Best Hawaiian Plate Lunch on the Big Island: Top Spots Revealed

Aloha! You’re on the Big Island of Hawaii, surrounded by stunning landscapes, and you’ve got a craving for some local grinds. There’s nothing quite like a Hawaiian plate lunch to satisfy that hunger, with its mix of comfort food and island flavors.

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From the savory kalua pig to the sweet punch of lomi lomi salmon, finding the best plate lunch is like a treasure hunt across the island. You’re in for a treat as we dive into the spots that serve up these mouthwatering meals with aloha.

The Art of the Hawaiian Plate Lunch

Ever since your grandparents settled on Maui, you’ve been enchanted by the diverse spectrum of flavors that make up Hawaiian cuisine. And when it comes to iconic food experiences on the Big Island, the plate lunch stands out as a must-try cultural phenomenon.

Think of the Hawaiian plate lunch as a canvas, where local chefs paint with bold flavors and textures. It’s a symphony of comfort food brought to life by the island’s multicultural heritage. Typically, a plate consists of two scoops of rice, a tangy scoop of macaroni salad, and an entrée that could feature anything from teriyaki beef to the smoky, earthy notes of traditionally cooked kalua pig.

The delicacy in crafting the perfect plate lunch lies in the balance. Each component is key and must complement the others. The rice acts as a neutral base, the macaroni salad lends a creamy tang to counteract the rich, savory entrées, and the main dish – be it Chicken Katsu or Loco Moco – adds that soul-satisfying comfort. What’s more, local variations might include island-specific specialties, like the vibrant flavors of poke or the spicy kick of a Portuguese sausage.

As you hop from one eatery to the next in search of the ultimate plate lunch, notice how each chef’s personal touch shapes your meal. It’s not just in the preparation of the food, but in the choice of sides, the fusion of flavors, and even the presentation. Every plate tells a story of the islands, from the sugarcane fields to the surfer shores.

Behind every local dive and food truck window, there’s a history lesson served on a paper plate. Exploring the island’s food landscape through the humble plate lunch, you’re not just satisfying your palate — you’re immersing yourself in Hawaii’s living history, one bite at a time. So savor the journey and let your taste buds lead the way in this culinary adventure. Remember, finding the best offering is about embracing the local scene and indulging in the simple joy of island eats. Keep your eyes peeled for the next spot as your treasure hunt continues.

Exploring the Big Island’s Plate Lunch Scene

When you set foot on the Big Island, you’re embarking on a culinary journey as rich and diverse as its landscapes. Each town, each neighborhood has its own spin on the classic plate lunch, offering you a taste of their community on a single plate. Dive in and embrace this unique opportunity to indulge in local Hawaiian culture.

As you traverse through towns like Hilo and Kona, remember that plate lunches are more than just a meal; they’re a reflection of Hawaii’s melting pot of cultures. These dishes have evolved from the plantation era, when workers would gather around for a midday meal, sharing food from their various homelands.

Popular Plate Lunch Spots to check out:

  • Hilo Lunch Shop offers a daily rotating menu that keeps locals coming back. Their fried chicken and loco moco are staples.
  • Over in Kona, Aloha Angel Café boasts a modern twist on traditional plates. Their grilled ahi with a wasabi drizzle is a must-try.

Venturing off the beaten path can lead to delightful discoveries. Small “mom and pop” shops tucked away on side streets often serve up the most authentic and heartwarming meals. These hidden gems are where you’ll find the island’s soul in dishes like Kalbi ribs, and they’re well worth the search.

Tips for Your Plate Lunch Adventure:

  • Go early or off-peak hours to beat the crowds and ensure you get the best selection.
  • Ask locals for recommendations; they know where to find the best plate lunches.

Embracing the plate lunch scene is like flipping through the pages of Hawaii’s living history, one bite at a time. Each lunch plate you experience will not only satisfy your appetite but also weave a piece of the island’s story into your memory. Don’t be afraid to try new flavors and engage with the chefs and regulars – their stories add an invaluable layer to your Hawaiian adventure.

Remember, on the Big Island, the pursuit of the perfect plate lunch isn’t just about the food; it’s about the connections you make, the stories you hear, and the aloha spirit that stays with you long after you’ve savored that last scoop of macaroni salad.

Kalua Pig: The King of Plate Lunch

When you’re craving a taste of authentic Hawaiian cuisine, kalua pig simply can’t be overlooked. This savory centerpiece of the plate lunch commands respect, much like ancient kings of the island’s rich past. Its smoky flavor, reminiscent of festive luau celebrations, turns a typical meal into a cultural event.

