Helena's Hawaiian Food is an iconic restaurant, famous for traditional Hawaiian food. Helena's is loved by locals and visitors. It's a must-try when in Hawaii!
Welcome to Helena's Hawaiian Food!
What Is Helena's Hawaiian Food?
Helena's Hawaiian Food is the most famous Hawaiian restaurant in Hawaii.
It's a real casual, no frills spot that is jammed all hours of the day (especially during lunch). Locals love it, visitors love it...Helena's can do no wrong.
I get lunch here with my parents, we get takeout for dinner, and we bring visiting friends (everyone wants to eat here). Helena's offers a wonderful representation of traditional Hawaiian dishes. It's authentic, affordable, and most importantly, onolicious ^_^
Where Is Helena's Hawaiian Food?
Helena's is located in Liliha, a residential neighborhood of Oahu that's about a 15-20 minute (assuming no traffic 🙂 ) drive from Ala Moana or Waikiki.
While you're in the Liliha area, check out the original location of Liliha Bakery (for Coco Puffs!) If you planned ahead, you can also pick up your pre-order of Happy Hearts Mochi from Natsunoya Tea House. If you didn't pre-order mochi, visit Nisshodo Candy Store / Mochiya for chi chi dango and other mochi goodies. Then go to Thang's for an avocado smoothie! And then you can fill up gas at Costco.
Look up! Check out the pipikalua, waiting to be dry and aged!
What To Order at Helena's Hawaiian Food
This is the fun part! You can do no wrong at Helena's, I love nearly everything on this menu. I usually go in groups of two to four and we order a big variety. This is what to get:
If it's your first visit, these are the "must try" dishes:
Poi! Poi is made from steamed/baked taro root. The taro root is pounded and mixed with water till you reach the desired consistency (each place aim for different consistencies, more about poi here). Poi and rice are two essential starches in Hawaii, and they will serve as the foundation to your meal at Helena's. Order both and get the feast started.
Lomi Lomi Salmon will serve as your vegetable side for the meal. It's made of chopped tomatoes, salted salmon, onions, and green onion. This dish is served chilled and I like to eat forkfuls between bites of the meatier/fattier dishes. Also tasty when you mix lomi lomi salmon with lau lau and/or kalua pig!
Chicken long rice is a classic Hawaiian dish! You can find this everywhere, even at the school cafeterias. On the days they served chicken long rice for lunch at elementary school, I'd go back for seconds and even thirds. I love chicken long rice. It's Hawaii's version of chicken noodle soup.
Glass noodles, chicken broth, shredded chicken, ginger and green onions. The noodles get all fat from the broth. It's not full on soup, but it's saucy and brothy. Do not miss!
You can order just kalua pig (also called "kalua pork") or you can get the kalua pig and cabbage, which we all prefer. It's about 50:50 ratio of kalua pig and braised cabbage. It's juicy and saucy and the cabbage keeps the dish from feeling too heavy. If eating alone, I'd be happy with an order of rice and poi, kalua pig and cabbage, and chicken long rice!
Yeah lau lau! We just did a super in-depth post about lau lau here. Helena's makes a classic version with lots of fatty pork and butterfish. They remove the outer ti leaf layer before serving the dish, so you can just dig in. I love how those lu'au leaves (which come from the taro/kalo plant) soak up allll the flavor. You need rice and poi with this dish.
Pipikaula is one of the most famous dishes at Helena's. It's wild. It's like halfway between really juicy kalbi and beef jerky. It's the best of all worlds. Hot and charred on the outside, and so meaty, sweet and juicy inside. Finger food for sure. Pictured above is the small portion, but if you're more than two people, I would definitely order the large portion.
Scroll back up to the third photo in this post...that's pipikaula hanging in the open kitchen! The meat gets aged before they marinated and grill. Soooo good.
Yeah mac salad! You either love mac salad or you hate. I love it so much, we're going to do a post just about Hawaii mac salad (update: post is here ^_^) After rice and poi, I consider this a third essential starch when it comes to Hawaiian lunches.
You don't need to order this. It's already on the table (next to the shoyu). Chili pepper water is essential! It is Hawaii's version of hot sauce, made from Hawaiian chili peppers, Hawaiian sea salt, and vinegar. Splash this over all your savory items.
Sweet Maui Onions, Salt
A dish of sweet Maui onions and Hawaiian sea salt come "free" with the meal. This is a small but important part every visit to Helena's! How do you eat it? Two popular options:
- Take the onion, dip it in the sea salt. Eat! Sort of like a palate cleaner between all the different dishes.
- Take the onion, dip it in the bowl of poi, and sprinkle sea salt on top. Eat! (This is a great way to get accustomed to poi if you haven't had it before.)
Haupia is a traditional Hawaiian dessert that also comes with your meal (you can order extra pieces if you'd like). Sometimes the haupia gets plated alongside the sweet onions. Just try to make sure the onions don't "touch" the haupia, otherwise you might get some onion-y tasting haupia heheh. They portion one piece of haupia per person Haupia is like a refreshing coconut custard/jelly, super tasty. Read more about haupia in this post!
If you come multiple times and have already tasted "The Essentials"...
...then it is time to branch out to these other dishes! See below:
Fried Butterfish Collar
The fish is actually black cod, but in Hawaii we call it butterfish (more about this in the lau lau post). Here, they take the collar and deep fry it! Cut it up and top with green onions. You can also get boiled butterfish collar with gravy or watercress.
This is a really neat dish. It's lu'au leaves (the same lu'au leaves that wrap the lau lau), but cooked down with lots of coconut milk...and squid! You just spoon it all over rice and devour. You can also order chicken luau if you're not a squid person.
If you like tripe, you will love this dish. It's like our local Hawaii beef stew (soupy and tomato-based), but in place of beef there's tons of tripe, along with carrots and potatoes. Definitely need to order extra rice to go with this dish.
There's a whole history behind Hawaiian opihi, but all you need to know for now is that it is onolicious. It's served raw and chilled, topped with ogo (seaweed). Crunchy, snappy, savory. So good. FYI, you can also order this mixed with ahi poke!
Helena's Hawaiian Food: Insider Tips
- Cash only
- Prime lunch hours 11:30am-1:30pm gets very busy with long waits. Come early if possible. Coming later in the afternoon is also a good idea but they sometimes sell out of certain dishes.
- To avoid the wait during prime hours, you can get takeout (take it to the beach!)
- There are several parking stalls right in front of the restaurant, but you might have to circle to find nearby street parking during busy hours.
- For those who are indecisive/overwhelmed by the menu options, order one of the set menu (they have Menu A, B, C, and D). The set menus give you a nice sampling of popular items.
Helena's Hawaiian Food: Info
- Helena's Hawaiian Food | 1240 N School Street, