North Shore Travel Guide - Local Food in Hawaii

July 30, 2018

North Shore Travel Guide - Local Food in Hawaii

We love the North Shore of Oahu. It has so much to offer the traveler and locals alike! This next installment of the North Shore Travel Guide is all about the amazing food you can find along this beautiful coastline. Make sure to check out parts one and two all about where to snorkel and the best hikes on the North Shore of Oahu. 

Now that you have gone for a swim AND a hike it is time to grind! Here is a short list of some local Hawaii foods to try:

Poke (po-kay) - The hawaiian word for “section” or “cut”, this is the best beach snack ever. Cubes of raw fish...often ahi tuna or slices of tako (octopus) - seasoned with any of the following: slices of sweet onion, green onion, hawaiian rock salt, chili pepper, ground kukui nut (local tree nut roasted and ground), seaweeds (limu and ogo), spicy mayo and tobikko (fish eggs), sauces of any kind - often shoyu (soy sauce) based. Grab a cooler, grab some poke, beer, and chopsticks, hit the beach.
Poke note 1) You really don't have to worry about the quality of the fish anywhere. The dumpiest convenience stores still carry sashimi grade fish - nobody messes around here. Poke note 2) If the ahi poke is labeled “FRESH” and it’s more expensive ($13-17/pound), then its fish caught in Hawaiian Islands. If poke is less than $13 per pound, its likely previously frozen...but probably still decent quality.

Island Fishes - Look for dudes parked on the sides of roads with giant coolers advertising fresh ahi or other fish. While buying meat out of some random guy’s truck/van may be sketchy on the mainland, here it’s where the good stuff’s at. You may also see signs at the ends of driveway advertising the same. These are fisherman selling a super fresh catch, usually crazy cheap. When you drive up the east side to North Shore, it never hurts bring a cooler and keep your eyes peeled - you can score giant hunks of fresh ahi in the $6/pound range easy. Glorious. Other fish include opah (moonfish), ono (wahoo), mahi mahi, monchong (nice white fish), etc.

Musubi - (moo-soo-bee) Often of the Spam spam sushi. Most of the world derides spam as corned beef’s grosser cousin, but most of the world hasn’t had spam musubi. It’s probably the #1 grab and go snack in Hawaii. Our favorite is at the “Hygienic Store” in Kahaluu, but that’s kinda far from North Shore. You can also find other musubi with scary red local hotdogs, or fish, or fried chicken etc. You may not think spam’s really your thing, but give it a try. When in Rome...

Spam Musubi

Loco moco – For da big local boys. Fills you up all day. Rice, burger, brown gravy, eggs. I would add sauteed mushrooms and onion. Papa Ole’s in La-ie has my favorite on the island. Don’t attempt to eat this particular one by yourself.
Kalua pig - Slow roasted pork shoulder traditionally cooked in an “imu” - an underground oven. This is luau food. Sauteed cabbage pairs really well with the pork’s smoky, salty flavor. Plus, it’s a vegetable, so that definitely makes this fatty cut of meat healthy. Right?

Laulau- Another traditional luau food. The leaves (“lau”) of the taro plant are wrapped around hunks of pork shoulder, pork fat, and salt cured cod (which came over back in the whaling industry days). This ball of goodness is wrapped in leaves from the Ti’ plant, which, like banana leaves, do not break down when cooked. Try it served with chili pepper water to provide an acidic element to cut through the fat and swampy taste of the taro.

Li hing pineapple - Li hing is a Chinese-origin licorice plum. They make it into a salty/sweet powder that is great lightly sprinkled on fruit. Some folks go too heavy on the sprinkle though. Disclaimer: li hing powder often has saccharin and aspartame, FYI. For those of you with a super sweet tooth, pick up a bag of li hing candy from just about any convenience store or supermarket. The li hing apple or watermelon gummies will make your mouth pucker and water something fierce.

Shave Ice - Southeast Asian cultures have a history of using ice in dessert, so there you go. Unlike a snow cone of crushed ice, this is finely shaved ice from big blocks. I prefer the places that use actual fruit for their syrups rather than all artificial flavored liquid sugar. Always get ice cream on the bottom. Always. Get a “snowcap” of condensed milk on top. If you want to be presidentially cool, Obama’s favorite combination - called the “Snobama” at Island Snow in Kailua - is lemon-lime, cherry, and passion-guava.