Traditionally, kalua pig is cooked in an imu, a type of underground oven where the meat is slowly smoked to perfection. This method, passed down through generations, imparts a unique tenderness to the pork that simply falls apart with a gentle nudge of your fork. While it’s not always possible to find imu-cooked pork at every eatery, genuine kalua pig maintains that essential smoky aroma and taste, suggesting the care and tradition behind its preparation.

The best plate lunches serve kalua pig that’s been lovingly prepared to honor its cultural significance. You’ll find that the pork is often accompanied by cabbage, which complements the dish with its slightly sweet crunch. Inquire about the cooking process—you’ll likely be regaled with stories of time-honored techniques and personal touches that each chef brings to their rendering of this beloved dish.

As you sit down to enjoy your plate, take a moment to appreciate the connection to Hawaii’s history that kalua pig embodies. Remember that every bite is a culmination of ancestral wisdom and the island’s generous spirit. Here are a few tips to elevate your kalua pig experience:

  • Venture to local hotspots where the dish garners acclaim; the lines might be long, but the wait is a testament to quality.
  • Pair your pork with locally grown sweet pineapple or papaya for an added burst of tropical flavor.
  • Chat with the chef if you have the chance—learning about their specific methods can deepen your appreciation for this culinary staple.

Immersing yourself in the island’s culinary landscape through dishes like kalua pig is more than just a treat for your taste buds—it’s a journey through the heart and soul of Hawaii.

A Taste of the Sea: Lomi Lomi Salmon

As you traverse the Big Island in search of the quintessential Hawaiian plate lunch experience, you’ll find that the ocean’s bounty plays a pivotal role in the island’s cuisine. Lomi Lomi Salmon, a traditional side dish that frequently graces the plate lunch, offers a refreshing counterpoint to the often rich and savory main dishes like kalua pig.

This dish is a fusion of the Pacific’s offerings and the Hawaiian spirit. Named for the Hawaiian word “lomi” which means “to massage,” the ingredients – salted salmon, tomatoes, sweet Maui onions, and scallions – are gently massaged together to meld the flavors. Lomi Lomi Salmon is more than a side; it’s a testament to the islands’ love for fresh seafood and the influence of various cultures on Hawaiian culinary traditions.

  • Ingredients of Lomi Lomi Salmon:
  • Salted salmon
  • Chopped tomatoes
  • Diced sweet Maui onions
  • Thinly sliced scallions
  • A pinch of sea salt

The cold, tangy taste of Lomi Lomi Salmon is the perfect complement to the warm, hearty portions of a standard plate lunch. As you indulge, you’ll appreciate the contrast between the cool, diced salmon and the soft warmth of steamed rice.

Venturing into the many eateries in Hilo or Kona, you might notice slight variations in the preparation of Lomi Lomi Salmon. Some places might add a touch of green onion for an extra kick, or a squeeze of lemon juice for an additional layer of tartness. No two batches are the same, which makes each bite a novel delight.

Remember, as you dive into your plate lunch adorned with Lomi Lomi Salmon, you’re not just eating; you’re on a journey through Hawaii’s seas, embracing the local traditions and the fusion of flavors that make Hawaiian cuisine so special. Whether you’re seated at a beachside shack or at a bustling farmer’s market, take a moment to savor the freshness and simplicity of this Hawaiian staple and reflect on how it enhances the overall plate lunch experience.

Hidden Gems: Local Favorites for Plate Lunch

Discovering the hidden gems in Hawaii’s plate lunch scene is like unearthing culinary treasure. Across the Big Island, local favorites serve up comfort in a dish, often tucked away in areas you’d least expect.

In Hilo, seek out the family-owned joints that might not make the travel brochures but are always bustling with locals. There’s a little spot by a nondescript storefront where the line snakes out the door the minute they open. Their Kalbi ribs, a revered version of Korean barbecue, glisten with a secret marinade and demand to be tasted.

Heading over to Kona, strolling down side streets might lead you to a quaint eatery with an unassuming facade. What awaits inside is a plate lunch experience where fresh fish is the star of the show. With each bite, you’re not only tasting the fruits of local fishermen’s labor, but also the island’s love for the ocean.

Don’t forget those food trucks strategically placed near popular beaches or hidden in the shade of towering palms. Here, a fusion of traditional Hawaiian flavors with a modern twist can make for an unforgettable meal. The vibrant poke bowls, complete with the day’s catch, rice, and an array of toppings, offer a colorful, portable version of the plate lunch tradition.

