Under-the-radar strip mall cafes, beach bars with sunset views, legendary local bakeries ... we've got the ultimate list of wallet-friendly, can't-miss meals in the 50th state.

By Kait Hanson
March 15, 2019
A moutwatering burger at Nom Kauai
Courtesy of NOM Kauai

Hawaii may not have a reputation for dining on a dime, but it’s entirely possible to find budget-friendly eats that are big on flavor and local traditions. We rounded up 11 delicious eateries that are affordable and loved by vacationers and locals alike. Whether you’re jetting to Kauai, Oahu, Maui, or Hawaii, there’s a can’t-miss meal on this list. Say aloha to some of Hawaii’s best wallet-friendly food.

Pine Tree Cafe

Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
Locals will tell you this unsuspecting cafe tucked into a strip mall near Kona Airport offers one of the most robust menus on the island without Hawaiian-style pricing. More than a dozen plate lunch options, including mixed plate combos, start at $12, which includes entrees like Chicken Katsu and Teriyaki Beef, and two generously portioned sides of your choosing. All sauces and salad dressings are made from scratch in-house, and daily specials for breakfast, lunch, and dinner keep patrons coming back. Pro tip: Skip the airport food and load up here pre or post-flight.

Monkeypod Kitchen

Locations on Oahu and Maui
Founded on a commitment to craft in both food and beverage and led by award-winning Chef Peter Merrimen, Monkeypod Kitchen fuses farm-to-table with creativity to develop delicious menu items that don’t cost a fortune. The secret locals love? A daily happy hour from 3 - 5:30 pm and 9 – 11 pm with half-off appetizers and discounted beer, wine, cocktails, and specialty pizzas. Order the generous portion of Garlic Truffle Oil Fries ($4.97) served up with house-made ketchup and whole grain mustard aioli, followed by the Margherita pizza ($10), made with locally-sourced tomatoes and basil. Wash it down with a Maui Ocean Vodka cocktail ($6) or world-famous Monkeypod Mai Tai ($9.50).


Leonard’s Bakery

Honolulu, Oahu
Founded by the grandson of sugarcane workers who immigrated from Portugal to Maui, Leonard’s Bakery opened in 1952 and has been creating the state’s most-coveted Portuguese pastry ever since. Served warm and in a trademark pink box, malasadas ($1.25 each) are fried dough balls coated in plain sugar, cinnamon sugar, or li-hing, a dried plum powder with a sweet and sour flavor. Malasada puffs, the bourgeoisie relative, come filled with custard, dobash (chocolate), or haupia (coconut), a Hawaiian dessert staple, and come at a bargain of $1.60 each. It’s a popular spot—arrive to the Honolulu location early to avoid long lines and parking headaches.

Harbor House at Honokahau Harbor

Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
Set on the water with an open-air dining room, Harbor House is a little-known spot locals love for two reasons: price and frozen Schooners of beer, only $2.95 during happy hour from 3 -6 pm, daily. Order the fresh fish and chips ($12.75) or award-winning hamburger ($8.95), and the Hawaiian-style poke (served at market price) is some of the best on the Big Island. Harbor House is casual, family friendly and even offers a specialty kid’s menu, so be sure to bring the keiki (Hawaiian for children) along.

Paia Fish Market

Paia, Maui
A cafeteria-like atmosphere with picnic table seating and a line out the door has become a trademark of this bright blue building on the corner of Hana Highway and Baldwin in Paia, Maui. Paia Fish Market, owned by local restaurateurs Moonstar Greene and Yuri Soledade, source their seafood from local fisherman to include in popular dishes like Mahi burgers ($11) and fish tacos ($5 each). A casual vibe and welcoming atmosphere with eats worth waiting for, make this laidback eatery a must for diners on Maui’s north shore.

