Cheap Eats in Hawaii

Eat well and save money in the Hawaiian Islands

Scampi shrimp plate, Hale'iwa, Hawaii

 Rosanna U/Getty Images

Let's face it—a trip to Hawaii can really add up between travel expenses, hotels, excursions and food. But there are a few ways that you can save some money when eating out. You don't need to go to a fancy restaurant to eat well in Hawaii. In fact, some of the best food is found at the more casual, down-to-earth places.

Hole-in-the-Wall Delights

It is easy to get turned off by dated or dingy decor, but don't always let the appearance of the restaurant speak for the quality of the food. For example, on the island of Maui, across from the Paki Mauri Resort (just north of Ka'anapali in West Maui) is a place called the Honokowai Okazuya & Deli. You can get a great dinner with a freshly cooked entree, fresh vegetables, and rice or macaroni salad. Entrees include such things as Chicken Katzu, Kung Pao Chicken, Mongolian Beef, Teriyaki Steak, and Mahi Mahi. The food is delicious, but not fancy by any means, as it is packed in a styrofoam container with plastic fork and knife.

Lucky for us, the Honokowai Okazuya & Deli is not the exception, but the rule. There are many of these small, often family-run, dining spots throughout the islands. One being Ono Hawaiian Foods at 726 Kipahulu Ave. in Honolulu. It's located near the Ala Wai Golf Course that borders Waikiki. One Hawaiian Foods is a great place to go if you want to sample some authentic Hawaiian foods without the expense of attending a luau. You can order items a la carte or buy one of the "Special Plates" which include a choice of kalua pig, chicken long rice or laulau, and includes servings of pipikaula (Hawaiian beef jerky), lomi salmon, haupia and rice (one size only) or poi (small).

The Plate Lunch

When it comes to local food, you'll see the term "plate lunch" almost everywhere in the islands. As defined by Robert and Cindy Carpenter in their excellent Hawaii Restaurant Guide Series, a plate lunch is "an island-style blue plate special with a main entree such as teriyaki beef or chicken, two scoops of white rice and a scoop of macaroni salad." It is a satisfying and filling meal.

Food Trucks

If you're on O'ahu and driving around the islands, be sure to plan to have lunch at one of the several shrimp trucks around Kahuku on O'ahu's North Shore, including the Kahuku Shrimp Trucks. A serving includes about a dozen of the freshest shrimp you'll ever eat, plus two scoops of rice.

But food trucks don't just offer Hawaiian shrimp—you will find quite the variety served out of these lunch wagons, from Japanese to Filipino to Mexican cuisine. And you will find them throughout the Hawaiian islands.

Hawaii Food Tours

A great way to sample some of the smaller, less well-known Hawaiian restaurants is to take a tour—instead of sitting at just one restaurant for lunch, you'll stop and eat at four or five of them over the course of several hours while learning about the Hawaiian cuisine.

Hawaii's #1 food writer and restaurant reviewer Matthew Gray operates Hawaii Food Tours, which includes a daily Hole-In-The-Wall Tour (featuring a walking tour of Honolulu's wonderful Chinatown) and North Shore Food Tour. You will explore Hawaii's cultural history, visit exotic locales, and of course eat very well. You get all the benefits of a guided tour of Honolulu plus enough food to fill you for the rest of the day. Most importantly, you'll learn about all of the great foods offered in Hawaii and how to find them.

Not going to Oahu? No problem—there are food tours like Hawaii Food Tours all over the Hawaiian islands. 

Simple As ABC

Another name to keep in mind in Hawaii is ABC, specifically the ABC Stores. People love to make fun of them, mostly because they're omnipresent throughout O'ahu, on almost every corner, and in every major resort. Their prices, however, are not something to laugh at. They carry a huge selection of snack foods, breakfast items, and drinks at very low cost. 

Another chain which offers a similarly excellent choice of snacks, beverages and groceries are the Whalers General Stores. You'll find them mostly in the resort areas on the outer islands.