Hawaiian Plate Lunch: Perfect Beach Food

By Mark Wiens 25 Comments
Enjoying a Plate Lunch in Hawaii
Enjoying a Plate Lunch in Hawaii

Hawaiian Plate Lunch

Hawaiian cuisine is synonymous with something known as the “plate lunch.”

A Hawaiian plate lunch is the simple combination of steamed rice, creamy macaroni salad and a choice of meat.

It’s normally packed into a compartmental foam container (or traditionally on a plate and put into a pie box) so it’s easy to transport on the go. Disposable chopsticks are the choice utensil, but you’ll aslo find plastic forks and spoons.

Plate lunches are made to consume at the beach – in fact every time I eat a plate lunch (anywhere I happen to be), I find myself dreaming of relaxing at a beautifully inspiring beach listening to the waves.

Fried Mahi Mahi Plate Lunch
Fried Mahi Mahi Plate Lunch

The Meat

The most complicated decision you’ll have to make when comtemplating a plate lunch is the meat that will be the main event of your plate. Along with the starch, you’ll be served a generous heaping of delicious meat!

Nowadays there are lots of items to choose from, but here are the classics:

Some Hawaiian plate lunch restaurants will offer more choices, but these are the standards, the specials that have been tested throughout the years and passed.
Hawaiian Plate Lunch
Creamy macaroni salad from Rainbow Drive In

The Macaroni Salad

The macaroni salad is like Thai chicken rice sauce, it’s one of the make or break ingredients of a good plate lunch.

It should be mayonaise-ey and creamy, not overly sweet, and slightly salty so it mixes up nicely with the rice and meat. You don’t want it to coat the rice like gravy, but you want it to mingle with the rest of the plate just a little bit.

Most plate lunches are served with 1 scoop of macaroni salad (known better just as “mac salad”), but you can also choose to get 2 scoops if you prefer.

Hawaiian Plate Lunch
Hawaiian Plate Lunch

The Rice

The last remaining fundamental part of a Hawaiian plate lunch is the rice. Most large plates come with 2 scoops of rice, but mini or small plates will only include a single scoop.

The rice is medium short grain rice that is cooked moist and slightly mushy. The consistency goes well with the fried greasy meats and the macaroni salad to complete a Hawaiian plate lunch.

Rainbow Drive In
Rainbow Drive In

Where to Eat Plate Lunches in Honolulu

There are many hole in the wall locations to grab Hawaiian plate lunches in Honolulu, but here are a few popular and easy to visit locations.

Rainbow Drive In – One of the most well known and popular place lunches in Honolulu is Rainbow Drive In, located in Kapahulu, near Waikiki. They’ve been doing their thing for over 50 years now and their plate lunches are simply a Hawaiian classic.

Address: 3308 Kanaina Ave, Honolulu, HI, 96815, (808)737-0177

L&L Hawaiian Barbecue – There are locations all over Honolulu and even in the mainland of the United States. They have coined the term “No. 1 Hawaiian Barbecue,” and their plates lunches are large in size and delicious.

For more Hawaiian plate lunch advice, check out Ono Kine Grindz and The Tasty Island.

Have you ever had a Hawaiian plate lunch? What is your favorite kind?

25 comments. I'd love to hear from you!

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  • Keith Braun

    8 months ago

    This plate lunch sounds delicious! Next time I visit Hawaii, I will make it a point to have one.

  • Rajesh

    10 months ago

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  • Angie | Big Bear’s Wife

    8 years ago

    a good friend of mine lives in Hawaii and she suggested that we eat at Rainbow Drive In! Glad to see it here too!

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Thanks Angie, this place is definitely a classic!

  • 2Summers

    9 years ago

    I have to stop reading your posts now and go eat lunch. Getting too hungry!

  • Caanan @ No Vacation Required

    9 years ago

    We had some really yummy BBQ at a plate lunch “tent” in Hana – Bruddah Huts BBQ Grill.

    • Mark Wiens

      9 years ago

      Great Caanan, that’s an awesome name for a BBQ tent!

  • Maria

    9 years ago

    That’s it! I’m on my way over, right now. *hands on hips*
    Don’t argue w/me. I don’t care what time it is!

  • sully86

    9 years ago

    mark: You are the mac daddy of eating good food man…

  • Saimin Kau kau

    9 years ago

    Mark, Next time your back in the Islands get a mix-plate, some Drive-in’s offer 2 or 3 choices of meats, or just ask. Special note on the Mac salad Hawaii people are very particular when it comes to Mac salads, it has to be Best Foods (Hellman’s) mayonaise or nothing! Like Spam, Best Foods is Hawaii’s mayonaise LOL! Also some of my favorites Plate lunch places are Richie’s Drive-in (Kalihi), Loco Moco’s (Ewa Beach) , Saint Louis Drive-in (Kaimuki) or most Lunch Wagon’s (Lunch Trucks) at any location.

    • Mark Wiens

      9 years ago

      Excellent, thank you for all these other great recommendations – and for the tip about the mayo! I’ve been to Saint Louis Drive-in a few times long ago and I remember it being fantastic!

  • A Cook Not Mad (Nat)

    9 years ago

    Love the mixed plate, especially the coconut prawns.

  • Earl

    9 years ago

    For anyone that goes to Maui, a visit to Da Kitchen is a must. When I worked on cruise ships and we visited Maui once per week, I went there every single time for a plate lunch. Oh chicken katsu, how I miss thee!

    • Mark Wiens

      9 years ago

      Thanks for sharing Earl. I still have never been to Maui, but if I do, I’ll be sure to visit Da Kitchen. Katsu is one of the best choices for sure!

  • [email protected] Trottin Granny

    9 years ago

    I did have an Hawaiian Plate Lunch, but for the life of me, I can’t remember what the meat was. All I remember is that it was good!

    • Mark Wiens

      9 years ago

      Haha, well, at least it was good, that’s all that matters!

  • Ayngelina

    9 years ago

    It is great travel food although I suggest carrying a tupperware container with you or splitting with a friend because the portions are gigantic.

    • Mark Wiens

      9 years ago

      Thanks Ayngelina, you’re right portion sizes are huge! My family and relatives will often get a few, plus a few other dishes and just share them all family style.