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The Eater Guide to Hawaiʻi

Forget the beach — you’re going for the food

In Hawaiʻi, you’re never far from the very best the 50th state has to offer: waves crashing on white sand, warm sunshine in azure skies, emerald green mountains crowned by waterfalls — and pillowy soft malassadas, ripping hot from the fryer, stippled with sugar. Anyone knows you should go to Hawaiʻi for the beach, but to truly live your best life, go to Hawaiʻi for the food: Technicolor shave ice, sushi omakase from legendary Japanese chefs, a heaping plate of kimchi fried rice, hot kūlolo topped with vanilla ice cream, sweet fresh papaya, gravy-smothered loco moco, and yes, poke — just-caught, slick with soy sauce, and served by the pound. The world is filled with beautiful places, but food like this is only in Hawaiʻi.

From the vibrant urban cosmopolitanism of Honolulu to the sleepiest surf town on Kauaʻi, there’s a great meal to be had in every corner of the state. National food publications (hello) have declared over and over again since the 1990s that a dining revolution is afoot, but, if anything, it's the mainland that has been catching up to Hawaiʻi. Whether it’s a mania for raw fish, chefs embracing local farms and reviving local traditions, or an ever-evolving integration of Asian cuisines, Hawaiʻi’s been doing it for decades, building on more than a century of layered immigrant influence, not to mention a millennium of Hawaiian food traditions before that.

No single guide has any hope of comprehensively capturing one of the country’s most complex, fascinating, and sophisticated food cultures, and the people behind it. These stories, profiles and maps, spread across the state’s major islands, are only the beginning of the conversation about what it means to eat in Hawaiʻi. But from musubi to mochi, loco moco to laulau, poi to poke to pineapple, here’s a place to start.

The absolute essentials

A perfect 24 hours of eating in Honolulu

Eating across Hawaiʻi’s capital will dismantle your preconceptions and satisfy your soul. Local writer and dining expert Martha Cheng recommends iconic morning smoothies — and the quintessential late-night diner.

Go full tourist

Bill Addison reviews Senia, Honolulu’s most exciting new restaurant. Highly anticipated and wildly ambitious, the restaurant aims to bridge the gap between everyday destination and high-end chef’s counter.

Unique neighborhood restaurants and bars

A brief introduction to food culture in Hawaiʻi

Hawaiʻi’s most iconic dish is the plate lunch — but it’s also not Hawaiian. The distinction between local food and Hawaiian food is rooted in the islands’ long, layered history of culinary influences.

Satisfy your sweet tooth early and often

The food Hawai‘i does better than anywhere else

Watch: Great conversations and meals at local classics

Editors: Meghan McCarron and Matt Buchanan
Consulting Editor and Project Manager: Lesley Suter
Local Consulting Editor: Martha Cheng
Art Director: Brittany Holloway-Brown
Copy Editor: Sarah Montgomery
Fact Checking by: Pearly Huang
Logo Illustration by: Angie Wang
Header Image by: Meghan McCarron
Contributors: Bill Addison, Matt Buchanan, Hillary Dixler Canavan, Kathy YL Chan, Martha Cheng, Nate Chinen, Lesa Griffith, Ann Herold, Scotty Kan, Lavonne Leong, Brittany Lyte, Meghan McCarron, Meghan Miner Murray, Mari Taketa
Thank you: Martha Cheng, Lesa Griffith, Ann Herold, Lavonne Leong, Kathy YL Chan, Amanda Kludt, Sonia Chopra, James Park, Scotty Kan, Mary Hough, Adam Moussa, Patty Diez, Maureen Giannone Fitzgerald, James Barry, Emma Alpern, Helen Rosner, Sheldon Simeon, Mark Noguchi, Dabney Gough, Frolic Hawaii, and Brian Lam

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