Where Locals Eat Hawaiian Food
By Olena Heu
When Polynesian voyagers first settled in the Hawaiian Islands they brought with them plants and animals that would become staples in the local diet. Since then high protein, vitamin-rich and flavorful dishes comprise that traditional Hawaiian diet. Here’s a look at some of the most sought-after places locals love to eat traditional Hawaiian cuisine.
Helena’s Hawaiian Food
Helen Chock first opened these doors to local favorites and traditional Hawaiian plates in 1946. Since then the James Beard Award-winning eatery in the humble town of Kalihi has been filling empty tummies. The Pipikaula Short Ribs, Laulau and Butterfish Collar keep everyone coming back, lining up and waiting outside along School Street for the savory goodness.
1240 North School Street
Honolulu, HI 96817
Young’s Fish Market
Family-owned and operated, Young’s Fish Market dishes up steaming hot Laulau, fresh fish Poke and savory Kalua Pork since 1951. On occasion you’ll also find the Taro dessert Kulolo on the counter and always fresh poi to accompany your traditional Hawaiian Plate meals. What started as a Hawaiian/Chinese restaurant now equates delicious hearty food for locals who love authentic cuisine.
1286 Kalani Street
Honolulu, HI 96817
4480 Kapolei Parkway
Kapolei, HI 96707
Known to serve “a taste of old Hawaii” Highway Inn started as a family-run business hoping to feed and provide for Seiichi Toguchi’s 7 hungry children. Traditional Hawaiian Food along with local favorites like Pipikaula & Smoked Meat, Pulehu Ribs along with Tripe Stew are among the fan favorites. The restaurant has evolved to incorporate more fusion items on the menu while always paying homage to the beloved classics.
680 Ala Moana Blvd.
Honolulu, HI 96813
94-226 Leoku Street
Waipahu, HI 96797
1525 Bernice Street
Honolulu, HI 96817
(Within Bishop Museum)
Like taking a step back in time, People’s Cafe doesn’t offer anything extravagant or provide above and beyond service. It’s a simple, casual, Hawaiian food cafe that presents island style and traditionally crafted (on plastic pastel colored plates and bowls) meals. Squid Luau, Lomi Salmon and Chicken Long Rice are staples here at this no nonsense eatery.
1310 Pali Highway
Honolulu, HI 96813
Yama's Fish Market
Grab and go plates, poke, bento boxes and island-style desserts. This spot on Young Street in the heart of Moiliili is a bit hard to find. The parking is limited and there is usually a line, but it is worth it. Flavor combinations are stellar, laulau is premium and plates are always extremely generous.
2332 Young Street
Honolulu, HI 96826
Now more than ever it is important to support local. With closings, reopenings, limitations and spacial changes... our local chefs and restaurant owners have been struggling. In turn, that also impacts our local farmers, purveyors and the local economy. Together with local restaurants, Hawaii Agricultural Foundation has launched an initiative aimed at helping all of the aforementioned people.
Say hello to Food-A-Go-Go Restaurant Week.- taking place April 5-12 statewide. Some of the restaurants may also opt to continue their specials through April 19, while an online auction aimed at supporting the local restaurant industry and HAF's K-12 agricultural education programs will be held April 5-30.
How does it work? Visit www.foodagogo.org to checkout the participating restaurants and make reservations to dine in or take out. You may also bid online during the auction period to Bid It To Win It.
I had a chance to sample the delicious specialty menu items at Maile's Thai Bistro Ward and they all were outstanding. Here's a taste of what you can expect:
Thai Spicy Clams with basil, onion, bell peppers and savory chili garlic sauce (don't worry it wasn't that spicy). What a great combination of garlic and chili to create a lovely elegant tasty dish.
Lao Poke - A new take on local island ahi tossed with fresh lime, toasted rice, onions, mint and specialty Lao spices. This was a great flavor combination and was very refreshing.
Nam Khao Salad - Lao Crispy Rice with cured pork, grated coconut, mint, peanut, scallions, cilantro, lime and fish sauce. I really enjoy the crunchy fried rice and delicate flavors and textures that followed.
Shoyu Pork - made with pork butt, this is braised pork with egg, soy sauce, fish sauce and jasmine rice. The pork was melt in your mouth delicious!
