10 Unique Restaurants in Hawaii: Elvis Pancakes, Luau Nachos, and Honey Slushes

by Jen
Unique Restaurants in Hawaii
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Ready to explore Hawaii’s unique restaurants? Picture beachfront luaus, fresh poke bowls at local spots, and spam musubi delights. Join me as we explore the coolest restaurants in HI.

If you’re eyeing Hawaii for your next vacation, let me take you on a little detour off the beaten path—to the heart of its food scene. Think beyond the stunning beaches and lush landscapes. Hawaii is a playground for foodies in search of something truly unique.

I’m talking about cafes where the pancakes are as big as your head, and they come with a side of beach views that’ll make you forget to check your phone. Then, imagine a spot so tucked away, the only hint you’re close is the scent of fresh poi and BBQ mixing with the ocean breeze. And for a real twist, picture grabbing the best Vietnamese sandwich of your life, right in the heart of Honolulu.

I’m here to share 10 of the most unique places to eat in Hawaii. These are the places that made my trips epic, turning meals into memories. Trust me, you won’t want to miss these spots, especially after you fly to Hawaii!

The top restaurants to visit in Hawaii right now

Unusual places to eat in HI

Ready to uncover Hawaii’s best eateries? We’re talking beachside luaus to poke bowl paradises. Join me as we delve into the most unique restaurants across the Aloha State.

Ever imagined dining under the stars or inside a historic plantation home right here in Hawaii? Our food scene is bursting with surprises, offering everything from traditional Hawaiian feasts to Vietnamese delights, reflecting the vibrant Hawaiian lifestyle. Let’s dig into the most unique places to eat in HI!

1. Rock Island Cafe

Let me take you back in time to Rock Island Cafe in Honolulu. Picture this: you’re surrounded by a sea of 1950s nostalgia, from Coca-Cola memorabilia to Elvis collectibles, comic books, and even vintage music videos playing in the background. As one of the hidden gems in Hawaii, you get to munch on some seriously tasty grub while jamming to classic tunes.

I had the luau nachos, chili cheese dog, and their pizza dog. Each bite was a trip down memory lane with a twist of Hawaiian flavor. And if you’re into games, you’ve got to check out the Wizard of Oz pinball and classic Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. It’s like your favorite childhood arcade got a major Hawaiian-themed upgrade.

While the vibe here is as laid-back as it gets, it’s a popular spot. I recommend dropping in early or even calling ahead to snag a good seat. And after you’re done, why not keep the nostalgia going? There are plenty of fun things to do in Honolulu just a stone’s throw away. Check out the Waikiki strip, a short walk from Rock Island Cafe.

Rock Island Cafe is one of the unique restaurants in Hawaii.
Experience 1950s nostalgia at Rock Island Cafe in Honolulu while enjoying tasty grub and classic tunes.

2. The Pig and The Lady

Oh, you’re going to love this one. The Pig and The Lady in Honolulu is a spot that’s etched in my memory for all the right reasons. This Vietnamese gem is a place I always recommend to friends asking where to eat in HI.

The star of the show here is the French Dip Bánh Mì. This sandwich is something else. We’re talking about super tender meat and a crispy baguette that could stand up to any I’ve had in Paris. But the real game-changer is the Pho broth for dipping. It’s rich, aromatic, and elevates the sandwich to something truly special.

My wife opted for the Burmese tea salad, and it was a hit. Fresh, full of texture, and bursting with flavors that are both bold and harmonious. We left planning our next visit, eager to explore more of the menu.

A heads-up – this place gets packed. Booking a table in advance is a smart move. It ranks high on my list of the best places to eat in Hawaii. Trust me, you’ll want to share this experience with everyone.

You'll love The Pig and The Lady in Honolulu, a Vietnamese gem that's a must-visit spot in Hawaii.
You’ll love The Pig and The Lady in Honolulu, a Vietnamese gem that’s a must-visit spot in Hawaii.

3. Wicked Hi Cafe

Next up, let’s chat about Wicked Hi Cafe over in Waialua, on the north side of Oahu. This place is a gem for anyone with a sweet tooth, especially if you’re into honey. I’m not talking just any honey; we’re talking locally sourced, the kind that tastes like a spoonful of sunshine.

Their menu is like a love letter to this golden nectar. Almost everything has a touch of honey, from their dishes to the coffee. They serve delicious stone-baked sourdough pizza, too, with plenty of choices for meat lovers and vegans. The way they balance the flavors with that hint of sweetness is something else.

But the real showstopper for me? The Honey Slush smoothie. After your meal, treat yourself to one of these. It’s packed with fresh raw honey and local organic fruits like dragon fruit, berries, and mango. It’s refreshing, it’s sweet, and it’s the perfect cap to a meal here.

