The Best Food and Drink in Hawaii for 2019
December 20, 2018
Say ‘aloha’ to the best food and drink in Hawaii
The Best Food and Drink in Hawaii
You already know that Hawaii is wonderful. It is considered to be one of the dream vacation destinations for people all over the world. Films have been made dedicated to its lush flora, fauna, and oceanic landscapes. But for those readers who have not had the pleasure of taking time away from the mainland to visit Hawaii, or who are planning a trip and don’t know where to go, The Daily Meal has compiled a helpful list — part of our second annual guide to the best food and drink in every state.
Hawaii undoubtedly has some of the best seafood in the U.S. It can be found in amazing Hawaiian dishes like the Ono Burger at Paia Fish Market, the fish tacos at Coconut’s, and the shrimp at Giovanni’s food truck. Hawaiian fish even takes center stage when prepared Japanese-style at Sushi Sasabune, the best sushi restaurant in Hawaii. However, the same fish can be found cooked with Italian and Mexican flavors in Hawaii’s best Italian and Mexican restaurants Arancino di Mare and Alejandro’s, making you wonder whether you’re still in Hawaii at all or possibly transported to the Amalfi Coast or even a beach town in Baja California.
How do we know we’ve found the best of Hawaii? Over the course of the past year we’ve honored everything from its best hot dogs and brunch spot to its best bar and craft beer in our comprehensive and wide-ranging lists and rankings, compiled through extensive research and with input from a wide network of site contributors, bloggers, journalists, and chefs. We’ve compiled a series of epic individual slideshows celebrating the best food and drink in every state, and you can find the best food and drink in Hawaii ahead.
Best Airport Restaurant: Lahaina Chicken Company (Daniel K. Inouye International Airport)
Although named after the hippest city in Hawaii, Lahaina Chicken Company’s two locations are in Honolulu, one of which is located at the gates of Terminal 2 at the airport. Specializing in roast chicken and ribeye roast, the restaurant also serves fried chicken, pizza, stromboli, and pasta alongside classic sides such as veggies, green bean casserole, and mashed potatoes.
Best All-You-Can-Eat Deal: 100 Sails (Honolulu)
100 Sails is Honolulu’s buffet restaurant, offering five different buffets in total: breakfast, brunch, lunch, Hawaiian lunch on Saturdays, and dinner, ranging in price from $32 to $58. The buffet is heavily influenced by Chinese cuisine, but the native cuisine of Hawaii is certainly represented as well, and local ingredients are used whenever possible. Drop in for lunch on Saturday and you’ll encounter a Hawaiian feast of specialties including kalua pig, pork lau lau, chicken long rice, sushi, and haupia; on the dinner menu, look out for Lomi Lomi salmon, ahi poke, Chinatown-style steamed crab, Dungeness crab, salt and pepper Kauai shrimp, crispy garlic soy chicken, and the build your own ramen station. And like all great buffets should, this one has a carving station with prime rib au jus.
Best Bar: Bar Leather Apron (Honolulu)
Bar Leather Apron is an intimate lounge co-founded by Tom and Justin Park, whose cocktails are inspired by admiration for their favorite bars around the globe. Justin also works as the head bartender, and he is the only three-time winner of the Don the Beachcomber Mai Tai Festival “World’s Best Mai Tai” competition among many other accolades. His prize-winning concoction features raisin-infused El Dorado 5 Year, El Dorado 12 Year, coconut water syrup, spiced orgeat, ohia blossom honey, lime, absinthe and kiawe wood smoke. People rave about the Maris Garden, too. It’s made with Fords gin, fresh watermelon juice, fresh cucumber juice, yuzu, celery bitters and soda. Bar Leather Apron does accept walk-ins, but customers suggest reserving a space in advance, especially if you want to sit at the bar because there are only six seats.
Best Beach Bar: Beach Tree Bar and Lounge (Kailua-Kona)
Beach bars aren’t always about sand in your toes, and neither are they necessarily synonymous with buckets of beer. Watch the sun go down over the ocean in “barefoot elegance” at this breathtaking bar situated in the Four Seasons Hualalai on the exclusive Kona-Kohala Coast. Sip a tropical margarita and try to imagine if this were really your life. Fancy people need beach bars too, after all.
Best Beach Restaurant: Michel’s at the Colony Surf (Honolulu)
Dine at the most romantic restaurant in all of Hawaii, which is located at the foot of Diamond Head, giving guests breathtaking views of the ocean waves which can literally be heard from the tables. Michel’s menu is full of French-inspired cuisine such as filet mignon au poivre, lobster bisque, and yellowfin tartare, which you can enjoy along with live classical guitar to accompany your meal. Finish off with desserts such as local bananas with dark rum or cherries jubilee both flambéed tableside.
