Contrary to popular belief, “aloha” doesn’t translate to “hello” and “goodbye.” It simply means “love.” That is how I could best describe America’s 50th state: simply love. The Hawaiian people share their own unique culture and language that makes it completely distinct from the rest of the country. I felt totally at ease and content during my 10-day visit; no wonder it’s a top vacation destination. Besides spending every day relaxing on a beach and catching up with my wonderful college friend, Rachel, and her family, one of the best parts of my trip was the food! The day my plane landed on the island of Oahu was the day I had just completed my 30-day vegan challenge. I was ready to indulge, and that is exactly what I did. Here are my picks, in no particular order, of my 11 favorite Hawaiian eats.
1. “When In Hawaii…”
Hank’s Haute Dogs doesn’t look like much on the outside, but this little diner is quite a star on Waikiki Beach. Featured on one of my favorite shows, Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, this hot dog stand boasts a unique menu starring the American staple. Some twists on the basic wiener include a sausage made from wild boar, a “Fat Boy” wrapped in bacon and deep fried, and a “Lobster Sausage” as seen on the DDD episode. Their most unique dogs are only served on certain days of the week, such as the famous lobster dog served on Fridays and Saturdays only. Since we visited in the middle of the week I decided to follow the popular Roman idiom and ordered “The Hawaiian”: a Portuguese sausage smothered with a sweet mango mustard and pineapple relish. Accompanied by French fries and a coke, it was a pretty swell meal.
2. Alex vs. Hukilau Burger
Another notorious dive featured on 50 First Dates and visited by Adam Richman of Man vs. Food, Hukilau Café is not for the faint of heart. Its appearance mimics a basement cafeteria and there were more flies inside than people, but I was there to complete a mission: the legendary Hukilau Burger. The already significant patty of beef is topped with thinly sliced teriyaki steak, cheese, lettuce, tomato, grilled onion, and a fried egg. Merely a quick bite for Adam, it looked like Everest to me. Buzzing flies and all, I conquered the greasy beast with pride (and perhaps a clogged artery or two).
With it being the most popular beach in the city, I couldn’t complete my trip to Honolulu without a visit to Waikiki. Rachel and I went to the popular resort restaurant by the name of Duke’s. It felt like a cliché Hawaiian honeymoon and it was fantastic. An enormous endless salad bar (three trips, thank you) was the appetizer. My main dish was the seasonal fish, a white fish called monchong, grilled with a cilantro miso glaze and topped with a mango salsa. No Hawaiian meal would be complete without a fruity tropical drink. Rachel had Duke’s special Mai Tai, and I went with the icy blended “Lava Flow”. They were the perfect complement to sunset on the notorious beach.
4. Leonard, M.B. (Master Baker)
If you ever find yourself on Oahu, please, for the love of baked goods, find Leonard’s Malasadas! They are pastries sent from above. If I could meet the creator Leonard, I would shake his hand with one hand while eating a malasada with the other. The original bakery is in Honolulu, but there are several “Malasadamobiles” around the city frying the Portuguese donuts. Instead of a hole in the middle, these treats come filled with various custards, or left empty like the original, and then are rolled in sugar. We ate them fresh and hot out of the fryer and I think my feet floated two inches off the ground the whole time.
5. Aoki Dokey!
Aoki’s Shave Ice is a landmark on the North Shore of Oahu. It’s been family owned and operated for more than 25 years. Hawaiian shaved ice is nothing new on the mainland, but have you ever had it served with ice cream and sweet azuki beans? I regretfully declined the traditional beans, but vanilla ice cream and syrup-flavored shaved ice is delicious! I felt like a happy kid eating the rainbow snack out of the trunk of the car in the parking lot displaying warning signs of falling coconuts and broken windshields. Don’t worry, we parked in a safe zone.
6. Breakfast on the Big Island
Hungry and driving along the coast of the Big Island, we impulsively stopped at a small café, which turned out to have an incredible breakfast. I ordered a fresh papaya, halved and filled with more fruit, creamy yogurt and sprinkled with toasted coconut. It was served with thick homemade toasted bread and a poached egg, at my request. Rachel had scrumptious breakfast sandwich on the same thick bread. Although a little foggy, we had quite the view during our meal, although my favorite part about the restaurant was that the employees put out jelly tins for hungry geckos. It was quite entertaining to watch them scurry and slurp.
7. “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts”
After completing our near-six-mile roundtrip hike to the Papakolea Green Sand Beach, we were met with an El Salvadorian man selling coconuts he had harvested hours earlier. Upon placing my order he promptly wacked off the top with an intimidating machete, poked in a straw, and handed it over. He waited patiently while I sucked down all the juice and with another quick machete strike, he split the coconut to reveal the ripe meat. It was actually much bitterer than the juice and the slimy texture kept me from finishing, but I hope it’s not the last time I drink fresh coconut milk.
8. The Southernmost Cocoa Puff
Being on the south coast of the Big Island, the majority of nearby businesses’ claim to fame is “The Southernmost….in the USA.” The marketing scheme worked on us. We stopped at Punalu’u’ Bake Shop, “The Southernmost Bakery in the USA.” Since I’d already eaten my share of malasadas, I went with another Hawaiian favorite: the cocoa puff. A delicate pastry packed with milk chocolate pudding and dusted with powdered sugar…it was the southernmost delicious dessert in the USA I’ve ever eaten.
9. Aloha Beer!
Since I work at a brewery, I thought it was only responsible to visit the Kona Brewing Co. and sample some Hawaiian beer. I chewed on crispy wild mushroom pizza while sipping on assorted ales.
10. Bubba Gump Would Be Proud
North Shore is famous for its shrimp trucks. As Bubba said in Forrest Gump, “shrimp is the fruit of the sea.” In a parking lot where the shrimp trucks park bumper to bumper, “there’s shrimp kabobs, shrimp gumbo, shrimp barbecue, shrimp sandwiches…” I went with the shrimp creole from Dat Cajun Guy’s truck. It’s safe to say that it is the best shrimp I’ve ever had. The Cajun gravy was unlike any other, but the shrimp itself was so fresh and plump. “I do know what love is, Jenny” and it’s that shrimp!
11. Onolicious Luau
For my last night in Hawaii, Rachel and I attended a traditional luau. Although extremely touristy, they still cooked the pork true to customary form: in an imu. (Pronounced “emu” they had me thinking they shoved the pig in a giant Australian bird, but it is in fact an underground oven.) We watched the ceremonial exhuming of the smoked pig and then loaded our plates at the buffet with all the typical fare: kalua pork, macaroni salad, and poi (mashed taro root). We watched luau dancers and pyrotechnic performances as we finished off our sweet Mai Tais. As the locals say, it was “onolicious!”