When venturing for plate lunches, it’s crucial to remember:

  • Ask the locals; they know where the true culinary delights are hidden.
  • Look for places where the line is mostly locals – it’s a sign you’ve struck gold.
  • Check for special days or times when these hidden spots might serve a unique dish not found on their regular menu.

Exploring these local favorites not only fills your belly but also your soul, as you connect with the essence of Hawaiian culture through each savory bite. Keep an eye out for these tucked-away eateries and embrace the chance to experience the island’s gastronomic history that thrives behind modest exteriors.

The Best Plate Lunch Spots on the Big Island

When you’re on the quest for the numero uno plate lunch on the Big Island, your taste buds are in for a treat. Let’s steer your palate to the most talked-about spots that make every visit unforgettable.

Poke Market is the place where freshness reigns supreme. Imagine chunks of ahi so tender and a poke so flavorful that locals swear by it. And don’t let the simplicity of their setup fool you; what they serve is nothing short of a culinary hat trick.

If you’re cruising down Hilo side, Crave Hawaii is a must-visit. Your love for plate lunches is well catered for here, with dishes meticulously prepared to please even the most discerning foodie. Their fusion of traditional Hawaiian cuisine with a modern twist has people coming back for more. It’s not just about fulfilling hunger—it’s the joy of a meal that stays with you.

Next up, make your way to Da Poke Shack in Kona, recognized as a gold mine for seafood enthusiasts. It offers varieties from spicy garlic sesame to shoyu ahi poke, each batch boasting a burst of Pacific flavors. Pair it with their famous seaweed salad and you’ve got a combination that sings to your soul.

  • Big Island Grill in Kailua-Kona
  • Hawaiian Style Café in Waimea
  • Broke da Mouth Grindz in Kona

For those who prefer their entrées grilled or fried, make a pit stop at the Big Island Grill in Kailua-Kona. Here’s where big appetites meet even bigger flavors. And if it’s a heaping plate of comfort food you’re after, the Hawaiian Style Café in Waimea won’t disappoint with their generous servings that could easily pass for a day’s worth of meals.

Lastly, you can’t talk plate lunches without giving a nod to Broke da Mouth Grindz in Kona. The name itself is a playful nod to the local lingo for delicious food, and boy, do they live up to it. With an array of enticing options, the only challenge you’ll face is deciding which plate to dive into first.


You’ve got all the insider info to satisfy your cravings for an authentic Hawaiian plate lunch on the Big Island. From the savory kalua pig to the refreshing Lomi Lomi Salmon, your taste buds are in for a treat. Remember, the key to the best dining experiences is to chat with locals and explore beyond the tourist spots. Poke Market, Crave Hawaii, Da Poke Shack, Big Island Grill, Hawaiian Style Café, and Broke da Mouth Grindz are just the beginning. So grab your fork (or chopsticks) and dive into the flavors of Hawaii. Happy eating!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Hawaiian plate lunch?

A Hawaiian plate lunch typically consists of a main entrée, two scoops of rice, and a side of macaroni salad or coleslaw. It’s a comfort food staple in Hawaii with a mix of Asian and Western influences.

Why is kalua pig significant to plate lunches?

Kalua pig is a beloved traditional Hawaiian dish that’s often featured in plate lunches. It’s significant due to its rich, smoky flavor, achieved by slow cooking the pig in an underground oven called an imu.

How can one enhance their kalua pig experience?

To enhance the kalua pig experience, pair it with traditional sides such as poi or Lomi Lomi Salmon, and opt for a plate lunch that includes these authentic Hawaiian dishes.

What is Lomi Lomi Salmon?

Lomi Lomi Salmon is a traditional Hawaiian side dish that includes fresh tomatoes, onions, and salted salmon, all massaged (lomi) together. It’s a refreshing complement to heartier plate lunch items.

Should tourists ask locals for restaurant recommendations in Hawaii?

Yes, tourists should ask locals for plate lunch recommendations, as it can lead to discovering hidden gems and authentic dining experiences off the beaten path on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Can you name some popular plate lunch spots on the Big Island of Hawaii?

Popular plate lunch spots on the Big Island include Poke Market, Crave Hawaii, Da Poke Shack, Big Island Grill, Hawaiian Style Café, and Broke da Mouth Grindz, each offering a variety of local flavors and dishes.

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