Ask any Hawaii-born person what they miss when they’re away from home, and the answer you’ll probably get is, “The food.”

The islands may be far away from, well, everything, but they have an incredibly diverse local menu influenced by cultures from all over the world. Immigrant populations that arrived in Hawaii throughout the last 200 years brought their own cuisine and applied their techniques to indigenous culinary traditions, resulting in unique flavors and unusual combinations. Fresh local ingredients and some of the best seafood in the world provide special dining experiences that aren’t easily found elsewhere.

Here are some of Oahu’s best offerings:

Andy’s Sandwiches and Smoothies

2904 East Manoa Road, Honolulu

15 minutes from the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort

A fixture of Manoa Valley in Honolulu, Andy’s has long been a favorite of Honolulu residents, students, and tourists alike. Located only 10 minutes from Waikiki and just up the road from the University of Hawaii, this tiny sandwich shop often has a long (though fast-moving) line of devotees who love their mostly-vegetarian menu. Fresh ingredients, warm service, and their signature papaya seed dressing accompany the wide sandwich selection, all of which are served on their homemade, whole-wheat bread. Unchanged by years of popularity and heavy traffic, this is one of those local stops that still actually feels local.

Leonard’s Bakery

933 Kapahulu Avenue, Honolulu

10 minutes from the Aston Waikiki Circle Hotel

Located in the same building for over 60 years, Leonard’s made their name on Portugese sweets and baked goods, most notably the Malasada, a holeless doughnut that has become an icon of local cuisine. Covered in sugar, or filled with coconut, guava, or chocolate pudding, a malasada from Leonard’s is as much a part of modern Hawaiian culture as a day at the beach. Their menu offerings are largely unchanged since their beginning in 1952; when you make malasadas the way they do, you don’t need much else.

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Giovanni’s Aloha Shrimp

56-505 Kamehameha Highway, Kahuku

5 minutes from the Turtle Bay Resort

Kahuku, a community located on Oahu’s North Shore, is famous for sweet corn and shrimp.  Tourists may flock to the North Shore for its surf, beautiful views, and country-life pace, but locals know it’s worth the drive to get a plate (or two, or three) of shrimp scampi and rice at Giovanni’s. Their famous white truck is parked by the side of the road, and is covered with graffiti scrawled by grateful visitors from all over the world. The menu is simple and clear with just three varieties of shrimp: original scampi, lemon butter, and the notorious “no-refund” hot and spicy plate, which comes with a warning about spice levels that should be taken seriously. Though Giovanni’s wide exposure has inevitably led to a more commercial appearance (complete with souvenir kiosks), locals can’t deny that it’s still a favorite, and it’s a can’t-miss stop on any trip to the North Shore.

Waiola Shave Ice

3113 Mokihana Street, Honolulu

10 minutes from the Ambassador Hotel Waikiki

The best sweet treat in Hawaii, by far, is the famous Shave (not “shaved”!) Ice, which is, simply, a block of ice shaved into very thin flakes, collected in a cone and covered in sweet syrup. Modern incarnations include ice cream or azuki beans at the bottom with condensed milk on top, and Japanese rice balls (“mochi”), but in any form, shave ice is the best thing to have on a hot Hawaiian day. There are many fixtures on the shave ice scene, some of which have been around since the days of the pineapple and sugar plantations, but the best in Honolulu comes from Waiola Store. At two locations, including their original mom-and-pop store on Waiola Street, it’s also a convenient stop on a Hawaiian adventure.

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Diamond Head Market and Grill

3158 Monsarrat Avenue, Honolulu

10 minutes from Embassy Suites Hotel – Waikiki Beach Walk

A casual stop for the high-end palate, Diamond Head Market and Grill is a perfect place to grab lunch when exploring Oahu’s South Shore. With an award-winning market, bakery, and gourmet deli, they are most famous for their scones and grilled plates. The plate lunch, another Hawaii staple, is usually made up of a meat or fish main accompanied by rice and a pasta or tossed salad. The Grill takes the plate lunch to another level, with wonderfully seasoned charsiu pork, teriyaki beef, and miso ginger salmon featured on their menu. With a walk-up take-out window and outdoor picnic benches for seating, Diamond Head Market and Grill may look like a typical sandwich or burger stand, but every Styrofoam container holds a meal of exceptional quality—at a very reasonable price.


This post was originally posted on Hipmunk’s Tailwind blog on 2015/08/23.