Lao Sausage - Fresh house made sausage with just enough fat and flavor, this is perfect to pair for an ice cold beer! .
Maile's always has robust flavors with lots of vegetables and savory elements. If you enjoy Thai and Lao cooking she literally has the best menu to enjoy.
It was hard to pick a favorite because each dish was excellent and full of flavor. Some loved the Clams most while I think I loved the Poke best. Long story short, try them all!
I've walked past it dozens of times... rarely noticed the restaurant and sometimes thought to myself -- "What is Soffritto?" Somewhat unassuming and perhaps maybe considered unapproachable, I stepped inside to be whisked away to a place that serves authentic global cuisine, that is artfully and finely prepared with outstanding flavors.
A classic hidden eatery with few tables, a grab 'n go counter and items cooked to order from the kitchen... Soffritto specializes in delicious Italian focused cuisine, but also tests the waters with other global home cooked items too. Don't get me wrong the Putanesca is amongst the best we've ever tasted, the various pastas and homemade focaccia bread is unbelievably divine and other items including Shrimp Etoufee are outstanding.
The portion sizes are generous, the prices are affordable and the quality is that of fine dining. They use premium ingredients to craft each dish and also share a great sense of pride in what they do. Owned by a husband and wife duo, the wife works the counter with grace and ease, which the chef and owner husband is in the kitchen passionately preparing the dishes ala minute.
Venturing into their theme of global home cooking Soffritto has been preparing Birria Tacos, Adobo, Goat, Gumbo, Russian Salad, African dishes, more Mexican dishes and so on. There isn't really a rhyme or reason, but the chef loves to play and create. His sense of taste and flavor is impeccable and you can tune their Instagram for specials and teases of what he will come up with next.
In the end, if you are looking for hearty, flavorful, unique and delicious food for lunch or dinner be sure to stop by Soffritto in downtown (located off of Fort Street Mall along Pauahi Street - just a block Diamond Head from Hawaii Theatre. The menu is diverse, evolving and changing, the food is fantastic and the price points are well worth it when given the quality and ingredients.
Just as the COVID pandemic started to take shape last year... a family prepared to open a new eatery conveniently located in the food court at busy Ala Moana Center. Then as you can remember and imagine the world shutdown. But, all is not lost - as we start to slowly get back to some form of normalcy people started venturing out again and foodies started to head out and eat again. Thus we say hello to the SingMaTei.
A family owned and operated Singaporean and Malaysian eatery, this looks like a chain restaurant with its vibrant signage and impeccably professional and meticulous store front, but it is actually just another type of young mom and pop shop, trying to make it in this world. The family has deep roots in China and has incorporated their experience with these types of cuisines and the need for something like this in Hawaii - to create delightfully delicious SingMaTei.
You may have seen its pretty blue coconut rice and wondered what is this place about? Well they serve homemade noodles, fresh curry and Singapore Style Black Pepper meats too. Famous for their Laksa, which comes with a choice of toppings be it shrimp, seafood, chicken, lemongrass chicken or beef - the flavors are outstanding, the portions generous and the quality is superb
Entrees also include items like Curry Pineapple Shrimp, Lemongrass Pork or Chicken, Curry Beef and crispy Chicken Wings. These plates come with their popular blue coconut rice which is colored using the Butterfly Pea Flower (all natural). My favorite is the Chicken Tikka Masala which also comes with a side of seasoned Naan Bread. I love to dip the bread in the curry and eat the rice too. Overall the flavors are very pronounced yet easy to eat - something can be found for the whole family as the dishes are not super spicy. If you seek to add more spice they make a homemade sambal which you can try and add as you wish.
One of their most popular side dishes is the curry look fun noodles, which is soft, pillowy and the perfect blend of curry with other spices. Look fun and curry lovers will enjoy this immensely.
Lastly, the staff are all very friendly and kind and the owners are so sweet and humble. They have goals to open in other locations, including the mainland, but Hawaii lays claim to the very first SingMaTei and it's delicious cousin and outstanding service. Be sure to visit them next to Jamba at the Ala Moana Food Court open everyday for lunch or early dinner.
