Hawaii (Big) Island local and cultural food experiences for visitors

When you vacation on Hawaii’s Big Island, allow your tastebuds to enjoy the visit by sampling the local fare. Let’s take a look at some of the island’s local and cultural foods to try.

Breakfast Foods & Bakery Items

Pancakes – We love big, fluffy pancakes in Hawaii with tropical flavors and coconut syrup.

Big Island Sweet Bread – Punalu’u is a famous bakery in the remote, southern town of Punalu’u. They’re known for their sweet breads. Some restaurants make french toast with Hawaiian sweet bread and it is very tasty. If you have kitchen facilities in your accommodation, you can often find Punalu’u sweet bread in the grocery stores so that you can make your own french toast or simply toast it with butter.

Portuguese Sausage – This cured pork sausage is popular with the locals.

Famous Big Island Breakfast Restaurants – The most well-known breakfast spots on the Big Island is Hawaiian Style Cafe in Waimea. They are known for their huge portions.

Tex Drive In

Malasadas – Malasadas can best be described as a Portuguese-style doughnut with delicious fillings. The Big Island’s most famous spot for malasadas is Tex Drive In in Honoka’a. Through a viewing window, you can watch them making malasadas at Tex Drive In.

Snacks & Lunch

Hawaii’s fresh fruits are phenomenal. Look for bananas, coconut, guava, mango, lilikoi (passion fruit), papaya and pineapple at farmers markets and roadside stands.

SPAM Musubi is SPAM served sushi-style.

Loco Moco is served for breakfast and lunch, but the most famous place to have it is at Cafe 100 in Hilo, which is open for lunch and dinner. We’ve grown to like the loco moco which is traditionally made with a layer of white rice, a hamburger patty, a fried egg and brown gravy.

Plate Lunch or Mixed Plate is the local-style, go-to lunch. It can be a selection or combination of teriakyi beef, kalua pork, huli huli (marinated and barbecued) chicken, hamburger patty, and of course, fish. This plate usually comes with macaroni salad and white rice.

Teriyaki Beef Plate Lunch with rice and macaroni salad from Cafe 100

Poke is very popular in Hawaii. It’s cubed ahi tuna (raw) blended with onion, soy sauce and sesame oil. There are other creative versions of poke. Look for it as an appetizer or lunch menu item at just about any restaurant. You can even find it in Big Island grocery stores.

Kalua pork sandwiches are on most lunch menus across Maui. It’s shredded pork that’s traditionally cooked in an imu with a bit of a smokey flavor. There are other cooking methods that give it a similar “imu” flavor.


Hawaii’s fresh local fish is delicious! If you enjoy sushi, then you’ll love Hawaii’s sushi. One of our favorite restaurants for fresh fish on Hawaii Island is Sansei in Waikoloa, but there are plenty more great restaurants serving local fish.

Hawaii regional cuisine is a unique style of food that blends several Pacific Rim flavors made from local ingredients. Chef Peter Merriman is considered to be one of the pioneers of Hawaii regional cuisine. There are Merriman restaurants on all the major Hawaiian islands now, but his original Merriman’s is in Waimea and it’s one of our favorites.

luau is a lovely way to spend an evening with dinner and a Polynesian dance show. Most luau companies offer a buffet of local favorite items. You’ll even get a chance to try poi, which is much loved in Hawaii, but perhaps an acquired-taste for visitors. So, a luau offers a nice opportunity to sample local foods to help you discover Hawaii foods that you like. That was how I first learned about kalua pork and now I rarely miss a chance to order it whenever I see it. Here is a helpful list of Big Island luau companies.

Frozen Treats

Shave Ice is a refreshing treat that’s like a snow cone, but so much better. The ice is softer and absorbs the flavor toppings very nicely. We love ordering our shave ice with ice cream on the bottom and topped (“snow capped”) with sweetened-condensed milk.

Tropical Dreams Artisan Hawaiian Ice Cream is made on the island and it’s really yummy.

Additional local foods to try on a Big Island vacation

Coffee – The Big Island is home to two famous coffee regions — Kona and Kau. There are several farms that offer tours and tastings. We’ve enjoyed the free tour and tasting from Greenwell Farms in the Kona region.

Macadamia nuts are grown on Hawaii Island. You can visit the Mauna Loa farm and visitor center just south of Hilo. Also, in Kawaihae, you can visit the Hamakua Macadamia Nut Company’s visitor center.

Honey – there’s a delicious honey produced by Big Island Bees. They offer tours.

Vanilla – The Hawaiian Vanilla company grows vanilla and produces vanilla extract. They offer an interesting lunch and tour combination.

Chocolate – There are a few chocolate farms in Hawaii with the original one being in on the slopes of Haulalai just south of Kona. They offer fun tours, too.

Are there additional cultural and local foods from Hawaii’s Big Island that you would add to this list?

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