Like everyone else, you’re going to O’ahu for the sand and the surf. But as the most populous Hawaiian island, O’ahu also packs food options that are as endless as the traffic to those beaches. Seek out and eat these seven must-have items on your next visit.
CHOCOLATE HAUPIA PIE
There are several bakeries on O’ahu that make a chocolate haupia pie, but the one you want is at Ted’s Bakery. You could go to the actual shop in Haleiwa or, better yet, just stop into almost any supermarket and check the bakery section. If you’re lucky, you’ll find it being sold by the slice or, more economically, as a whole pie because one slice is never enough. This strata of salty pie crust, not-too-sweet chocolate mousse, creamy coconut pudding and fluffy whipped-cream topping is the ultimate chocolate haupia pie. Every layer is correctly proportioned and complementing of the next. 59-024 Kamehameha Hwy., Haleiwa; www.tedsbakery.com.
Giovanni’s is arguably the most famous shrimp truck found on the North Shore of O’ahu. It hogs all the attention and has the longest queues, even though there are so many other such trucks on the island. Get in line, then eat your shrimp plate at the makeshift outdoor food court shaded by a tall, sinewy tree. The shrimp scampi is undeniably good if not something you can make at home with some fresh shrimp, olive oil, minced garlic and lemon. But even if you can re-create it, it won’t taste the same because an essential component will be missing: the experience of having it at O’ahu’s idyllic North Shore. Plus, doing so allows you to brag on social media that you’ve eaten at the island’s most famous shrimp truck. 66-472 Kamehameha Hwy., Haleiwa; giovannisshrimptruck.com.
Ask the locals where to get the best manapua on O’ahu, and they’ll likely tell you to go to Libby’s. But there’s a manapua chain called Chun Wah Kam that seems to be the most accessible from wherever you happen to be on the island. The manapua it makes is fluffy, sweet, and filled with some things you’d expect to be in a steamed bun (such as red beans) and some things you wouldn’t (such as curry). The most popular is the char siu, which is chopped to hash and artificially colored to a rosy shade of pink. It tastes like pork candy. Eating one is a good snack; eating two counts as a meal. And if you’re planning a day at the beach, there is no better picnic food. Multiple locations; chunwahkam.com.
If you avoid McDonald’s on the mainland, get over your aversion when you’re in O’ahu if simply for the Local Breakfast Platter. It’s one of those McDonald’s specialties that you can only enjoy in the Aloha State. A platter consists of steamed rice, an omelet and your choice of Hawaiian breakfast meat—either Spam or Portuguese sausage. And because of the company’s All-Day Breakfast push, the Local Breakfast can also be had for lunch or dinner. The increased availability seems to have only improved the quality, as it forces the meals to be cooked to order. The Spam will have that just-from-the-griddle crust, the Portuguese sausage will be juicy, and the egg creamy. All of it, of course, is perfect with rice, which you can season with not only a packet of Heinz ketchup, but also Aloha Soy Sauce, a locally produced brand. Multiple locations; www.mcdonalds.com.
Zippy’s, a Hawaiian plate-lunch fast-food chain with multiple locations on O’ahu, puts those on the mainland to shame. The so-called “Zip Pac” meal costs about $11 and contains the following proteins in a nod to all the cultures that have come to define modern Hawaiian cuisine: fish katsu, Korean barbecue beef, fried chicken and, of course, a slice of Spam. It’s all served on a bed of rice showered with furikake, a substance whose magical qualities are equivalent to pixie dust. Multiple locations; www.zippys.com.
If you want poke, don’t buy it at a restaurant or resort; instead, go to a supermarket. If you can find a Foodland, all the better. It should be easy: There’s a Foodland on virtually every corner of the island. Once you locate one, beeline it to the butcher section. There, for about $7, the counter person will build you a poke bowl brimming with marinated cubes of ahi (not the build-your-own stuff you see on the mainland) from a choice of at least half a dozen different flavors. The price would be a good deal for mediocre poke, but it’s a steal when you consider how fresh and vibrant Foodland’s always is. Multiple locations; www.foodland.com.
Matsumoto Shave Ice is an institution. Although the shop has changed a bit after being remodeled, what’s important has stayed the same: the shave ice, which still comes from a solid block that’s turned into white fluff by a whirling metal contraption. A soup ladle molds the snowy substance into spheres before being doused with three syrup flavors of your choice. Opt for the tropical, which is a set combo of lilikoi, guava and coconut. Then ask for ice cream and azuki beans to be added as a base. The ice cream is a tradition and how shave ice should always be eaten because the more the shop has changed, the more you should want it to stay the same. 66-111 Kamehameha Hwy., Ste. 605, Haleiwa; matsumotoshaveice.com.
Before becoming an award-winning restaurant critic for OC Weekly in 2007, Edwin Goei went by the alias “elmomonster” on his blog Monster Munching, in which he once wrote a whole review in haiku.