These days you can’t visit a major city without stumbling into a poke restaurant. And though we do love poke, Hawaiian cuisine isn’t just about that. Actually, Hawaiian cuisine is a delicious mix of culinary influences from different ethnic groups that came to the islands, including Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Polynesian, Vietnamese, Portuguese, and American traditions. The world of Hawaiian food is huge. That said, we wanted to bring you what we think are the most exciting local Hawaiian dishes to inspire your next catering order. Here are our favorites.
1. Pho French Dip
Hawaiians love pho. So much so that hundreds of pho shops have popped up in Hawaii. From this love arose the creation of the “Pho French Dip,” a play on the French Dip sandwich. Toasted bread is smeared with creamy pâté, then layered with meats like rich brisket or caramelized pork. The sandwich is topped with cilantro, thinly sliced chilies, and spears of pickled carrots and daikon. To truly enjoy this over-the-top sandwich, dip it in a bowl of steaming-hot pho broth.
2. Kalua Pork
Smoky, meltingly tender kalua pork is a dish that can’t be rushed. To make it, pork shoulder is slow-cooked for hours with cabbage, then spooned over a bed of sticky white rice. If you want a new take on the classic dish, try a catering order of crisp, airy fries heaped with kalua pork from Seattle’s Happy Grillmore or kalua pork sliders from Rutt’s Cafe and Catering in Los Angeles. Your office will be lining up for lunch when they smell this Hawaiian food.
Malasadas are super popular in Hawaii. The tender Portuguese-style doughnuts are fried until puffed and golden brown. While the malasadas are still warm, they’re tossed in sugar. Traditional malasadas typically don’t contain any type of filling, but some variations do. Try malasadas plain, dusted with tart li hing (dried pickled plum) powder, or filled with molten-hot guava custard.
4. Ahi Burger
If you want a catering spread of light and summery foods, give the Hawaiian ahi burger a shot. A seasoned tuna patty is seared for a deep-brown crust and moist interior. The meaty tuna burger gets delicious toppers like buttery lettuce, red onions, and creamy wasabi mayo to add just the right amount of kick.
5. Fried Spam Musubi
In Hawaii, Spam musubi is cool. And you can find this snack everywhere, from catering menus to local Hawaiian convenience stores, where musubi is a popular grab-and-go food item. Spam musubi is essentially a Japanese rice ball stuffed with a slice of porky meat and wrapped with seaweed. But you’ll also find new takes on this dish—like fried Spam musubi with a crisp, airy panko crust.
6. Papaya Salad
Shredded green papaya is tossed in a bright, not-too-spicy dressing of lime juice, dried shrimp, and Thai chili slices. Then the crunchy salad is garnished with cilantro, roasted peanuts, and sometimes even airy, crispy chicharrones. It’s got just the right amount of sourness, funk, and heat. Plus, it has the uncanny ability to please just about everyone in the room—not just the salad eaters in your office.
7. Loco Moco
Loco moco is local Hawaiian food at its best, and you’ll find the rib-sticking dish on plenty of restaurant and catering menus. Sizzling hamburger patties are browned, flipped, and seasoned with salt. Then the patties are smothered in caramelized onion gravy and stacked on two scoops of rice. Adding two crispy eggs on top is non-negotiable. You can get loco moco catered from restaurants like Denver’s Hangry Ohana.
8. Breakfast Congee
While congee looks plain, the salt from toppers like Portuguese sausage intensifies the creamy sweetness of the rice porridge. Keep your eyes peeled for savory fried crullers—these crisp puffs are delicious with congee.
9. Poke Bowl
Fresh, delicate raw fish is coated in a dressing such as citrusy yuzu. Then the creamy fish is thrown together with crunchy ingredients like fried garlic, raw veggies, and an umami-bomb called furikake seasoning. Last but not least, the poke bowl gets a fistful of toasted sesame seeds and is served with warm short-grain rice. If you want a catering order of this beloved Hawaiian food for your next meeting, find a caterer here.
10. Chicken and Bubble Waffles
When we first learned of this dish, we swooned. Juicy fried chicken is piled atop eggy, airy Hong Kong bubble waffles. The waffle is wonderfully soft, and the crunchy, craggy crust of the chicken shatters when you take a bite. You’ll find this dish at Hawaiian restaurant EP in Los Angeles and other restaurants across the country.
These days you’ll find Hawaiian food just about everywhere, not just in Hawaii. So keep your eyes peeled for these exciting picks and use them to inspire your catering menu for your next workplace meeting.
Give your office a taste of Hawaii’s delicious foods.