Andrea Onetti is as authentic as they come. The chef and pasta maker from Italy has been known around town for over a decade as his simple sauces and fresh pastas really embrace the uniqueness that is Mediterranean cooking.
The creator of Onda Pasta has recently expanded from his usual stints at farmer's markets and pop-ups on Oahu, to produce Piccola (small) Onda. Piccola Onda is new food truck located in Waikiki closer to the Zoo, just on the Diamond Head side of Alohilani Resort.
Positioned off of Kealohilani Avenue, up a ramp and hidden away you'll find his fresh secret sauces, recipes from his grandmother, and local ingredients. Onetti is proud to support local farmers like Ho Farms and local businesses including La Tour Bakehouse, where he gets his delicious ciabatta breads.
Andrea Onetti and business partner William Chen decided to open this new concept to offer locals and visitors the chance to taste something authentic, fresh and fun. They just opened yesterday and plan to be open everyday 10am-6pm. Piccola Onda serves items like Eggplant Parmesan Sandwiches, Pastas, Gnocchi and Panna Cotta. The ingredients are simple, yet elegantly delightful. I ordered the Eggplant Parm Sandwich which was made to order, hot from the over and paired well as you had the flaky, crunchy bread, with the buttery and salty cheese, over two slabs of fresh fried eggplant and slathered with grandma's secret tomato sauce. I had a bite of the Bolognese Gnocchi which was fluffy, pillowy, yet hearty and delicious. They also have spaghetti and lasagna too.
Located on the Diamond Head side of Alohilani Resort
2490 Kalakaua Ave, but it is really off of Kealohilani Ave (halfway between Kalakaua and Kuhio)
Worlds are colliding... The purple food craze continues and dripping, drooling, insta-worthy foods are still making businesses.
Now this treat is slightly pricey, but take into account the time and effort it takes to make one, it seems your bites to savor it would also need to appreciate the care for each and every slice.
Enter... the crepe cake. This version feature ube, the purple yam, that has got mouths watering near and far. Often mistaken for the Okinawan sweet potato, which may assist with coloring, the Ube is actually a different ingredient. 21 layers of paper-thin crepe creamy goodness with fluffy cream and drizzled with ube creamy syrup. This is a delicate and more creamy than anything take on cake. The crepes give it a slight sense of texture amidst the fluff while also beholding its delicate taste.
While you might think this is overly sweet and overwhelming it is actually very delicate and more creamy than anything else. They also have other flavors like strawberry and chocolate but those can't hold a candle to the vibrance and brilliance that is the ube purple goodness.
Now the cost per slice direct from Miss Chen's is $6.50, but if you purchase this from another retailer it is going to cost you $8.38 with tax. Take into account the process, painstaking layer by layer application and then the uniqueness of the product. is it worth it? Yes, but not an everyday purchase.
Miss Chen's Cake
808 Sheridan Street
Honolulu, HI 96814
Conveniently located at the corner of Nimitz Hwy and Kalihi Street is Poke By The Pound! Here you'll find some of the freshest poke on the island along with some outstanding flavor combinations.
Open seven days a week Poke By The Pounds' mission is to respect the ocean and its sea life, while also serving delicious fish. They offer market fresh poke and fresh fish plates.
The poke is insanely fresh and expertly cut and prepared. The signature flavors of fresh poke include: Shoyu Onion, Limu Kukui Nut, Spicy Tuna, Tako Poke, Marlin Poke, Hawaiian Salt and classic plates are: Ahi Belly, Ahi Steak, Furikake Salmon, Miso Salmon, Poke On Rice and Sashimi Plate. They also feature daily specials and pop-up specials depending on the day.
With the mission to serve fresh fish, never frozen, you'll find the poke is supremely delicious with tender juicy cubes and it's innovative ingredients. Our favorites are the classic Shoyu Onion, Garlic Ahi and Hawaiian Salt. From time to time they will also offer specials like the Gingahspread Poke and The TKO Special which includes ahi belly smothered in mayo with imitation crab and mushrooms.
Go, go check um, go!
