Cheap Eats in Hawaii

Halo Halo

Cheap eats in Hawaii – it IS possible. Hawaii has a reputation for being expensive. There are tourists year-round just ready to max out their credit cards, pay for expensive meals and buy lots of gifts and souvenirs to bring home. But with the right planning and budgeting, you can totally sample all of Hawaii’s local foods without maxing out your credit card. Actually make sure you have cash on hand because many small restaurants and food carts in Hawaii take cash only.

Keep your eyes peeled for local festivals. Honolulu hosts a monthly night market on every third Saturday of the month. A local company called Street Grindz organizes the night market, they also host a monthly food cart festival that happens on a Friday during business hours. Check out their website for more details:

Koa Pancake House

If you love pancakes, you’ll have to visit Koa Pancake House. Koa is a local chain serving up pancakes and breakfast items all-day. Think of it as a Hawaiian IHOP. The set up at Koa is fast food style though. You order your food at the counter and it’s served up on a tray on paper plates. It’s fast and efficient. Just don’t order the red velvet pancakes. I usually love anything red velvet but the red velvet pancakes at Koa just taste too obviously made from pre-mixed batter. They left that gritty rough texture on the back of my teeth which always happens when I eat something extremely processed and artificial (except for spam, I guess!). Whenever you order a breakfast plate at Koa, a short stack of complimentary buttermilk pancakes comes with the plate. The free buttermilk pancakes tasted ten times better than my red velvet ones. They were fluffy and moist. Next time I’m ordering a breakfast plate with the buttermilk pancakes instead of eating all of them off my boyfriend’s plate. The breakfast plate comes with the usual Hawaiian meats: spam and Portuguese sausage, both were salty and scrumptious.

Koa pancake house

Red velvet pancakes, Koa pancake house

buttermilk pancakes, Koa pancake house

Koa Pancake house

We had to visit a Hawaiian McDonald’s just to see how it differed from McDonald’s on the mainland. The McDonald’s we visited was right next door to a Safeway and a Costco. We also poked around in both grocery stores to scope out some Hawaiian products. There was a whole aisle in the Safeway dedicated to different flavours of spam. At Costco, we found boxes of coconut water that were at least $10 cheaper than coconut water back home. We stocked up!

McDonald’s, Honolulu

At the McDonald’s, we found out that many of the Hawaiian items are served at breakfast: spam and Portuguese sausage. For lunch and dinner, they had an item that we haven’t seen before: saimin, aka – Hawaiian ramen noodles. The noodles weren’t as chewy as ramen, maybe this was because we tried them at McDonald’s, they’re probably freeze-dried noodles at the fast food chain. It was definitely different from any other McDonald’s we’ve been to. We noticed many people ordering this item so it’s a local hit.

Saimin, McDonald’s, Honolulu

Saimin, McDonald’s, Honolulu

Another item that we haven’t seen in Canada is the banana cream pie. The single serving pie had a crispy crust and the creamiest banana filling. I wish we got two.

Banana cream pie, McDonald’s, Honolulu

Banana cream pie, McDonald’s, Honolulu

The mother lode of cheap eats can be found in Ala Moana Center. Ala Moana Center is the world’s largest outdoor mall. There are two main food court areas. Shiroyaki is the other main eatery – it’s a privately owned Japanese department store with a whole floor dedicated to Japanese cuisine: sushi, ramen, tonkatsu, all types of donburi bowls and much more.

Ala Moana Center, Honolulu

We ate at the main food court at Ala Moana Center. Like every mall food court, it’s a mish mash of all different types of cuisine, Chinese, Japanese and Western. But there were some chains that we haven’t tried in Canada such as the Jollibee. There was even a Häagen-Dazs shop. We bought some refreshing smoothies made with dole whip and fresh fruit.

Ala Moana Center

I had to try the shumai which they call pork hash here. They are basically double the size of the pork dumplings back home and much fattier. They were delicious but I couldn’t eat that many of them as two were already very filling. We also bought some barbecue pork buns but it turned out that they weren’t nearly as tasty as the juicy pork hash.

Ala Moana Center

Pork hash, Ala Moana Center

Barbecue pork buns, Ala Moana Center

This was also my first experience at a Jollibee, a Filipino chain restaurant that serves an infamously sweet and weird dessert: the halo halo. I’ve only ever seen Anthony Bourdain eat a halo halo on TV and I have never tried one up until now. I’ve always been curious. The halo halo consists of a Hawaii staple: shaved ice mixed in with boiled sweet beans, evaporated milk, an assortment of jellies and for no particular reason, some cubes of custard. I liked the custard the best but I admit I was not able to finish this dessert. It was much too sweet, even for a someone with a sweet tooth like mine. I still can’t understand how all the flavours in the halo halo go together but I suppose it would be different for someone who grew up eating it. The other items we tried from Jollibee included the sliders, we ordered one spam slider and one pulled pork slider. Both of which were pretty skimpy on the meat but the sliders were great snacks.

Jollibee, Ala Moana Center

Halo halo, Ala Moana Center

Halo halo, Ala Moana Center

Spam slider, Ala Moana Center

Pulled pork slider, Ala Moana Center

If you’re looking for cheap eats, you must check out any of the above choices. I’m partial to the night market for its liveliness and variety in food choices but you pick your favourite. Or better yet, let me know about your cheap eats finds on the island!

Koa Pancake House on Urbanspoon

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