If you’re around Waialua, do yourself a favor and drop by. It’s one of the coolest places to eat in Hawaii where the food is great, the vibe is chill, and the honey is the star of the show. Just thinking about it makes me want to go back!

Wicked Hi Cafe in Waialua, Oahu is a sweet tooth gem with locally sourced honey—definitely a must-visit spot.
Wicked Hi Cafe in Waialua, Oahu is a sweet tooth gem with locally sourced honey. | Image Source: https://www.yelp.com/

4. Waiahole Poi Factory

Eating at Waiahole Poi Factory in Kaneohe was the best spontaneous decision I’ve made. It’s a place so authentically Hawaiian, it feels like a warm embrace from the island itself. The moment we saw the line outside, we knew it was going to be good.

This place is renowned for its Sweet Lady dessert. Taro base topped with haupia ice cream? Yes, please! It’s the kind of treat that makes everyone at the table reach for a spoon. I also had the laulau + beef combo plate, which was delicious.

The vibe here is just as good as the food. With outdoor seating offering views of the ocean, it’s the perfect backdrop to enjoy some of the best food in Hawaii. And if you swing by on a Wednesday or Sunday, you’re in for a treat with their hand-pounded poi for sale.

Seriously, if you’re on the hunt for traditional Hawaiian food that’ll make your taste buds sing, this is the place. Make that U-turn, wait in that line, and get ready for a meal that you’ll be dreaming about for days.

Eating at Waiahole Poi Factory is an authentically Hawaiian experience, evoking a warm embrace from the island itself.
Eating at Waiahole Poi Factory is an authentically Hawaiian experience, evoking a warm embrace from the island itself.

5. Bella Banh Mi Cafe

For a real treat, head over to Bella Banh Mi Cafe in Honolulu. It’s this cozy little spot dishing out Vietnamese cuisine that’s both delicious and wallet-friendly. Their BBQ chicken banh mi is a game-changer. They sneak a jalapeno in there, which gives it just the right amount of kick.

Despite what the name might suggest, Bella’s also serves up delicious summer rolls. They’re fresh, packed with herbs and veggies, and just perfect for a light bite.

There’s parking right behind the shop, which is gold in Honolulu. Though there’s no seating, it’s not a problem at all. Grab your meal to go and head over to Ala Moana Beach Park. It’s close by and the ideal spot to enjoy your banh mi with a view. Think gentle breezes, ocean views, and a feast that makes you feel like you’ve hit the jackpot for cheap eats in Hawaii.

Bella Banh Mi Cafe is one of the unique restaurants in Hawaii.
Head to Bella Banh Mi Cafe in Honolulu for delicious and wallet-friendly Vietnamese cuisine.

6. Hali’imaile General Store

If you ever find yourself in Makawao, Maui, popping into Hali’imaile General Store is a move you won’t regret. It’s right opposite the Maui Gold pineapple plant. I ate here after my plantation tour (which, by the way, is one of the best attractions in Hawaii).

They’re famous for their pineapple upside-down cake. Warm, topped with whipped cream, and honestly, it’s so good on its own that you don’t even need the vanilla ice cream we got on the side.

The place itself, set in a plantation-style country house, has a charm that’s hard to find elsewhere. Wooden structures, Hawaiian art, and framed newspaper clippings give it a vibe that’s both warm and intriguing.

Hali’imaile’s is one of those fun restaurants in Hawaii where the setting is as memorable as the meal. I always recommend this spot to friends planning a trip to Maui, and I’m sure that you’ll love it too.

Don't miss Hali'imaile General Store—across from the Maui Gold pineapple plant, it's perfect after your plantation tour.
Don’t miss Hali’imaile General Store—across from the Maui Gold pineapple plant, it’s perfect after your plantation tour.

7. Kaaloa’s Super J’s

Kaaloa’s Super J’s in Captain Cook, Maui, is one of Hawaii’s best-kept secrets. I stumbled upon this spot after wandering through the lush Kona coffee farms. It’s a cozy spot that feels like a secret only locals know. It started with them whipping up Laulau in their garage, and it was so darn good they turned their home into this quaint eatery.

This place is easily one of the best restaurants in Hawaii. You walk in, and it’s all family-run vibes, super welcoming and down-to-earth. The food is delicious, as you’d expect. I got the pork Laulau which was so tender and flavorful, I still remember it to this day.

If you’re looking for top things to do in Maui, chasing after authentic Hawaiian flavors at this spot is a must-visit. It’s not your typical tourist spot, which is exactly what makes it so special. You get to experience the real deal, authentic Hawaiian food that’s made with love. Honestly, it’s one of those places you visit and immediately know you’ll be talking about it long after the trip is over, especially after you fly to Maui!

Kaaloa's Super J's is one of the unique restaurants in Hawaii.
Kaaloa’s Super J’s in Captain Cook, is a hidden gem discovered among lush Kona coffee farms.