Shave Ice

Saimin - This is the Hawaiian comfort food. This dish takes root in the old sugar cane plantation days - a mashup and Chinese and Japanese noodle soups. The noodles are in a dashi (sometimes konbu based, sometimes shrimp shell based, broth)and can come with wontons. It’s almost always served with char siu pork, green onion, fishcake, and maybe other stuff (spam etc). You’ll most likely be given a little dish with spicy chinese mustard - add a little shoyu and make a sauce - to dip your noodles in. Saimin is kinda of blandish, so the shoyu/mustard compliments it well. It’s often eaten with a small teri-burger or beef sticks on the side. Honestly, this won’t blow your mind by any means, but a taste of Hawaii for sure.

Haupia (coconut custard) - This is a traditional luau dessert. Coconut milk is heated with sugar and starch, and then left to cool and harden into a coconut jello of sorts. A few grains of rock salt compliment this sweet treat deliciously. 

Apple bananas - Look for smaller, stubbier bananas at local fruit stands and stores. Nice ripe apple bananas are way sweeter and more delicious than your typical mainland bananas - they’ve ruined me for those big boring chiquitas for life.
Random tropical fruits at fruit stands!

Apple Bananas Hawaii


Foodland – POKE ALERT! In Pupukea. Local chain - normal grocery store, good poke.

Haleiwa Farmers Market – Thursday 3-7 - definitely worth visiting , great food, local products (gifts!), sweet location at Waimea Valley. You’ll get a sense of what our farmers and artisans have to offer here.

Farmers Market Hawaii

Celestial Foods - Natural foods market in Haleiwa town. Pretty good vegetarian cafe in the back called The Beet Box (they also have a Beet Box truck that hangs near Sunset Elementary).

Malama Market - In Haleiwa town. Small town grocery market.

VJ’s butcher block - In Haleiwa town. All natural, all Hawaiian meats and seafood: venison from Molokai, lamb from Ni’ihau, Molokai beef, chicken, pigs, etc. Best to call and place an order if you know what you want:

Fiji Market and Curry Shop - Up in Kahuku. A fun selection of spices and groceries. South Pacific style. Curry cafe too!


Haliewa/Ke’iki/Pupukea/Sunset Beach Area

Banzai Sushi - Teaming up with local farmers and fisherman, this sushi restaurant offers some of the freshest Japanese fusion food in town.

Banzai Sushi
Beet Box Café – Good healthy vegetarian/organic grub. Right next door to Celestial Foods in Haleiwa. 

Café Haleiwa – This place serves typical diner fare with made with all local and lots of organic ingredients. They open at 7, so if you’re starting your day early and want something hearty before hitting the beach, this might be the place the fuel up. It can get pretty busy, so reservations are a good idea.

Coffee Gallery – Great Hawaiian coffee and pastries! As well as espresso drinks, they have some yummy caffeine-free options if you’re looking for something refreshing that won’t give you the jitters. You can buy local coffee to take home too.

The coffee gallery haleiwa
Dat Cajun Guy - Breakfast and lunch with a kick. Serving dishes from biscuits and gravy to jambalaya, this food truck can satisfy diners seeking some good homestyle cooking as well as those hoping for some spice.

The Elephant Shack - Thai restaurant in the center of Haleiwa town. The vibe is super relaxed, the decor simple, and the menu solid. Great vegan options too.

Haleiwa Bowls – Fresh fruit & acai bowls and smoothies. Acai bowls are really popular here. A great stop to get your five-a-day!

Haleiwa Bowls
Haleiwa Joe’s - Nice neighborhood seafood bar and grill overlooking water.

Hula Dog – Fun polish sausages (and veggie dogs) with tropical mustards and relishes slid into a puka (hole) in the middle of the bun. These are actually really delicious.

Kono’s - As their logo - a pig on a surfboard - suggests, this place likes their pork products. Kalua pig and bacon in sammies, wraps, burritos, and bowls.

