Let’s talk about Helena’s Hawaiian Food. In my opinion, Helena’s is pound for pound the best restaurant in Hawaii.
I love Helena’s because it’s unpretentious. Firstly, the restaurant is located in Kalihi, an area not heavily visited by Waikiki tourists but is home to some of the best eateries on the island.
And secondly, you aren’t going to find white tablecloths or fancy waiters or waitresses at Helena’s. There’s zero fluff. They do one thing, and they do it better than anybody: they serve delicious Hawaiian Food.
Helena’s Hawaiian Food was established in 1946 by this woman, Helen Chock, and has remained a family-owned and operated restaurant ever since, now being run by her grandson, Craig Katsuyoshi.
Unfortunately, Mom and Pop establishments are a dying breed in Hawaii, making it especially critical for people visiting the islands to support homegrown restaurants like Helena’s.
But enough of me blabbering. Here’s everything you need to know about eating at Helena’s.
They’re only open Tuesday thru Friday from 10:30 AM – 7:30 PM, so plan accordingly.
The parking situation is limited. If the stalls in front are all taken, you’re going to have to find street parking.
They used to be a cash-only business, but they now accept credit cards as payment due to the pandemic. Love that.
Next, Helena’s is a popular place amongst tourists and locals alike, so be prepared to wait a bit for a table. I usually hate waiting in any sort of line for food, but trust me, it’s worth the wait. I suggest going at off-peak dining hours, and maybe you won’t have to wait as long.
Once you’re seated, the service is typically prompt, and you’ll receive your food in no time.
My girlfriend and I have been here countless times, and this is our go-to order.
First off, we have side orders of rice, Mac salad (a Hawaiian plate lunch staple), and poi. Poi is made from a mashed taro plant. It’s sticky, sweet, and sour. I don’t care much for poi on its own, but it complements all of the savory main dishes we ordered.
Here we have the Luau chicken, which is chicken cooked with taro leaves and coconut milk. This goes great with some rice and Mac salad.
Next, we ordered Kalua pig. Kalua is a traditional Hawaiian cooking method that uses an underground oven called an imu. To retain the moisture of the pig, it’s covered with ti and banana leaves and left to cook for several hours.
The end result is pork that’s smoky and delicious. Pairs well with Helena’s chili pepper water, which is made of garlic, Hawaiian chili peppers, Hawaiian salt, white vinegar, and water. It’s not super spicy but acts as a great compliment to most of the dishes here.
The next dish is the fried butterfish collar. The fish is actually black cod but is commonly referred to as butterfish in Hawaii. It’s crispy on the outside and light and fluffy on the inside. I might be a complete weirdo, but I like to pop the entire collar in my mouth, bones, and everything.
This is one of my favorite Hawaiian dishes, laulau. Laulau is a dish made of fatty pork and butterfish, wrapped in lu’au leaves (aka taro) and ti leaves, then steamed. Helena’s version of laulau is packed full of flavor and awesomeness.
I saved the best for last. Helena’s signature dish and the one I crave the most.. their pipikaula short ribs. Pipikaula literally means “beef rope” in Hawaiian. The origin story of pipikaula is the Hawaiian paniolos (aka Hawaiian cowboys) back in the 1800s would cut the beef into strips, dry them under the sun, and consume them as a snack while ranching.
Helena’s famous pipikaula short ribs are bone-in short ribs marinated in a soy-based marinade. It’s then hung over the stove for several hours. Owner, Craig, likes to call it dry-aging turbocharged. The ribs are then pan-fried.
It’s crispy, fatty, sweet, and juicy, all rolled into one perfectly plump short-rib. They recommend dipping the onion into Hawaiian salt, then taking a bite of the short rib, which is also a good option. Heck, I’d eat these bad boys with a piece of old rubber tire, and I guarantee it’d still taste amazing.
Lastly, for dessert, they give you complementary haupia, which is similar to coconut custard. A refreshing end to a delicious meal.
You’re going to want to clear your schedule after eating at Helena’s. The only thing you’ll be doing after consuming all that Ono food is a long, well-deserved nap.
There you have it, Helena’s Hawaiian Food. If you ever find yourself on Oahu, you have to make a trip there. Go, support a local business, and have an unforgettable meal all at the same time. It’s a win-win.
Helena’s on Yelp: https://www.yelp.com/biz/helenas-hawaiian-food-honolulu
OUTRO SONG: https://soundcloud.com/futurejames
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