8. Sandy’s Cafe

Let me tell you about a spot I hit up in Honolulu, Sandy’s Cafe. This place is like stepping right into Hong Kong, no flight needed. The char siu there is unreal. It’s this barbecue pork that hits all the right notes – sweet, savory, and that perfect bit of char you dream about.

I also gave their honey lemon tea a go, and let me tell you, it’s not shy on the lemon slices. It’s the perfect refreshing zing after the rich flavors of the char siu. Sandy’s Cafe might not win any awards for luxury, but the food? It’s made with a whole lot of heart, and it tastes amazing.

Sandy’s is easily one of the most unique Hawaii restaurants where the atmosphere is laid back, and the focus is on serving up mouth-watering dishes. If your idea of a good meal includes digging into authentic flavors in a chill setting, Sandy’s is your spot. Seriously, don’t miss out on it!

At Sandy's Cafe, experience Hong Kong vibes without a flight. Their char siu is unreal—sweet, savory, perfectly charred.
At Sandy’s Cafe, experience Hong Kong vibes without a flight. Their char siu is unreal—sweet, savory, perfectly charred. | Image Source: https://www.yelp.com/

9. Tahiti Nui

If you’re hitting up Hanalei, Kauai, you’ve got to check out Tahiti Nui. It would be a crime to visit Hawaii and miss out on their legendary Mai Tai. Made from a 60-year-old recipe, it’s hands down the best Mai Tai you’ll find on the island, and it’s one of the fun things to do in Hawaii!.

The vibe there is just as good as the drinks. A few times a week, they throw a luau and pig roast that feels straight out of a Hawaiian postcard. Imagine chilling with a Mai Tai in hand, live music setting the scene. It’s the real deal. They even had a lei making class going on in the back when we were there, which was super cool.

Food-wise, the Coconut shrimp and Ahi Carpaccio are winners. Tasty, fresh, and they won’t empty your wallet. Honestly, Tahiti Nui is one of the coolest restaurants in Hawaii that you just don’t want to miss. It’s got everything: good food, great drinks, and an unbeatable atmosphere. Make sure to swing by; it’s a game-changer.

Don't miss Tahiti Nui—their legendary Mai Tai, crafted from a 60-year-old recipe, is the best on the island.
Don’t miss Tahiti Nui—their legendary Mai Tai, crafted from a 60-year-old recipe, is the best on the island.

10. Barrio Cafe

You’ve got to check out Barrio Cafe if you find yourself in Wahiawa. This place is a jackpot for anyone craving authentic Mexican food in Hawaii. The cafe might be on the smaller side, but let me tell you, their burritos and tacos pack a punch. And the chips with avocado salsa? They’re the kind of good that’ll have you scraping the bowl clean!

Situated just a few minutes’ drive from Dole Plantation, it’s the perfect lunch spot after a morning exploring. The atmosphere is just as vibrant as the food, with Mexican tunes setting a lively backdrop and colorful murals that brighten up the place.

If you’re there for breakfast, I recommend the Leilehua Band Burrito. It’s a hefty breakfast burrito filled with SPAM, eggs, beans, and cheese. Not only is it a breakfast of champions, but part of the proceeds goes to the Leilehua High School Band. It’s a win-win: you get to support local kids while indulging in something delicious.

Dropping by Barrio Cafe is a move you won’t regret. It’s one of those unique places in Hawaii to eat where the food is hearty, the vibes are cheerful, and every bite feels like a celebration. Make sure it’s on your list!

Barrio Cafe is one of the unique restaurants in Hawaii.
Barrio Cafe serves authentic Mexican food with punchy burritos, tacos, and irresistible chips with avocado salsa. | Image Source: https://www.yelp.com

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the quirkiest restaurants in Hawaii

Are you searching for more information about where to eat in Hawaii? Here are some common questions (and answers) I get asked a lot about Hawaii’s most unique restaurants.

What food is Hawaii famous for?

Hawaii is famous for its luau foods, especially kalua pig and poke. Poke, fresh raw fish seasoned and mixed with tasty add-ins, really steals the spotlight.

What is a typical Hawaiian breakfast?

A typical Hawaiian breakfast? You can’t go wrong with a plate of loco moco. It’s rice topped with a burger patty, egg, and gravy.

Loco Moco: White rice topped with burger patty, fried egg, and gravy.
Loco Moco: White rice topped with burger patty, fried egg, and gravy. | Image Source: https://onohawaiianrecipes.com/

Pork’s big in Hawaii mainly because of luau traditions. The slow-cooked, smoky kalua pig is a real crowd-pleaser.

Why is SPAM a big deal in Hawaii?

SPAM became a big deal in Hawaii during World War II when fresh meat was scarce. Now, it’s a local staple, popping up in everything from sushi to breakfast plates. Hawaiians have turned it into an art form!

The top restaurants in Hawaii for all types of travelers
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