Matsumoto’s – You’ll know you’ve found it when you seen a line spilling onto to the street. This is the iconic shave ice destination in Haleiwa, and unless you really want to visit all the famous spots, you can find good shave ice at other places sans wait.

Pupukea Grill – Japanese-inspired rolls and bowls, as well as sandwiches, fresh fish, salads, and fruits.

Ray’s Kiawe Broiled Huli Huli Chicken – To “huli” your boat is to flip it. Huli huli chicken is usually a rotisseried chicken over kiawe (Hawaiian mesquite) coals. It’s not uncommon to drive passed people turning several spits of chicken on the side of the road. Worth pulling over for. One popular spot is next to Malama Market parking lot, decent birds. Pineapple slaw is tasty. In the video you can see how the birds are cooked over the kiawe flames; constant huli. 

Ted’s Bakery – A quintessential North Shore bakery at Sunset Beach. You can buy whole pies or by the slice. They’re famous for their chocolate-haupia pie, but have lots of other good stuff.

VJ’s burger Stand – All Hawaiian, all natural meats and seafood. Their burgers are solid and they have other specials all the time (smoked brisket, pork, homemade uncured hot dogs).

Kahuku and Beyond

Fiji Market and Curry Shop – Curries with fresh roti, fun spices and groceries to buy. The lamb is a bit gamey with some bones. The owner rotates veggie curries - I had their vegetarian kabocha (japanese pumpkin) curry one time and it was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten...may be worth calling to see if she has it available.

Kahuku Farms Café – Cafe at Kahuku farms offering fresh veggie sandwiches, focaccia pizza, smoothies, all from the farm. Plus, grilled banana bread with caramel ala mode – out of control!

Kahuku Superette – POKE ALERT Convenience store – good, fresh poke…bit expensive, but worth the extra dollars.

Papa Ole’s – The ultimate loco moco! Pretty good local grindz...garlic fried chicken etc.

El palenque - A nice little hole in the wall. Hawaii isn’t known for its Mexican food, but if you find yourself jonesing for some burritos and margaritas, this could be a good fix.

Shige’s Saimin Stand - A Hawaii style diner. They make their own noodles and their broths are super flavorful!

Paalaa Bakery – Snow puffies! These are some seriously tasty and famous puff pastry custard situations.

Waialua Sugar Mill – A shave ice place with all natural actual fruit-based syrups, chocolate sauce made from chocolate grown right there on the property. Plus, you can get coffee and chocolate grown on cite, and other tchotchkes. There’s a farmer’s market on Saturday market; go support the local business!

Waialua Sugar Mill
Shrimp trucks
There’s a couple big shrimp farms up in Kahuku, so shrimp trucks were popular up here years before the truck fad swept the USA. It’s a North Shore thing, and definitely a good way to get the full North Shore experience.

Fumi’s - Again, these guys own the farms so the shrimp are fresh from the backyard. They do a fried coconut shrimp that’s good. You can also buy live/fresh shrimp from here.

Giovanni’s – A quintessential graffiti’d North Shore shrimp truck. The one near Kahuku was the original and is so popular an entire outdoor market has been built up around it. If you go, you want the scampi style. Pretty tasty and messy; not for those afraid to get their fingers buttery. There’s also a truck in Haleiwa - expect a wait at both locations.

Romy’s - This is the red structure in front of the Kahuku shrimp farms - these guys, along with Fumi’s, are the families that own the shrimp farms and use only fresh shrimp in the preparations. I think you can also buy live/fresh shrimp.

Surfer Bar at Turtle Bay - This is the bar up at Turtle Bay resort, a pretty high end hotel, so you won’t want to roll in off the beach in you sandy swimsuit and slippers (I know on the mainland they’re called flip flops, but here they are slippers, and only slippers). They’ve got a nice food menu and have live music fairly regularly, so check out their calendar. It’s open until 2 a.m, and is one of the few places on the North Shore where you can have a night on the town (well, da country).

Now that you are fully satisfied the only thing left to do is go shopping! We will share our favorite spots in the next post all about shopping in Haleiwa and beyond.

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