Updated: Apr 30
These might not be hidden gems, and a few have been vlogged about a great deal. That said, there is a reason some of these have been vlogged about a lot – they are very good. One of our stops (Honourable Mention #1 in fact) confuses us a little as to why it is so popular and makes it in to most every guidebook about Oahu. Some of these are affordable, and some are a bit expensive, so not entirely budget friendly. Without further ado – we hope you enjoy our Top 10 Favourite food stops around Oahu.
Oahu has all the iconic scenery that a lot of us – especially we Boomers – remember from the original Hawaii 5-0 with Jack Lord in the 1970s, and the original Magnum P.I. with Tom Selleck and John Hillman in the 80s. There is also a nostalgia from a Hawaii of the 1950s with the likes of Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra, not to mention the fall-out of colonization by an imperial power that has left the indigenous people relegated to the margins much as has happened in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the continental United States.
If you will allow the tangent, there is a movement to prevent further hotel development up along the East and West side of the island, which makes sense as it is already prohibitively expensive for people to live on the island of Oahu. A taxi driver we met, Kim, explained how the U.S. military gives military personal a rental subsidy of between $2500 - $4000 per month. This has had the effect of enticing landlords to raise rents to match the subsidy. So an apartment that would normally have been worth $1000 per month, is now renting for $3000 per month. People earning $15 - $25 per hour cannot afford to pay the rent AND feed the kids. A bus driver from a previous trip talked about the need to make the minimum living wage $30 per hour. We agree – less than $30 per hour and you are living on the street as we have seen an increase in people without housing, and sadly more and more seniors being priced out of their homes. Add in the gentrification of Honolulu and Waikiki with high-end retailers (used to be small mom n pop businesses and artisans in the International Marketplace) and hoteliers - you now have the perfect storm to keep the majority of the local people, and especially the people who make our lattes and clean the hotel rooms, among those precariously housed or unhoused. While we enjoy visiting Hawaii, we also know we have been part of the problem as tourists to this beautiful set of islands. In our effort to reduce the harm we do as tourists, we focus on locally owned and operated businesses (unless there is absolutely no other option). Using our money in this way keeps the tourist dollars in the community, which is part of a harm-reduction tourist approach. And now, back to our list...
#10: Fumis Shrimp Shack
We’ve stopped at the other shrimp trucks, and while they are good, we are particularly fond of Fumis Shrimp Shack. The shrimp is tasty; good value for the money, and in our opinion, it has the best seating area and atmosphere of the other shrimp stops. All the shrimp trucks and shacks are similar in price and quality. We prefer Fumis for the reasons outlined above. However, we encourage anyone who is privileged enough to visit Oahu on numerous occasions to give them all a try and decide for yourself which one is your favourite.
The crew outside of Fumis Shrimp Shack - East side of Oahu about 1/2 way from Honolulu to Hale 'iwa.
Prices at all the shrimp trucks/stands are about the same. We prefer Fumis for the atmosphere and the varieties.
Angela and Christopher's mother, Frances, checking out the spicy garlic shrimp. The spicy is not for the faint of heart.
#9: Diamond Head Cove Health Bar (Honolulu)
This is one of our favourite places near Waikiki – actually it is up Montserrat Avenue near the back of Diamond Head Crater (we usually stop on our way down from the Kapiolani Farmers Market). Easily the best Acai Bowls on Oahu, and a unique place to stop in. From the outside it looks like a bland strip mall (also has Bogarts, Sunny Daze, and Hawaii Sushi in this little mall – all great food stops), but inside it is colourful with so many photos and paintings to check out. We stopped here the first time in 2010 when the cast of Lost was making their presence known, and Jorge Garcia would stop in at ‘Da Cove’ for lunch. Well worth checking out, and Acai Bowls you won’t soon forget.
We have stopped in here every trip (we're very fortunate - have been here six times since 2010), and have always been happy we did. Since COVID prices have gone up everywhere - this is one of the places that we stop in at least once just because it is very tasty.