Best Beer: Imperial Coconut Porter, Maui Brewing Company (Kihei)
Maui Brewing Company’s Imperial Coconut Porter won the gold medal at the 2016 Great American Beer Festival for Field Beer, and it’s been a favorite of fans and critics alike ever since. Thanks to its malted toasted coconut flavor and creamy, silky mouthfeel, this 9 percent brew goes down so smoothly.
Best Brunch: Koko Head Café (Honolulu)
You might have spotted chef Lee Anne Wong on Food Network and Top Chef (she was a contestant in season one and made a brief cameo in the most recent season), but you might not know that she also happens to run one of the hottest, funkiest brunch destinations in Hawaii, in a quiet Honolulu neighborhood (quiet, that is, until brunch rolls around). Koko Head Café has a huge menu of baked goods, pancakes, egg dishes, and skillets, as well as a lovely assortment of Asian- and Hawaiian-inspired dishes including black sesame yuzu muffins; breakfast congee (with bacon, Portuguese sausage, ham, soft-poached egg, and Cheddar); omelettes filled with miso smoked pork or poke; Wong’s spin on loco moco; and breakfast bibimbap. When brunchtime arrives, Koko Head throws a party that’s always worth attending.
Best Burger: Burgers and Things (Honolulu)
Burgers and Things is a super-popular Honolulu hangout that serves burgers that are unlike any you’ll find anywhere else. How so? After they’re given a deep crust on a flat-top, they’re finished in flavorful braising liquid. The flagship burger soaks in house-made beef jus; the teriyaki burger gets a bath in house-made teriyaki sauce; the Un-Foie-Gettable burger starts with a patty of grass-fed Kauai beef, which is braised in foie gras demi-glace before being topped with bacon apple maple jam; the Wagyu Say?! is a wagyu patty braised in mustard-kicked jus and topped with sautéed mushrooms and onions; and the Lamb Bam Thank Ewe Ma’am (a name right out of Bob’s Burgers) is a local lamb patty braised in honey, mint, and sherry vinegar jus. So yeah, these burgers are definitely unique.
Best Chinese Restaurant: Fook Lam (Honolulu)
Hawaii has more great Japanese restaurants than Chinese ones, but in Honolulu you can satisfy your craving for solid Chinese fare (and great dim sum) at Fook Lam. Steamed egg cream buns, pork buns, dumplings, siu mai, look fun rolls, Shanghai soup dumplings… they’re all here, and they’re the best around.
Best Chocolate Shop: Manoa Chocolate Hawaii (Kailua)
In Hawaiian, “manoa” means deep and solid, and those are the flavors you’ll find in the chocolate at this bean-to-bar factory. All of the beans were grown in Hawaii, making this a true local spot. That commitment to local farm-to-chocolate production continues in their bars’ flavors, which are infused with local coffee, sea salt, and lavender.
Best Coffee Shop: Daylight Mind Coffee Company (Kailua-Kona)
Daylight Mind Coffee Company/Yelp
Take in a gorgeous ocean view along with sweet and bitter tastes of high-end coffeeand delicious pastries at this Hawaiian coffee shop. Daylight Mind, which sources directly from farmers with the highest quality beans, also has a notable coffee program that consists of their roastery and education classes.
Best Cupcakes: Hokulani Bake Shop (Honolulu)
Getting a cupcake at Hokulani Bake Shop is like getting a slice of heaven in paradise. You’ll feel totally spoiled! Inspired by the island it inhabits, this bakeshop makes fresh, natural, and delicious cupcakes for everyone to enjoy. If you really want to get into the Hawaiian spirit, try a toasted coconut cupcake: It’s filled with toasted coconut flakes and topped with the signature buttercream frosting.
Best Dive Bar: Smith’s Union Bar (Honolulu)
Dive Bar S./Yelp
Smith’s Union Bar is the oldest bar in Honolulu, and the diviest. Patrons will be singing their sloppiest karaoke (it’s just $1 a song) while sipping on their $3 Bloody Marys during happy hour. This bar also has plenty of history: It was the watering hole of soldiers stationed on the USS Arizona, which was attacked at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
Best Doughnuts: Leonard’s Bakery (Honolulu)
Leonard, the son of two Portuguese immigrants, opened his Hawaiian bakery in the 1950s, and, under the encouragement of his mother, he started to bake and sell Portuguese malasadas. These European treats are doughnuts without a hole, coated in sugar. Everyone was soon obsessed with these treats, and they have now become a Hawaiian staple.
