!
Leoda’s Pie Shop and Kitchen is also located next to the Olowalu General Store which is home to some of my favourite spam musubis on the island, and the Olowalu fruit stand and juice truck. It’s a great strip to spend some time at!!
7. Plate Lunch or Mixed Plate
In Hawaii, there’s a standard dish called a plate lunch or a mixed plate, which is essentially a plate with rice, some kind of meat/protein, and a salad. If there’s one protein it’s a plate lunch. If it’s two proteins it’s a mixed plate lunch.
My very first plate lunch in Hawaii was at Sam Sato’s, where I ordered the Combination (which came with spare ribs, char sui pork, marinated egg and chop suey vegetables). Before I arrived in Hawaii I had heard plate lunches were the ‘Hawaiian’ dish to have, but didn’t actually look into what it was in advance. When my plate lunch came out at Sam Sato’s, I realized that I’ve actually been having plate lunches my entire life and if you grew up in an Asian household, you probably did too. It’s a very Asian dish—rice with meat and vegetables. So for me, having mixed plates in Hawaii were quite comforting because it brings me back to the rice and meat plates my mom used to cook growing up. In fact the spare ribs and char sui pork plate I did have was very similar to a rice plate my mom used to cook on the regular. So it wasn’t a very exciting or different dish for us in that regard, but it was cool to see that actually our comfort foods are also similar to Hawaiian comfort foods.
These plate lunches (or dinners) are super simple yet super quintessentially Hawaiian. Typical plate lunches might feature pork or breaded chicken, or shrimp and fish.
During our trip we also had plate lunch at Ono Kau Kau in Lahaina, and a plate lunch at Da Kitchen which were both nice and filling! Like other Hawaiian comfort dishes, you’ll likely find plate lunches on almost any menu on the island.
During my Maui trip I learned about Malasadas, which are basically oval-shaped, deep-fried doughnut-like balls, dusted with sugar or cinnamon (typically), very popular in Hawaii but with roots in Portugal. They are sort of like French beignets or English fritters. You can get them with different fillings but traditional malasadas are filling-less, which is what we tried, specifically at the very cute LuLu’s Lemonade & Malasadas stand in Lahaina. This stand is tucked a bit in from the busy sidewalk on the main Front Street in the historic town. Here, the malasadas (like the lemonades) are made fresh to order and can be quite addictive. I don’t have *as much* of a sweet tooth though, so while I know a few people who told me they had malasadas almost every day of their Maui trips, I am glad to have tried it that day, but wasn’t disappointed we didn’t make it to another malasada stop. (Though we realized after we drove through the small town of Makawao in Upcountry (North) Maui afterwards, that we completely missed a very famous bakery the T Komoda Store & Bakery, known for its malasadas and other pastries.
9. Local Maui Beer
Maui is home to just two craft breweries: Kohola Brewery located in Lahaina and Maui Brewing Co. located in both Lahaina and Kihei. You can get either brand in grocery stores on the island (for Canadians especially, the concept of beer in grocery stores is always shiny and amazing because our grocery stores are liquor-less lol) or you can visit their brewpubs on the island. We went to the Maui Brewing Co. brewpub in Kihei and really enjoyed our beer flight, cocktail (Lei’d Lychee with Pau Maui Vodka, lychee liqueur, pineapple juice and lychee spray) and appetizer (crispy calamari with sriracha mayo, like, and furikake). Maui Brewing Co. in Kihei has a great big dining and patio space with lots of sun shining in. It felt like the perfect summer day on the patio.
Also the road to get to the brewpub is lined with beautiful Hawaiian trees so it makes for a great photo op spot too! (I don’t know what kind of trees they are specifically, I just know I haven’t seen there anywhere before, so I will henceforth call them Hawaiian trees lol).