#8: Kalapawai Market in Kailua
This was an accidental find thanks to roadwork near Kailua Beach that detoured us, and we discovered this little gem. Great coffee and sandwiches, and a cute market inside. There is seating and the cost is reasonable. A great lunch stop when you are at Kailua Beach, or just checking out Kailua town.
#7: Aloha Table
We were here in 2010 and 13 years later we checked it out again and it was just as good as we had remembered. The jalapeno pineapple is worth trying – quite the contrasting flavours. Angela’s mom, Frances, ordered the Cobb Salad, and it had most of the garden in it. Reasonably priced for Hawaii, and a nice atmosphere.
Frances with the "Island Cobb Salad" at $16.00 USD.
Angela's "Garlic Shrimp" at $22.00 USD.
#6: Eggs n Things (the Saratoga Ave location is our favourite)
Each trip we always stop here at least once for breakfast. It’s not like we couldn’t replicate this in a hotel room – at least a close facsimile, but the atmosphere and the staff make Eggs n Things a must-do for at least one breakfast. We’ve been to the Waikiki location, and for us it isn’t fun enough to warrant the cost. We went there once – otherwise we only go to the Saratoga Avenue location, which is a two-story house converted to a fun, lively restaurant that pumps out huge quantities of food and maintain the quality in the process. Staff are exceptional and friendly given all they have to put up with from tourists throughout the day – hats off to you all. Eggs n Things is fun, and great for large families if you just don’t want to cook up another breakfast. This is also a destination restaurant in our opinion.
The original "Eggs n Things" is on Saratoga Avenue and we find the selection and quality tends to be better here than the one on Waikiki Beach. The atmosphere is just nicer here than the one on Waikiki - our opinion.
#5: Island Vintage Coffee (various locations)
Our favourite location is the one in the Royal Hawaiian Centre near Waikiki Beach. The lattes/coffees are always tasty and made with a flair, and the food is consistently good no matter what time of day you show up. We are always amazed at the level of quality the staff maintains given the huge number of tourists they are catering to every single day. If you are looking for a great coffee and/or latte, then Island Vintage Coffee needs to be your destination. This is also the destination for tasty breakfasts and lunches. Our only caveat is, like everywhere else in Hawaii since COVID, the cost of everything has gone up dramatically, and this is reflected in the price of what you purchase. However, occasionally you do need to treat yourself to a great latte.
#4: Leonard’s Bakery
This is easily our favourite bakery on Oahu. Portuguese pastries made in-house by the same family who moved here in the 1950s (incidentally, the ukulele originated in Portugal and made its way to Hawaii by way of Portuguese labourers on the sugar plantations). Leonard’s Bakery is always busy, and for good reason – the malasadas are delicious – and hot out of the oven. We have been here many times since 2010 when we made our first trip, and not once have the malasadas been cool. Always warm, and always delicious. The classic malasadas do not have a filling and are often coted in cinnamon sugar, regular sugar or a glaze. The puff malasadas have a custard inside with flavours such as coconut, macadamia nut, or lilikoi. There is a fun photo history wall with famous folks who have stopped in here including the original Magnum P.I., Tom Selleck, the cast of Lost and others from years back. Worth checking out at least once.
If you like tart pastries (that is 'tart to taste', not a tart), then try Leonard's sweet and sour malasadas.
Angela's favourite is the macadamia nut filled malasada.
I can never decide on a favourite, so I buy a box. They aren't quite the same next day, and six is a lot of malasada - especially if you are older and trying to monitor your blood sugar and blood pressure.
#3: Maunakea Marketplace (Chinatown Food Hall)
We love Thai food, and finding a good Pad Thai is something we are always on the lookout for. Well, turns out one of the most flavourful Pad Thai meals we’ve had – not to mention the most affordable – has been in the food hall in Chinatown in Honolulu.
The Maunakea Marketplace itself doesn’t have a website, but many of the businesses do. The first link gives directions and a map of where it is, and the second link is a YouTube video by Explorations to Go that gives a good walking tour of the Maunakea. To see more from Peaceful Nomads, check out our Top 10 Budget Activities on Oahu video.