Best Farmers Market: Hilo Farmers Market (Hilo)
Noted for its fresh fruit and diverse plant selection, the Hilo Farmers Market offers native fruits for every season. Found back in 1988, this market has collected a number of awards throughout the years including Best Farmers Market from Hawaii Magazine. It was also the first market to be federally approved to accept food stamps by way of a unique electronic system and EBT cards. The Hilo market is open seven days a week, with the largest number of vendors attending the Wednesday and Saturday markets. Some items from the market are even available for purchase online.
Best Food Truck: Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck (Oahu)
Despite the fact that Hawaii boasts a whole sea of various shrimp trucks (Famous Kahuku, Fumi’s, Big Wave, Geste), somehow Giovanni’s emerges victorious from the pack. Maybe it’s the Hawaiian company’s experience in the business (G’s was founded in 1993), maybe it’s the countless signatures of satisfied customers that cover the exterior of the truck, or maybe it’s the insanely tasty plates like shrimp scampi, lemon butter shrimp, and the “No Refunds” hot and spicy shrimp — but it’s pretty clear that the folks at Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck are firing on all cylinders. Here’s to another 25 years, or at least another plate of succulent shrimp. P.S. Giovanni’s is cash only!
Best Fried Chicken: Ray’s Cafe (Honolulu)
Ray’s Café is a Honolulu institution, one of those secrets that only the locals and in-the-know tourists are privy to. A total hole in the wall, the cash-only Ray’s attracts lines out the door on a daily basis for its huge omelets, traditional Hawaiian plate lunches, massive portions of prime rib, T-bone steaks (for $18.95!), and astoundingly delicious fried chicken. The chicken here is only lightly breaded before being fried, which makes the skin super-crisp and the meat super-juicy, and an order costs just $7.95. Seriously, this place is a must-visit.
Best Hot Dog: Puka Dog (Multiple Locations)
Puka Dog, a Hawaii institution with locations throughout the state, sells hot dogs unlike any others you’ll encounter. Tucked into a toasted whole loaf of bread, a puka dog is a grilled Polish sausage that’s accompanied by a wide selection of tropical toppings that includes pineapple sauce, guava mustard, starfruit relish, and garlic lemon sauce. Don’t be shy; you’ll be amazed at how well some of these unexpected toppings pair with the dog.
Best Hotel Restaurant: Ka'ana Kitchen (Wailea)
The Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort is home to Ka’ana Kitchen, one of Maui’s most beloved restaurants. Classic Hawaiian ingredients like Kauai shrimp, octopus, Kona clams, lobster, bigeye tuna, and Waipoli greens are turned into simply-prepared dishes and served family-style (ka’ana means “to share”), letting the quality of the ingredients (many of which are sourced from local farmers and ranchers) shine through. Must-orders include Kauai shrimp risotto with Kula corn, miso, and XO sauce; fried chicken with bitter greens and mochi; ahi belly with Japanese eggplant, ginger, and yuzu dashi; wagyu hanger with Thai basil, green papaya, and peanut; and a vegetarian ceviche of cucumber, avocado, and coconut.
Best Ice Cream Stand: Lappert’s (Maui)
Locals and visitors to Hawaii always make it a point to stop by Lappert’s, which has locations across the islands. There are Hawaiian-inspired flavors such as Hanah Road and Hawaiian Sea Salt Caramel, but there are also world-inspired flavors such as Manila Mango, Costa Rican Plantain Cajeta, Mexican Chocolate Cinnamon Swirl, and Philippine Macapuno Peach Sorbet.
Best Italian Restaurant: Arancino di Mare (Honolulu)
Arancino di Mare/Yelp
Located in the Waikiki Beach Marriott, Hawaii’s best Italian restaurantis renowned for its impressive pasta dishes and super-fresh local seafood. Standouts include elegantly plated scallop carpaccio topped with sea asparagus, tobiko caviar, and red onions; insalata frutti di mare with shrimp, calamari, clams, mussels, and local greens and tomatoes; spaghetti with fresh uni in a garlic wine cream sauce; spaghetti tossed with a simple sauce of garlic, white wine, and olive oil and topped with a bounty of calamari, clams, mussels, and shrimp scampi; and a 32-ounce bistecca alla fiorentina.