Poke By The Pound
322 Kalihi Street
Honolulu, HI 96817
The sister pub to Aloha Beer Co. in Kakaako has recently opened in Downtown Honolulu, located in the brand new renovated Central Pacific Bank location off of Alakea and S. King Streets. Within the spanking new lobby of the branch you'll also find a Starbucks, sit-down seating, WiFi and easy order, grab-and-go access.
The concept is quick service, meets pau hana and they also offer alcoholic beverages including brews. The bank lobby also serves as a public meeting space and offers distanced tables, open seating and natural bright sunlight for a relaxed overall feel.
The menu includes their famous flatbreads, sandwiches, salads, fries and beer of course. The flatbreads are sized well enough for one person to be content and the sandwiches are massively generous in portion. We thoroughly enjoyed the BBQ Chicken Flatbread, the Tuna Melt was hearty and gigantically dripping with tuna and lettuce. Meanwhile, the cheesy waffle fries were flavorful but disappointing as the packaging left them very moist and lacked crunch or crispness.
Overall, this is great value for the price, easy access and great to support local businesses and new developments. It is located downtown, but not in the heart of downtown so it is easier to find parking and just two crosswalks away from Iolani Palace.
Aloha Beer Company Downtown
Happy Hour 2pm-4pm
Also offers vegetarian options and popcorn.
CPB - Main Branch
220 South King Street
Honolulu, HI 96813
There's a new love child born in Chinatown in Honolulu, Hawaii. This love child makes amazing pizza! From the owners of Encore and The Daley (Burger) meet the owner of Brick Fire Tavern (which recently moved out of Chinatown and into Kaimuki). Now Encore and The Daley are right next door to where Brick Fire Tavern once was and they all partnered to birth a new baby that serves up two distinct styles of pizza. (Located in the old Brick Fire Tavern Spot).
Meet your new friend Pizza Mamo!
Pizza Mamo is a mainly takeout spot on Hotel Street that crafts oven roasted and pipping hot fresh pizzas.
Brookyln-Style: New York style with it's thin and crispy crust the pie is 16-inches or more and emulates everything we love about those New York pizza memories. The dough is light, crisp and the pizza is massive. $21-$28
Now meet Detroit-Style: Not really deep dish but more of a pan pizza, Detroit is a hardier pizza, herb seasoned crust and oozing with more cheese than the New York as it is made in a pan and smaller in size as well. The crust is crunchy and firm while the density of the pizza is flavorful. $19-$24
Overall, we loved the Brooklyn-Style for it's size, texture and quality. The Detroit was a little on the salty and dry side, despite the pour of tomato sauce on the top.
Pizza Mamo is a delicious new addition to the Chinatown, Hawaii vibe and serves up incredible fresh pizzas.
16 N. Hotel Street
Honolulu, Hawaii 96817
*Everyone was ordering takeout, we sat at the one table inside, which was tiny. Their drink menu is limited and they don't have utensils or plates at the moment.
Here's a look at some of the off-menu items from Purve Donut Stop off of Piikoi. (Availability varies).
Purve Donut Stop opened 2 1/2 years ago and takes donuts to the next level. Their cake donuts are made to order, fluffy, warm, delicious and always boast a unique flavor profile with hip and trendy names. Crafted to make your mouthwater and make your tummy happy they are always full of color, made with the finest ingredients and offer an experience like no other. The shop is colorful, booming with music and an overall fun atmosphere. The founders were once bartenders who opted to get out of the bar scene and into the donut making world... and incorporated both elements when you experience your donut ordering and pick-up.
You can now order online and for delivery. Here are some of the secret menu items you can order based on availability and if you wanna go off menu at the moment.
Peanut Butter S'more - Peanut Butter Maple Glaze Oreo Crumbs and Toasted Marshmallow
Dirty Sanchez - Cinnamon Sugar Caramel Cream Cheese Drizzle and Chocolate Drizzle
Dark Horse _ Chocolate Fruity Pebbles and Cream Cheese Drizzle
Tush Push - Chocolate Oreo Crumbs Cream Cheese Drizzle
Mint Oreo Toasted Marshmallow
You Killing Me Smalls - S'more Chocolate Graham and Marshmallow (pictured but on the menu right now)
Purve Donut Stop
1234 Kona Street
Honolulu, Hawaii 96814