Sometimes the camera-person is a pain in the Pad Thai.
Angela during a previous trip - we stop in at Maunakea Marketplace every trip - sometimes twice. It is affordable and delicious street-style food in Honolulu's Chinatown. It is a safe area and good for families in our opinion. We work with marginalized individuals, so we do not equate poverty with criminality. People living in poverty is a result of a Capitalist free-market economy. A book recommendation if you are interested is Bruce Alexander's 'Globalization of Addiction', which you can order here.
Inside Maunakea Market - one of many halls within the market. It is huge - be sure to check around corners, because it goes on, and on, and on....
#2: Farmers Markets: Kapiolani Community College (Saturdays) and Kailua (Wednesdays)
The two main Farmers Markets are the Kapiolani Community College Farmers Market, and the Kaiulua Farmers Market. The KCC Market happens Saturday mornings – you do need to get there early as it closes before 12:00pm. The Kailua market is an afternoon market until 4:00. Check the website for times and days as they occasionally change. Supporting the local farmers and keeping the money in the community helps to keep the local people here growing the food on the island rather than having it imported from thousands of kilometres away. The Farmers Market is one way you can be a conscientious tourist and support the place you are visiting.
Kapiolani Community College Farmers Market (Saturdays)
Kailua Farmers Market (Wednesday afternoons)
#1: Matsumoto Shave Ice in Hale’iwa
Maybe we’re being a little too picky here; however, we are not sure what all the fuss is about. Maybe if it was real fruit juice on the ice, we’d be more on board with making a fuss. As it is it is just sugar water with artificial colours and flavours – none of which are good for you. And really, we don’t think it tastes that good, either. It is very popular – we’re just not sure why.
Not sure what all the fuss is about with shave ice. It is sure popular, though.
#2: Kahuku Farm Café - near Fumis Shrimp Shack on the East side of Oahu
Kahuka Farm Café was nearly one of our Top 10 – the only reason it didn’t make it on this list was due to the video we had – I was slacking that day and didn’t take much video at Kahuku Farm Café, which is a shame. It is a beautiful spot on the East Side of Oahu up around Fumis Shrimp Shack, and about 35 minutes South of Hale ‘iwa. Stop in and try their local Acai bowls (they grow their own Acai); their farm-grown coffee, and their fresh pizzas with most everything on the pizza grown on the farm. Next time we’ll be sure to take better video and it will absolutely be one of our Top 10 food stops.
Everything here is fresh; most of it grown right on the farm, and the prices are reasonable.
Kahuka Farm Cafe is a great place to kick back and enjoy the quiet for awhile
Our Number 1 Food Place on the Island of Oahu is…
#1: Cooking our own food with the 100-kilometre diet.
Ultimately, this is where you get to eat healthy and affordably. At least compared to eating in a restaurant. There are things we can’t make here though, like malasadas and sushi (we’ve tried – we’re just not good at it) – however, most everything else from poke bowls, acai bowls, fruit bowls, omelettes, breakfasts, good coffee (maybe not lattes – we have to go out for those) – most everything else can be made at the hotel (if you have a kitchen like we do at the Royal Grove Hotel), and if you pick up a couple of read-made items from a Farmers Market, you are still ahead of the game. The local Hawaiian produce is delicious – our best salsa experience was made at the Royal Grove using Maui onions, local tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, avocado, local (we think) limes and cilantro. The volcanic soil really does add flavour to the produce here. Cooking your own food dovetails nicely with #2 – the Farmers Markets. This also contributes to being a good tourist and keeping money in the community you are visiting. As an added bonus cooking your own meals drastically reduces your travel budget, while still enjoying the culinary experiences of your destinations.
Try making your own salsa with locally grown (and ripe off the vine) pineapples, Maui onions, local grown tomatoes (the volcanic soil really does something amazing for all the flavours), fresh local cilantro and squeeze of local limes on top is a salsa you will remember for years after your trip. The local avocados from the Farmers Markets tastes like no avocados we get in Canada or other northern latitudes.
Morning papaya boats where everything you see on the plate comes from within 100 kilometres.