In Waikiki, tourist food comes in two flavors: exorbitant and outrageous. This becomes clear to visitors when they walk into the restaurant at their beachfront hotel and find their only option is a breakfast buffet that serves up bacon and bankruptcy. They'll shell out $20 or more a person for eggs and pineapple juice.
Lunch? Expect to pay $21 for a burger, fries and a soda. The dinner buffet will tally about $35 each.
And then, of course, there's the hotel luau -- chalk up about $100 a person. But what's a visit to Hawaii without living high on the hog at a hotel pig roast? You might not have another chance to savor poi or watch hula dancers.
Oh yes, you will. We're going to tell you how.
We teamed up with three Honolulu food experts to bring you 20 meals for less than $20. And although we don't include a luau because that's beyond this budget, we do the next best thing: We tell you where to go to get authentic luau cuisine; we also tell you where to hear live Hawaiian music and see one of the most renowned dancers in the islands.
Our 20-for-less-than-$20 list also includes restaurants with great views and ambience; places the locals go for inexpensive, traditional food; cafes that feature exotic ethnic cuisines; and seafood restaurants that serve some of the freshest fish in the islands. Altogether, it's a grand mixture of tropical flavors, sun-fun locations and multicultural foods.
And that's what a visit to Hawaii should be, says John Heckathorn, editor of Hawaii Magazine, popular food critic and a member of our panel.
"It's odd that people come to Hawaii and eat at the same places they eat at home -- P.F. Chang's, Romano's Macaroni Grill, T.G.I. Friday's, Cheesecake Factory, McDonald's, Denny's.
"Live a little," Heckathorn advises. "Hawaii's multicultural mix has produced some of the most interesting food on the planet."
Stay away from your hotel dining room.
"If you want to eat what we eat, you have to get out of Waikiki," says Betty Shimabukuro, author, food columnist and another member of our panel. "Just five miles from your hotel you'll find some great, inexpensive places with real personality. And free parking."
Matthew Gray, the third member, also advises visitors to venture out of Waikiki. "Hawaiian food is subtle, simple and sensational," he says. "You can find genuine Hawaiian food if you get out of the touristy centers."
Gray runs Hawaii Food Tours, which MSNBC recently called "one of the best food experiences in the world." He spends his time "nosing out great new restaurants."
"There are so many diverse cultures that many people call Hawaii a melting pot," Gray says. "I prefer to call it a salad bowl, where individual flavors, styles and personalities co-mingle."
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