Eating Island Cuisine from the Grocery Stores in Hawaii

Typical dinner in our resort room.

Hawaii is one of our favorite vacation destinations. It's only a 5 or 6 hour flight from the West Coast and we've been to Oahu, Maui, and Kauai countless times. My husband and I also lived on the Big Island for a brief time 20 years ago. In fact, that was where we both worked and met.

We just came back from a week of vacation in Kauai. Since we've done this so many times, I thought it might be useful to talk about some of the foods we shopped for and show how a family of four can still eat very well on a food budget.

Exotic produce from the farmer's market.

One of the first places we visited once we checked into our resort was a grocery store. It was late so we went to Safeway. Safeway was open 24 hours and had all the food we needed but most of the stuff was expensive. Then again, it's Hawaii and food is pretty much expensive everywhere. Except for Costco. If you need fresh food, shop at Costco, Times Supermarket, Foodland, then Safeway. If you are looking for small quantities of dried food like imperial mix of rice crackers, fried pork rind, Hawaiian sodas, ice cream, coffee and cookies, shop at Walmart. If you can check out a farmer's market, fruits are the best there! Plus, a lot of the fruits at the market cannot be found at the supermarkets. In general, we shop from wherever offers the best food for the best price.

Here is a list of what we enjoyed eating and where to buy them:


  • Frozen fried rice (Yakitori Chicken) ($12.99)
  • Sweet kale vegetable salad kit ($5.99)
  • Seaweed salad ($9.99)
  • Garlic shrimp poke
  • Quinoa salad
  • Sweet bread (try all the local varieties)
  • Pineapple (sweet large ones for $2.99 ea)
  • Frozen marinated mahi mahi
  • Frozen marinated cod or salmon
  • Bbq marinated baby ribs
  • Frozen mixed bag of tropical fruit ($8.99)
  • Maui chips or Hawaiian taro/sweet potato chips (< $6)
  • Hawaiian taro/sweet potato chips (< $13)
  • Hawaiian pies (if available)
  • Fresh juice

Times Supermarket or Foodland

  • Apple bananas (local) ($1.19/lb)
  • Papayas
  • Grapes (or whatever easy-to-eat fruit is on special)
  • Ice cream in local flavors like haupia/coconut, purple yam, mango, lilikoi (passion fruit), macadamia nut
  • Frozen mochi
  • Sweet bread (guava or taro)
  • Fresh Hawaiian style ahi poke
  • Fresh tako and onion poke salad
  • Fresh seasoned edamame
  • Guava nectar
  • Fresh pak choy (locally grown)
  • X-firm tofu (to barbecue)
  • Frozen mixed vegetables (carrots, green beans, broccoli)
  • To-go-packs of JIF peanut butter
  • Sliced fresh cream pies


  • Kauai or Kona coffee ($8-15)
  • Rice crackers (< $3)
  • Hawaiian sodas
  • Portuguese sausage ($3.49)
  • Kauai Kookie
  • Bottled water

We had a limited kitchen at our resort so we didn't have access to a stovetop or oven. But we did have BBQ grills that we could use on the resort grounds. To simplify our lives, we only purchased meats and fish that were already marinated. We bought a few vegetables and tofu to throw on the grill as well without any seasoning so that our food wouldn't be too salty. Since we had so much bread, we decided just to eat our meals with bread instead of noodles or plain rice. We also bought unseasoned frozen mixed vegetables that we would just microwave and have on the side.

Gresh Lilikoi pie from Kauai Kookie bakery & kitchen.

When we had a full kitchen at our disposal, which was the case on Oahu, we bought small sauces from Walmart like oyster sauce, soy sauce and oil and then eggs, fresh noodles and frozen fish like ono at Costco. In Kauai, we just enjoyed sweet bread with peanut butter and overnight oats for breakfast. I brought some dried oats from home and I made us overnight oats with all our tropical fruit. We really had to keep things simple this time but we still ate extremely well. We couldn't get enough of the fresh ahi poke and tako! So fresh and good. My 10 year old even ate that stuff for breakfast. Just him, not the rest of us :)

Kauai coffee & overnight oats

We brought along granola and protein bars for snacks during our day trips. Sometimes we wouldn't be home until the evening so the bars and fruit like grapes and bananas would be a light lunch for us. In the evening, we would feast on barbecued fish and poke in our resort room.

Barbecued cod and pineapple.

We dined out twice and splurged. One was at a luau and the other was our last meal in Kauai at a restaurant at our resort. The Smith's Family Luau is by far our favorite luau and considering what you pay for, it's a bargain compared to other luaus. And that's without any discounts. I love that they charge much less for Juniors and Children. If luaus are not in your budget, you can buy a lot of luau type foods at Costco. They had an entire section on local fresh food like kalua pig, poi, salmon lomi, seaweed salad etc. If we stayed longer, we would have tried all of them out.

Luau dinner. Unlimited food/drinks.

We dined at Duke's restaurant in Lihue. The food was alright but like all expensive restaurants, I always find myself bummed about how much we actually spent on just one meal. It's equivalent to one or two week's grocery bill. Ugh. But I did have a couple of favorite dishes worth mentioning like their calamari pupus and their salad bar. If you order an entree, you can add the salad bar for just $4 more. The salad bar is actually quite amazing on it's own. Tons of options and it even included bread and muffins. All you can eat salad bar for just $4 extra. You can't beat that anywhere. All kids' meals come with the salad bar too. As for the entrees themselves, I thought that were just okay. I expected more since they were quite expensive. Their cocktails and desserts were reasonable though.

Food Souvenirs

  • Kauai Kookies from the factory by Waimea ($3.49 for a 4 oz. bag)
  • Taro buns from from the factory by Waimea (the best but it's $6.75)
  • Kauai Coffee from the Kauai Coffee plantation (estate grade for ~$20 lb, but use the 15% coupon in the visitor coupon book)
  • Macadamia nut chocolates from Costco (~$21)
  • Raw mac nuts from Costco ($13.49/bag)
  • Diamond bakery cookies from Costco ( < $5)
  • Mauna Loa roasted/salted mac nuts, 6 packs from Costco (< $24)

Note, if you run out of vacation time and think you should just grab stuff at the airport store, think again. Looks like a lot of things are about twice the price at the airport. The Kauai Kookie shortbread we bought for $3.49 sells for $6.99 at the airport store. So watch out!

One last thing I want to talk about is the Kauai Coffee plantation. We joined the free tour and learned a lot about coffee. We also taste tested tons of coffee for free. Since we were the last tour at 4PM and stayed until they closed (5PM), we got to leave with big cups of coffee to go. They gave us big coffee cups and asked us to fill up on as much as we wanted since they would have to dump everything down the drain. Yes, that was totally worth the trip! After that trip, I considered taking the kids to the chocolate plantation but that one was not free and turned out to be insanely expensive at $75/person. Doh. Even at half the price, I would still think it's too expensive.

Coffee fruit at the Kauai Coffee plantation.


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