Helena’s Hawaiian Food

Worth driving from anywhere!

Helena’s is all about the genius of native Hawaiian cuisine: an interplay of oceanic and earthy flavors. It is one of the few places to get traditional Hawaiian banquet food without having a whole luau. A meal here can be quick and casual; it won’t be expensive; and it comes free of spectacle. 

Lau lau, the most traditional of luau dishes, is butterfish and pork compressed in taro leaves and pit smoked. It is as soft, rich, and complex as pate, and as saline as caviar. Eating the leaves with the meat helps temper the salt, and an occasional bite of rice helps temper the assertive fusion of land and sea.

Kalua pig is smoky and salty like fine Southern barbecue. It comes layered between cabbage leaves that are steamed soft, but remain green and aromatic. The vegetable carries the flavor of rich pork and balances the intensity of the meat.

Squid luau is a dish that must be tried to be believed. It tastes something like coconut creamed spinach with coins of butter-soft squid tentacles floating in it. The x-factor is that it isn’t made with spinach, but with young taro leaves, also known as “luau.” These leaves have a more complex and herbaceous flavor than spinach, and are less sharp-tasting than mustard greens. At first bite, it instantly became one of our new culinary obsessions. 

One of the signature dishes is kalbi — cross-cut, or flanken (like those at Korean BBQ) short ribs. These are available at many Hawaiian barbecue restaurants and steakhouses, but Helena’s uses the traditional technique known as pipikaula. This requires air-drying the meat before marinating in soy and cooking. Just as vaqueros of the Southwest developed machaca, paniolos (Hawaiian cowboys) developed this technique for preserving meat. Unlike machaca, kalbi sports such Asian flavors as ginger and soy. The dried ribs are pan-fried in their own fat, creating concentrated beef flavor and a dark crust. The traditional way to enjoy them is with raw onion and coconut jelly known as haupia.

Since the food here is so intensely flavorful, we recommend offsetting it with a bowl of the impressively bland staple, poi. Helena’s poi has a funky quasi- fermented character that makes it a higher caliber of purple paste. Still, it’s hard to imagine enjoying it unless you grew up eating it. Anyway, it’s something you have to try when you come to Hawaii. Maybe after enough trips to Helena’s we will learn to crave it. 

What to Eat
Helena’s Hawaiian Food, Luau Squid
Luau Squid
Tender tentacles in a rich taro leaf stew.
Helena’s Hawaiian Food, Pipikaula Style Short Ribs
Pipikaula Style Short Ribs
Paniolo-style BBQ
Helena’s Hawaiian Food, Laulau
Laulau is the essence of traditional Hawaiian BBQ.
Helena’s Hawaiian Food, Kalua Pig
Kalua Pig
Cabbage deeply infused with the flavors of smoky pork.
Helena’s Hawaiian Food, Condiments
While tasty, house chili water isn’t necessary on such perfectly seasoned food.
Helena’s Hawaiian Food, Huapia
Raw onions and coconut jelly offer a counterpoint to smoky BBQ.
Helena’s Hawaiian Food, Poi
Poi: a tacky textured taste of the earth.
Directions and Hours
open now
Tuesday10am - 7:30pm
Wednesday10am - 7:30pm
Thursday10am - 7:30pm
Friday10am - 7:30pm
Open Year Round
Meals Served
Credit Cards Accepted
Alcohol Served
Outdoor Seating

Other Nearby Restaurants

  • Moke’s Bread and Breakfast

    Honolulu, Hawaii

    A chef with baking and butchery chops takes on rib-sticking Hawaiian breakfast with delightful results. Lilikoi pancakes are astounding.

  • Maguro Brothers

    Honolulu, Hawaii

    From the tuna barons of the Kekaulike market in Chinatown come flawless poke and shimmering cuts of fine tuna presented casually, on Styrofoam.

  • Side Street Inn

    Honolulu, Hawaii

    Side Street Inn is a sports bar that serves massive portions of Hawaiian pub grub to families and off-the-clock chefs late at night.

  • Liliha Bakery

    Honolulu, Hawaii

    Liliha, a bakery/cafe famous for such island classics as malasadas and taro donuts, is best-known for its unique Coco Puff.

  • Rainbow Drive-In

    Honolulu, Hawaii

    Honolulu’s Rainbow Drive-In is a top spot for hefty, affordable plate lunch that is the island ideal.

  • Matsumoto Shave Ice

    Haleiwa, Hawaii

    Matsumoto sells original Hawaiian shave ice at its finest and most refreshing, either plain or adorned with ice cream or sweet adzuki beans