Helena’s Hawaiian Food

Honolulu, Oahu
Serving traditional Hawaiian food since 1946, Helena’s Hawaiian Food is one of only a handful of eateries in Hawaii to receive the coveted James Beard Award for regional excellence. A simple and unpretentious eatery, authentic island dishes like Kalua pig cooked in Imu, or in-ground pit, are served family style on small plates for easy sharing and sampling. Be sure to try the luau chicken ($4.50) and poi, a native staple made from the taro plant ($3.50). Pro tip: Helena’s is cash only, so come prepared by visiting the ATM in the Walgreen’s up the street.

Photo: Courtesy of Lava Lava Beach Club

Lava Lava Beach Club

Waikoloa, Hawaii
With beachside seating and ocean views, Lava Lava Beach Club, located on Anaeho’omalu Bay in Waikoloa Beach Resort, is ten acres of seaside fun. A daily happy hour from 3 - 5 pm offers visitors the best deals on island favorites like Tipsy Tots ($8), tater-tots topped with cheese, bacon, green onion, and house-made specialty SriRANCHa sauce. More substantial options like Blackened Shrimp Tacos ($11) and Seaside Sliders ($8) round out a robust discounted menu. Parties of eight or less are encouraged to use Lava Lava's call-ahead seating policy within an hour of arrival to ease wait times and ensure the fastest path to their happy hour Mai Tai ($7).

La Tour Cafe

Multiple locations across Oahu
Family owned and operated across five locations on Oahu, La Tour Cafe marries quality grindz (Hawaiian Pidgin for food) with quick service. Best known for their dessert macarons ($2) that come in 12-16 different flavors and Kouigan Amann ($3.65), a speciality butter cake pastry, generous portions of lunch and dinner fare like Crispy Goat Cheese + Beet Salad ($8.90) and Meatball Banh Mi ($10.90) make meals both affordable and filling. Diners can eat-in, take out, or have it delivered, and seasonal specials like Fall Veggie Flatbread ($12.90) that rotate monthly keep regulars coming back to see what’s new.

Taqueria El Ranchero

Wahiawa, Oahu
A strip mall gem hidden behind the main drag of Wahiawa’s Kamehameha Highway, Taqueria El Ranchero offers an authentic Mexican taco shop concept to island dwellers and visitors. Staples like burritos ($9.25) and tacos ($2.75) are on the menu, but house-made pork and chicken tamales ($3.95), beef taquitos ($3.75), and an open concept kitchen where guests can watch their food make its way down the assembly line up the ante. $1 tacos on Tuesday, Mexican Breakfast starting at 7 am daily (order the $10 Heuvos Rancheros), and a mechanical bull you can ride in the parking lot seal the deal.

A moutwatering burger at Nom Kauai
Courtesy of NOM Kauai

NOM Kauai

Kapaa, Kauai
Recognized nationally by Yelp as one of the “Top 100 Places To Eat” and locally by Hawaii Magazine for best burger, NOM Kauai lives up to the hype with a mission to “Keep Brunch Weird” using only local ingredients and a strict dine-in only policy. Order the Hella Hottie ($15), a blackened burger served medium with jalapeno jack cheese, a sunny egg, crispy fried onion straws, pickled jalapenos, and a house-made spicy chili pepper ketchup. It comes with house-made seasoned chips, but splurge for the NOM Mac + Cheese, a should-be-illegal indulgent $3 upgrade.

Elephant Shack

Laie, Oahu
A former food truck in Haleiwa turned permanent fixture in Laie (with a new location in Pearl City on the way), Elephant Shack serves up Thai meals that include ingredients sourced from three different local farms all within a ten-mile radius. The Papaya Salad ($7) starter, Ganesha Pad Thai ($12), a vegan twist on traditional pad thai, and Kapow ($12), minced chicken cooked in Thai sauce with longbeans and wok-fried egg, are menu runaways in both taste and price. Dine in or take it to go, but always order online—it’s a popular spot with locals.

Related: The Perfect Weekend in Oahu, Hawaii