Before embarking on any culinary adventure across Molokai, you’ll want to brush up on your Hawaiian vocabulary. You’ve got aloha and mahalo down, right? Time to get talking about food.
Start with a pupu, or appetizer. Be sure to try the island’s poke (diced raw fish) at least once. If you’re enjoying your meal, let your host know that everything is ono (delicious). And if ono doesn’t cut it, the meal brok da mout — food so good it “broke your mouth.” There are no words.
But most importantly, plan ahead to make sure you get a taste of Molokai’s best, freshest grindz (food) from both land and sea, starting with the eight experiences below.
1. For a perfect first meal: All Things Molokai
Though Hawaiian meals can sometimes be full of rich, hearty, ono foods, All Things Molokai keeps it light. Put this place toward the top of your to-eat list, as the shop operates as something of an informal visitor center. If you’ve got questions about your trip, need some local knowledge, or just want to talk story, the staff is there to make sure you start off on the right foot.
This is a great spot to get fueled and get acquainted with the island — though with a vibrant, healthy menu full of made-to-order sandwiches, salads, fruit bowls, and juices, it’s a solid grab-and-go option any day.
2. For serious eats: Kualapuu Cookhouse
If, however, you step off the plane and a light sandwich isn’t going to do the job, head straight to Kualapuu Cookhouse. You’ll take out a meal so hearty the rest of your day will be best spent lounging on a beach, staring out over the ocean — a great afternoon in anyone’s book.
We’re talking heavy-duty loco mocos (rice topped with a hamburger patty, fried egg, and gravy), sticky baby-back ribs covered in house-made guava sauce, spicy ahi with hints of cilantro and lime, and plenty more. Remember to bring two things: cash and your appetite.
3. For a morning power boost: Hula Bean Cafe
If you’re heading out for some early morning fishing or whale watching, Hula Bean Cafe is where you’ll want to start your day. This little cafe has amenities you may be accustomed to seeing back home but are fairly rare on Molokai — namely air conditioning and wifi — to go along with a full menu of coffee and espresso drinks. Grab a breakfast sandwich, an açai bowl, or a panini for lunch, and you’ll be set for explorer mode.
4. For a much-needed pau hana: Paddlers Restaurant and Bar
Though Paddlers Restaurant and Bar is a popular spot for lunch, you’ll really want to visit during pau hana (happy hour, or “finish work”), 2–5pm Monday through Saturday. Along with a bangin’ food and cocktail menu, you’ll find karaoke or live music fairly regularly — pretty much the extent of the nightlife on Molokai.
Definitely come hungry for their extensive pupu menu. The Spicy Haole Crab and Paddler Fries are worth getting your hands dirty for, and they pair perfectly with a Primo, Hawaii’s original beer. The menu continues with salads, sandwiches, burgers, pasta, and other entrees — portion sizes are no joke.
5. For romance and oceanfront views: Hiro’s Ohana Grill
For something with a bit of magic, Hiro’s Ohana Grill offers the best fine dining experience on the island. There are stunning views across the Kalohi Channel to neighboring Lanai, making this little restaurant tucked inside Hotel Molokai the perfect place to get starry-eyed.
High-quality ingredients like locally caught fish and Certified Angus steaks match the five-star ambiance, and even if the nightly live music is on pause, the sound of the ocean waves never quits.
6. For island tradition: Kanemitsu Bakery & Coffee Shop
It’s not often an eatery can gain both critical acclaim and cult status among locals, but Kanemitsu Bakery & Coffee Shop has pulled it off. By day, it’s a local bakery that residents frequent, starting their day with a cup of coffee and pastry or — if they’re mixing it up — a breakfast sandwich. By night, a different story emerges.
In 2018, the 80-year-old bakery was a semifinalist for a James Beard Award in the Outstanding Baker category. Follow your nose down the dimly lit alley to Kanemitsu’s back window, and you’ll see (and smell) exactly why. The round, hefty sweetbreads served out the back come stuffed with your choice of classics like cinnamon and cream cheese, or island favorites such as guava, sugar, and butter. Does the thrill of the hunt make them taste even better? You’ll have to find out for yourself.
7. For the love of dessert: Kamoi Snack-n-Go
When your inner Willy Wonka strikes, Kamoi Snack-n-Go is the place to sate that sweet tooth. There are 48 ice cream flavors — all made in Hawaii — that are just as tasty in a housemade waffle bowl as they are in a milkshake. Caramel macadamia nut, green tea, guava sherbet, haupia (coconut), honeydew mochi, Hawaiian mud pie, Kona coffee, kulolo (taro and coconut)…pretty much every local flavor imaginable.
Kamoi also has seven flavors of Icee that can be made into a float or topped with li hing mui: dried plum powder that’s sweet, tangy, and salty at the same time (trust us, just try it). For the road, grab an Icee float, an assortment of candies, and Hawaiian-made snacks, and you’re set.
8. For classic lunchtime fare: Manae Goods & Grindz
The island’s dining scene centers around Molokai’s main town, Kaunakakai, but if you’re heading out east to explore old fishponds and gorgeous coastlines, you’ll definitely want to stop by Manae Goods & Grindz. Expect to find drinks, snacks, and an assortment of options that define the Hawaiian lunch experience, like bentos, plate lunches, saimin (noodle soup), açai bowls — anything “Molokai” you could be craving. There’s also a good chance their fried-rice loco moco will change your life, just saying.
Of course, when you’re in search of some grindz, there’s a lot more on the island than the above. But no matter where you are and what you’re eating, don’t be surprised if your brain drifts off to a common phrase heard around the island: “Molokai mo bettah.” And now you know why.