10. Maui Pineapples
Did you know: pineapples have been grown on the Hawaiian islands since the early 1900s! This deliciously sweet, tropical fruit (one of my favourites!) aren’t native to the islands but Hawaii is where pineapple plantations were first created in the U.S. You’ll likely recognize the name ‘Dole’ (Dole Whip.. Dole Pineapples!) Well, Dole has been part of the North American pineapple industry since the very beginning (1901, reportedly). You can’t visit Maui (or any Hawaiian island) without eating Maui pineapples! They are plentiful at farm stands (like Olowalu’s) and luaus. You could enjoy some on your rented AirBnB or Vrbo patio or condo balcony (like how I like to enjoy my Hawaiian poke), and at the airport, you can get a pack of pineapples to take home with you too!
We didn’t get a chance to do a pineapple plantation tour (though the Maui Tropical Plantation did have some pineapples you could look at, but it wasn’t a feature/focus), so I’d love to do that on a return visit to Hawaii (I especially want to go to the Dole Plantation which is in Oahu!)
There’s a few different pork preparations to try in Maui. Kālua Pork is probably the most popular preparation—it’s the luau pig preparation and translates to ‘cooking in an underground oven’. If not at a luau, you’ll likely find kālua pork on plate lunch menus. We had kālua pork (among other all-you-can-eat dishes!) at Maui’s oldest luau, the Myths of Lahaina Luau at the Royal Lahaina Resort (this luau was an amazing, entertaining, and filling, complimentary evening we received as media guests courtesy of the hotel).
You might get pork in a traditional Hawaiian dish called Lau Lau which is shredded pork wrapped in a taro leaf, usually with some shredded fish as well. You can get Lau Lau as a plate lunch with rice and macaroni salad. You might get it with a side of a Hawaiian dish called poi, which is a purple, sort of gravy-like sauce made of taro root vegetable.
But our most favourite pork dish on the island was the Crispy Pata pork hoof at Lineage Restaurant in Wailea, which came with choke herbs, braddah tommy sauce, finadene onions, banana ketchup, and butter lettuce wraps. This dish was to die for (as was everything else we tried at Lineage, including Short Ribs (beef stew gravy, Pa’i’ai Cake, and Limu Verde), local banchan, kimchi dip, and Smoked Meat (sweet pork with guava jelly and piko onion). Lineage, a restaurant by Top Chef Sheldon Simeon, is a bit pricier a meal but unlike our experience at Mama’s Fish House, we were blown away with the incredible food and service (I could likely do a standalone blog post just about our experience at Lineage it was so wonderful!)
12. Hawaiian Shave Ice
One of the best ways to cool down in the Hawaiian heat is with shave ice! Like a snow cone (but NOT a snow cone, because snow cones feature crushed ice not shaved ice), this ice dessert is usually topped with sweet (often fruit) flavours like your typical strawberry, blueberry or banana, but in Hawaii also features some of their local fruit flavours like passion fruit, lihing, guava, coconut. Often you can add mochi, azuki bean or condensed milk to your shave ice as well!
We tried shave ice at Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice, one of the most popular shave ice stands on the island. Ululani has a shave ice guarantee where if you hit a piece of ice that is white (without a flavoured syrup), bring it up to the counter and they’ll syrup the spot up for free!
There are a few other foods we tried during our visit to Maui that were lovely—banana bread at the Hana Farms stand on our way to Hana Town on the Road to Hana, Maui Chips from the grocery store, Macadamia Nuts, and li-hing and lychee candies for instance, even Vietnamese pho which was pretty good at Pho Saigon 808 in Lahaina, but the above 12 are some of the more memorable ‘musts’ you should consider if you’re wanting a pretty Hawaiian food experience on the islands (specifically Maui).
I can’t wait to get back to Hawaii, to visit the other islands, try more Hawaiian cuisine—cafes, restaurants, grocery stores and find other local food gems! I absolutely love Hawaiian food and have been recreating dishes back home, but craving the food, weather and views since we’ve been back too.
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Don’t forget to watch my Video Blog to see some more delicious Maui food scenes:
Be sure to check out my other Hawaii Travel Guides:
- Tips for taking the Road to Hana (Blog + Video Blog)
- Guide to Instagrammable Walls of Maui
- 7 Things to Do in Maui, plus Where to Stay and Other Useful Tips
And stay tuned for my final Maui travel post on things to DO in Maui (because unfortunately you can’t JUST eat as your main vacation activity… lol). Luckily there’s lots to do in between your meals on the islands!