The taste of Hawaii: A foodie’s guide to Honolulu

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When you think of Hawaii, you likely experience a colorful onslaught to the senses in the form of tastes, smells, images and emotions. While we have pictures and video to remind of us of what we experienced, smell and taste are the most primal and lasting sensations. Mango, coconut, papaya and pineapple all come to mind, as well as myriad other flavors like pork, fresh fish and ginger. But what is the best way to experience all that is going on right now, as the foodie movement moves forward with abandon?

Liquid Lava

One of our favorite ways to “experience” the taste of aloha has been via Hawaiian-style cocktails like the Pina Colada, Mai Tai and, of course, the Blue Hawaiian. On Hawaii vacations, these indulgences are often par for the course. These may be standouts, but they are not alone, and certainly not relegated to only Hawaii.

Honeymoon 82

Tropical cocktails (Photo: NathanF/Flickr Creative Commons)

Polynesian-themed bars have cropped up across the continental U.S., in places like San Francisco’s Trad’r Sams or New York’s Hurricane Club, all boasting to utilize the best of the islands. I must say that this is a misguided endeavor. After just one evening spent sipping a punchbowl-sized concoction of fruit puree, a dozen types of alcohol and a scoop of ice cream, one might decide to call it quits altogether with Hawaiian cocktails.

For a true taste of Hawaii, experience what the locals are sipping and nibbling and you will be pleasantly surprised. No sugar hangover required!

For starters, once you’re off the mainland, you’re in good hands. Most Honolulu hotels and restaurants feature ingredients local to Hawaii as part of the Hawaiian Regional Cuisine movement, which emphasizes locally-grown produce farmed as sustainably as possible.

Replete with rum, vodka and plenty of citrus, favorite local cocktails include Paddler’s Passion, Lava Flow and Hula Girl. Say goodbye to bottled drink mixes forever!

Mobile Mahalo

They made it to Hawaii! Major cities in the coastal U.S. have enjoyed a devoted foodie following, so it only makes sense that the family-oriented, welcoming community of Hawaii would experience the same.

One of my favorite off-the-radar foodie destinations is Oahu’s Pupukea Grill, a lunchwagon nestled next to the service station across from Shark’s Cove on the infamous North Shore. Locals like to brag that if you’re there, it’s because someone told you to go there. Most tourists are directed by lifeguards, and come from all over to taste the delectable offerings.

What makes this place stand out amongst others is its variety of HEALTHY offerings, like acai bowls filled with strawberries, blueberries, coconut, granola and honey; farm fresh salads, paninis, wraps and shrimp bowls. Everything is fresh, made to order, and prepared personally by a skilled chef. You can taste the love.

Acai Bowl at Backyard Bowls

An acai bowl filled with fresh fruit. (Photo: Robert.Montalvo/Flickr Creative Commons)

Savor the Seasons

Stuck on what to eat, where and when? There are numerous festivals devoted to JUST FOOD throughout the islands!

Oahu throws it down in June, with Taste of Honululu. September is Maui’s turn to shine with the two-day Taste of Lahaina, featuring everything from mahi-mahi over rice to spaghetti and meatballs. Wailea has its own event with top chefs preparing some of the region’s best food, accompanied by some of the best wines.

Lastly, Big Island’s Kona Coffee Cultural Festival takes place each November, offering 10 days of coffee tastings, art and community events.

The Mayor and his Court

Kona Coffee Cultural Festival (Photo: Hawaii County/Flickr Creative Commons)


What’s your favorite Hawaiian dish or cocktail? Share your pick with other readers by leaving a comment below!

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