Best Mexican Restaurant: Alejandro’s (Honolulu)
California-born Alejandro Alvarado grew up eating the cuisine of his Salvadoran and Mexican parents, and his family recipes serve as the foundation of the menu at his Kalihi Valley destination. Specialties include carnitas, beef, or carne asada tacos topped with onions, cilantro, and salsa verde; quesadillas; burritos; and bowls. It’s a simple menu, but it’s the best in the state.
Most Expensive Restaurant: Vintage Cave (Honolulu)
This incredibly luxurious and upscale restaurant has played host to Barack and Michelle Obama, and if you want to dine like a president you’ll have to pay for it. The French-Japanese fusion menu from chef Misao Masuda, which includes 14 courses of dishes like whole kasugodai with white sturgeon caviar, A5 Saga wagyu filet mignon, and Japanese risotto with truffles, costs $300 per person.
Most Outrageous Restaurant Dish: Notorious B.I.G. Moco, Da Kitchen (Kahului and Kihei)
The ultimate Hawaiian comfort food and the state's favorite breakfast, loco moco traditionally is made of a hamburger patty on top of white rice, which is then, in turn, topped with a fried egg and brown gravy. At Da Kitchen, however, they take it further; the Notorious B.I.G. Moco has fried rice topped with a pork patty, gravy, homemade chili, two eggs, Portuguese sausage, bacon, cheese, mushrooms, onions, and of course, Spam on the sides.
Best Pasta Dish: Spaghetti Alla Pescatora at Arancino di Mare, Honolulu
Located in the Waikiki Beach Marriott, Hawaii’s best Italian restaurantis renowned for its impressive pasta dishes and super-fresh local seafood. When you combine the two, you’re left with the best plate of pasta in Hawaii. Perfectly cooked spaghetti is tossed with a simple sauce of garlic, white wine, and olive oil and topped with a bounty of calamari, clams, mussels, and shrimp scampi.
Best Pizza: J.J. Dolan’s (Honolulu)
An Irish pub, serving New York-style pizza, in Hawaii? You better believe it. And not only that — the pizza at J.J. Dolan’s is really good, the state’s best, in fact, with legions of devoted fans. You can buy cheese or pepperoni pizzas by the slice; choose from more than 20 toppings (including Spam, because Hawaii); choose from five “Classics” including Margherita, white pie, and spinach and garlic; or “Signature” pies including Boardwalk (Italian sausage, roasted peppers, onion, and garlic), Scampi (shrimp or chicken, mushrooms, and house-made scampi sauce), and Molto Formaggio, with six cheeses. But no matter what you order, you really can’t go wrong.
Best Ramen Shop: Lucky Belly (Honolulu)
Hawaii’s best ramen shop is a chic and stylish hotspot located in the heart of Honolulu’s Chinatown, and it serves five types of ramen that range from the traditional to the completely outside-the-box. In the latter category, there’s the Lucky Bowl, a rich and creamy slow-simmered broth with the usual toppings. And in the latter category (occupied by the other four ramens on offer), you’ll find a vegetarian one filled with different mushrooms; another with pork belly, bacon, and sausage; another with togarashi shrimp and house-made kimchi; and the “Beast Bowl” with brisket, short ribs, and oxtail wontons. No other restaurant serves ramen quite like what’s served at Lucky Belly.
Best Restaurant for Breakfast: Kihei Caffe (Kihei)
Located a stone’s throw from the ocean, this charming counter-service café with a cute patio happens to be serving some of Hawaii’s finest breakfasts from a 40 item-strong menu, and to keep those early-morning surfers happy, it opens at 5 a.m. daily. The huge cinnamon rolls and classic Hawaiian loco moco (with two eggs, a burger patty, white rice, and brown gravy) are the real deal, and the big, fluffy pancakes are just about perfect, especially when stacked high and topped with bananas and macadamia nuts or pineapple and coconut. The biscuits and gravy are also surprisingly legit, as is the breakfast burrito and pork fried rice with scrambled eggs. And don’t forget about Spam! If you’re looking for a real Hawaiian-style breakfast, you’ve come to the right place.
Best Restaurant: Alan Wong's (Honolulu)
When your restaurant essentially defines a cuisine, it’s a safe bet that you should keep on doing what you’re doing. Such is the case at Alan Wong’s, a Honolulu landmark where Wong’s high-end regional Hawaiian dishes, including butter-poached lobster with abalone, mushrooms, and green onion oil, and crispy won ton-wrapped ahi poke balls with avocado and wasabi sauce, have been making a culinary statement since 1995. And with a close relationship to Hawaii’s farmers and agricultural society, Wong’s Farmer Series dinners hit close to home for natives and tourists alike. Make sure you start your meal with the local butter tasting.
