Probably the most misunderstood word in American food culture is “Hawaiian.” All over the country when you see “Hawaiian” on the menu it’s usually a euphemism for “I took an otherwise fine dish and dropped some pineapple in it.” There’s nothing wrong with liking pineapple on your pizza—but don’t call it Hawaiian. I’ve yet to meet a local or a Native Hawaiian with an insatiable urge to add pineapple to everything. While pineapple and coconut and any other tropical fruits may very well be included in a Hawaiian diet, that is hardly indicative of the vibrant food culture of Native Hawaiian people.
At Hawaiian restaurants you’ll find a variety of dishes involving fish, pork, beef, fruit, and plenty of vegetables. It’s as complex and nuanced as any other cuisine out there. Hawaiian food is an integral part of Hawaiian culture today, and you can see that very clearly in many of the Hawaiian restaurants. Any number of them have been open for decades, some as far back as the 30’s and 40’s. One such restaurant is actually right down the road from where we live—Highway Inn. It’s located in Waipahu, the very town my father in law was born in. Open since 1947, Highway Inn is home to nearly every classic Hawaiian dish. Some of the most common dishes you’ll find are:
- Kalua Pig and Cabbage. Hawaiian style pulled pork seasoned with salt and lightly smoked with diced or stewed cabbage.
- Lau Lau. Sablefish (referred to as butterfish or black cod in Hawaii), and pork, chicken or beef wrapped in luau leaves (LOO-ow, taro leaves) and steamed. Sometimes served with a ti or banana leaf wrapping that is not meant to be eaten.
- Squid Luau. A stew made from squid, luau leaves, and coconut milk.
- Chicken Long Rice. A chicken (pseudo)soup made with clear long rice noodles.
- Poi (POY). Widely considered to be the most important food in the Native Hawaiian diet. A paste made of pounded taro and water. Can be served fresh (relatively bland), or allowed to ferment and served sour. Jacqui prefers her poi sour. Many Western pallets tend to like fresher poi augmented with something sweet like honey or sugar.
- Lomi Salmon (LOH-mee). A type of poke created after the introduction of salmon to the islands. It includes fresh tomato and onion and is most often found served alongside poi. Many people even like to mix them.
- Pipikaula (Pee-pee-KOW-luh). Traditional Hawaiian beef jerky. Typically made from rib meat.
- Haupia (how-PEE-uh). Coconut milk dessert that would remind many people of jell-o in terms of its consistency.
Jacqui’s childhood is filled with stories of helping her grandparents prepare and eat traditional foods. To her, Hawaiian food is connected with some of her most cherished memories. The first time I tried laulau she told me about making them with her Granddad (maternal) and her fingers turning brown for days from handling the taro leaves. The first time I tried poi (POY) I heard about how her Papa (paternal) taught her how to eat poi with her fingers. My earliest memories of Hawaiian food was of kalua pig and cabbage: it was the first thing Jacqui taught me how to make and it was the first thing I ate when I visited the islands for the first time. And now, we get the opportunity to create these same memories with Nugget.
What is TOO Good?
Just the other day Jacqui had a lau lau craving. So, it was time to head down the road. You definitely get a sense of old Hawaii as soon as you walk in the door. Like so many place on the island it feels untouched by modern life. Combo plates come with rice, pipikaula, and haupia with a choice of potato mac salad, lomi salmon, or tossed greens. For a small upcharge you can replace rice with poi. When we go there Jacqui always insists on looking at the menu despite the fact that she always gets the same meal: the pork lau lau combination plate with poi and lomi salmon. The poi is served slightly sour, just the way she likes it. I myself always go with either the loco moco or the kalua pig and cabbage. On this most recent occasion, I went with kalua pig. Nugget loves the chicken long rice and the Hawaiian style beef stew (like classic beef stew but with a tomato base).
During this most recent trip, I also tried the butterfish collars in beef stew gravy. While the fish was cooked perfectly, it was a unique combination that I didn’t care for. Nugget loved the beef stew and I still enjoyed the cook on the butterfish, it just wasn’t for me.
They have one of my favorite mac salads on the island and the kalua pig was fantastic. The pipikaula was also good but different than the typical pipikaula you’ll find elsewhere: the pipikaula at Highway Inn is more like steak bites.
In summary, if you’re looking for a place to try good Hawaiian food and to enjoy a little bit of old Hawaii, Highway Inn is the place to go. The setting is unpretentious and welcoming
Where can you Try Ono Oahu?
There are 3 locations on the island: Waipahu, Kaka'ako, and Bishop Museum (limited menu).
Waipahu. The Waipahu location is the original location and our favorite to go to. It's the most convenient location to go to if you're staying on the west or leeward side of the island (Ko'olina). If you read our previous post on Poke Stop, Highway Inn is located in a shopping center right next to Poke Stop Waipahu so the directions may seem familiar since they are adapted from the Poke Stop post. This location is great if you're wanting to stay closer to the west side or if you're headed into town, as it's on the way. This is also a great location if you're staying in town and are looking to get out of the busy tourist areas.
If you choose to drive there, from the west side there are a couple of options but both will involve a left turn on Farrington Hwy onto Leoku St. If your route takes you north on Fort Weaver Rd (HI-76), you’ll get off at exit 5 (Waipahu) which will put you onto Farrington Hwy and you’ll have to get all the way over to the farthest left lane in order to turn at the light. If it’s not busy, you’ll be fine; if it’s busy, make sure you pay attention and wave to thank every nice person that lets you in (because that will seriously be the only way you’ll get over that many lanes in that short of a distance). The tight fits and multiple lanes means sometimes people do crazy (but borderline legal) stuff to get where they’re going. They understand they’re doing something crazy, you understand that they’re doing something crazy, they wave, you wave—it’s a thing here, just be vigilant and drive with aloha. But also, if you miss your turn, don’t worry, just keep driving and get over when you can do it safely…and check back for my post about traffic and driving here.
Kaka'ako. This is the newest location and is located at the SALT At Our Kaka'ako. There is plenty of parking either at SALT or catty corner at the FLATS at Pu'unui. If you're driving, it's easiest to take Ala Moana Blvd and turn onto Keawe St to access parking. This location is great if you're heading into town or want to get out of Waikiki.
Both locations will be a drive for those of you staying on the North Shore, so it's dealer's choice for which location you choose to go to. The Kaka'ako is a little newer and polished, but the Waipahu has a classic old-timey feeling.
Bishop Museum. This location has a limited menu so I wouldn't suggest going there if you want to try Hawaiian food other than kalua pig. However, I would highly recommend going to Bishop Museum while on your trip to check out some of the great cultural displays and the planetarium. There are a ton of great local places to eat close to Bishop Museum in the Kalihi area.
We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.