All The Must-Eat Street Food in Oahu
Oahu, only the third largest island in Hawaii, defies its size and boasts a fantastically rich culture. Besides Native Hawaiians, you’ll also find communities of Japanese, Chinese, Filipino and Portuguese – and naturally, delicious culinary contributions from each. Though fine dining options abound, we can’t get enough of the street and snack foods here. They’re affordable, showcase both the island’s natural bounty and diverse population, and can be conveniently found all over Oahu, from Honolulu to the North Shore. Below, a list of eight foods you can’t miss, along with the best spots to find them. Aloha!
The most famous (and infamous) of plate lunches – which are simple, hearty meals comprised of meat, two scoops of rice, and a scoop of mac salad – this one stars a seasoned hamburger patty topped with a fried egg and gravy. Break the yolk, let it ooze everywhere, and dig right in. Loco moco is meant to remind you of a home-cooked meal. It should be affordable, filling, and hit the spot whether you’re hungry or hungover (or both).
It’s easy to see why poke has become so popular recently. For starters, it’s fresh: the fish is always raw, and served cold. On top of that, it’s simple to prepare. Slice the fish, toss with seasonings, and eat. It’s also loaded with lean protein. Though styles can vary, the classic is made with cubes of fresh Ahi in shoyu, Hawaiian salt, green onion, white onion, seaweed, and sesame oil. Look for poke that’s ruby red in color, free of sinew, and smells subtly of the ocean (but isn’t fishy).
The island’s North Shore has been a beloved destination for locals and visitors alike for its legendary surf, and for its shrimp trucks – most are in Kahuku, a town populated with shrimp farms. Large, shell-on white shrimp are deveined and sautéed in butter, flour, salt and pepper, and gobs of chopped garlic. Then, they’re heaped onto a couple scoops of white rice. If you’re a first-timer: suck the garlicky goodness off the shell, peel the shrimp, devour, and chase with a few forkfuls of rice – which really is nothing more than a vehicle for that crazy good sauce.
Huli Huli Chicken
Ernest Morgado invented Huli Huli (meaning “turn turn” in Hawaiian) chicken in 1955 when he cooked teriyaki chicken between two grills for a gathering. It was an instant hit. Eventually, Morgado trademarked the name, so he could bottle his own sauce. Today, no one else is technically allowed to use “Huli Huli” in their name, but you’ll find birds prepared in the same way Morgado made famous, all over Oahu. The best spots broil their chicken over Kiawe wood (a type of mesquite), resulting in crispy skin and tender, smoky meat.
Hawaiian street and snack food doesn’t get any more iconic than this handheld treat. At its simplest, it’s a slice of grilled Spam – whose popularity endured after WWII, when the US shipped mass amounts of non-perishable food to Hawaii – pressed onto a firm block of sticky white rice, then belted with a strip of nori. But, as with all beloved local specialties, there are many variations and even more places to find quality versions (like gas stations and convenience stores). If you’re dubious about the canned meat, listen to the locals, whom firmly believe it’s all part of the Oahu experience.
There are donuts, and then there are malasadas. These Portuguese-style, hole-less donuts are incredibly fluffy and rich – thanks to lots of butter, half and half, and eggs. But most importantly, each one is prepared to order. Fried to a golden brown, they’re also rolled in granulated sugar and if you wish, filled with plain, chocolate, or coconut custard. After just one bite of the irresistibly warm sweet treat, you’ll be hooked.
There’s no better way to beat the Hawaiian heat than a refreshing and colorful shave ice. Unlike snow cones, the ice for these is shaved to order from a large block, with a machine. The result is a feathery, powdery snow that fully absorbs the syrup – the best vendors make their own – so each bite is packed with flavor. Toppings can include vanilla ice cream, azuki beans, mochi balls, and sweetened condensed milk.
Originally from Brazil, this breakfast bowl has found another loyal fan base in Oahu. The base is a soft, frozen blend of nutrient-dense acai berries and other fresh fruit (typically bananas and assorted berries), crowned with more fresh fruit, granola for crunch, and a drizzle of local honey for some sweetness. It’s like eating a smoothie with a spoon, and a convenient way to fuel up. No wonder it’s such a big hit with the surfer set.