Best Sandwich: Ono Burger, Paia Fish Market (Multiple Locations)
Established in 1989 in Maui’s North Shore, today there are two additional Maui locations of Paia Fish Market in Lahaina and Kihei as well as a newer one in Waikiki. As the name might imply, it’s where you’ll find some of the freshest fish in Hawaii, prepared simply and with care. The best way to try the fish there, as a “burger,” might be a little counterintuitive, though: a fillet of fish on a bun, topped with coleslaw, tomato, cold shredded cheese, and house-made tartar sauce. It may seem weird, but try it with fresh-caught, simply grilled ono and tell us it isn’t the best fish sandwich you’ve ever had.
Best Seafood Shack: Da Poke Shack (Kailua-Kona)
Teresa D./ Yelp
Da Poke Shack topped Yelp’s list of the 100 best places to eat in America in 2014. You’d expect an institution in a huge city like New York or San Francisco to top that list, but instead it was this tiny seafood haunt on the big island in Hawaii. They’re known for their eponymous poke — salads that combine Japanese-inflected spices and greens like seaweed or kimchi with chunks of fresh, raw ahi tuna. No shoes, no shirt, no problem. While you sit outside, you might even see giant whole tuna being delivered to the shop.
Best Soup: Oxtail Soup at Hawaiian Style Café (Hilo)
Hawaiian Style Café is one of the best places in Hawaii for classic Hawaiian comfort food, served in huge portions and prepared with a true chef’s eye. They also serve Hawaii’s best bowl of soup, but only on Thursdays. It’s simple and delicious: oxtail that’s been braised so long that it’s falling off the bone, and a beef broth that’s insanely rich and beefy.
Best Sports Bar: Side Street Inn on Da Strip (Honolulu)
Side Street Inn has two locations, which consistently win awards from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and Honolulu Magazine, including Best Bar and Best Sports Bar. Rub shoulders with sports pros and local chefs while chowing down on unpretentious comfort food, and watch big-screen TVs with a pint (or six) of their signature Side Street Inn Rogue Ale.
Best Steakhouse: Hy’s Steak House (Honolulu)
The steaks at this elegant and mature 40-plus-year-old Waikiki legend are all USDA Prime, and are grilled over native kiawe (mesquite) wood, giving them a deep, smoky char. Offerings include boneless or bone-in New York strip, boneless or bone-in rib-eye, filet mignon, T-bone, and a standout 34-ounce porterhouse. Slow-roasted prime rib, rack of lamb, escargot, duck foie gras, caviar, and a chef’s selection seafood platter help to make Hy’s one of Hawaii’s premier fine dining experiences.
Best Sushi: Sushi Sasabune (Honolulu)
A no-frills restaurant that some might even call “divey” also happens to serve the best sushi in Hawaii. Take a seat at the counter and let chef Seiji Kumagawa be your guide through your choice of two omakase menus, one “Japanese” and one “Western.” Opt for the Western menu and you’ll be treated to items like bluefin tuna in ponzu or salmon with kelp and sesame; the Japanese menu will bring you a more exotic assortment like snapper with fermented squid and clam that’s been slapped to “wake up” the muscle. Either way, you’re in for a 13-course treat.
Best Taco: Fish Tacos at Coconut’s Fish Café (Maui)
Coconut’s has locations in Arizona, Cupertino, and Sacramento, but the original Maui location is still the best, and it’s serving the best taco you’ll find in Hawaii. Open since 2009, the fish taco is a work of art: Fresh grilled mahi mahi and ono top a grilled tortilla, and the fish is topped with wasabi-coconut milk coleslaw, fresh tomatoes, mango salsa, and a little melted cheese. It’s a masterpiece.
Best Thing to Eat: Plate Lunch, Rainbow Drive-in (Honolulu)
Honolulu’s Rainbow Drive-In is absolutely legendary, and with good reason: It’s arguably the best place in the state for that uniquely Hawaiian creation, the plate lunch. The plate lunch is customizable, but it always contains a protein, two scoops of rice, and one scoop of macaroni salad or slaw. As for the protein? It’s up to you, but options here include barbecue beef or pork, fish, beef of pork cutlets, chili, burger patties, beef stew, or (on Tuesdays and Thursdays) “spaghetti with weiner.” It’s exactly as filling as it sounds, and even more delicious. For more states, check out our ultimate guide to the best food and drink in every state for 2019.