A trip to Hawaii is surely memorable but not exactly cheap.
A 2023 analysis of a seven-day trip from Los Angeles to Honolulu during shoulder season for a family of four people staying at a three-star hotel can easily cost over $5,700 – including meals, transportation and activities.
Where can you cut costs? Food.
Most visitors who visit Hawaii opt for Honolulu, and chances are, they’re staying in Waikiki – home to over 900 lodging properties.
While many hotels have great dining options, they tend to be expensive, so you probably don’t want to dine there every night. You may also not want to hit up chain restaurants like P.F. Changs or Cheesecake Factory if you can find them back home. Wouldn’t you rather go to spots offering a more authentic taste of the islands?
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If you know where to look, Waikiki has many hidden gems for affordable and delicious dining – many of which are owned and beloved by locals.
Here are some delicious, locally approved cheap eats in Waikiki. Everything on the list costs around $15 or less.
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If you’re wandering along Kuhio Avenue, you’ll likely spot a long line of hungry people on the sidewalk. They’re waiting for Marugame Udon, a longstanding staple of Waikiki. If you’re eating here, you want cheap and delicious food, not exactly a sit-down dining experience.
The Japanese chain restaurant serves authentic udon noodles in flavorful broths, served up cafeteria-style. Guests order their choice of udon in regular ($6.50) or large ($7.50), then grab whatever sides, like different tempuras, including shrimp, chicken and asparagus, and musubi (usually around $2.50 each).
The restaurant moves quickly: once you get your food, snag an empty table, slurp up the noodles then hustle out for the next set of diners.
Maguro Spot is a hole in the wall with a wide selection of poke, which is marinated raw fish over a bed of rice, at reasonable prices – it’s the perfect pre- or post-beach meal.
You can make your own poke bowl or order one of their recommended combinations. Definitely go for the creamy sesame sauce, which isn’t offered at other poke shops around the island.
A medium poke bowl goes for $12 and is enough to fill you up for lunch or dinner.
K Street Food
On Kalakaua Avenue is the recently opened food hall called STIX Asia, where CEO Frank Clark said he wanted to educate guests on different Asian foods at approachable prices.
“Our goal was to have a family of four eat for under $100,” he told USA TODAY.
K Street Food is a casual eatery serving authentic Korean street food. For something filling but not heavy, the kimbap – Korean sushi made with savory ingredients like spam, fish cake, egg and cucumber – goes for $12.99. If you really want to Korean street food experience, opt for a rice dog ($8.99-10.99, depending on what kind you get), which is a corn dog made with rice flour.
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Fellow STIX restaurant, Baikohken Ramen, is the sister restaurant to a Hokkaido location that was recognized in the Michelin Guide Hokkaido 2012 and 2017. Its shoyu ramen is filling and has a deep soy sauce flavor ($15.48). The portion is pretty big too, topped with chashu pork that was marinated in soy sauce overnight, and bamboo shoots.
Musubi Cafe Iyasume
If you’re heading to the beach, stop by one of three Waikiki Musubi Cafe Iyasume locations for this beloved musubi shop for a quick, handheld meal.
Onigiri, or musubi, are Japanese rice balls with ingredients like Spam (a Hawaii favorite), cooked fish, shrimp tempura, egg, fried chicken and more wrapped up inside.
Once you enter the small shop, you’ll see rows of countless types of onigiri. Depending on what kind of musubi you get, it can range from $2 to $5. Grab two or three for a beach day, throw them in your bag, and you’re all set.
In 2015, Honolulu chef Justin Sok was serving up bibimbap cups and kalbi short ribs at a food stall at King’s Village farmer’s market in Waikiki before opening up a restaurant in Chinatown in 2017. While that location has closed, you can now find his satisfying Korean-inspired dishes at Topped Waikiki, many of which are under $15.
The spicy pork mayo bowl with juicy braised pork, a scrambled egg and pickled onions over a bed of white rice is drizzled with teriyaki, Korean chili sauce and mayo ($10.99).
Vegetarians, or those who want something a bit healthier, opt for the tofu bibimbap, which uses tofu instead of meat ($11.99).
If you’re willing to go on a longer stroll, head off the main strip of Waikiki to Rainbow Drive-In on Kapahulu Avenue. Since 1961, this eatery has been offering residents and visitors alike plate lunch fare, a hearty meal consisting of rice, macaroni salad and meat like BBQ pork or fried mahi-mahi fish ($11.75-$13.50).
If you’re really hungry, opt for the loco moco, another local favorite, comprising rice and a hamburger patty topped with a fried egg and gravy ($11.75). Take some time to digest and snap a picture of the iconic neon sign before heading back to Waikiki.
Kids will love cooling off with a slush float, a strawberry Icee with a scoop of vanilla ice cream ($4.75 for a small).
If you had a big breakfast, have plans for a nice dinner, or want something lighter but still filling, head over to the Sunrise Shack at the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort, located steps off Waikiki Beach since 2018.
Owned by a few North Shore surfers, this shop serves healthy tropical-inspired smoothie bowls and smoothies. The classic acai bowl ($11.95) is a decently sized frozen blend of acai, topped with gluten-free granola, banana, coconut flakes, dragon fruit sauce and honey.
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Kathleen Wong is a travel reporter for USA TODAY based in Hawaii. You can reach her at [email protected]
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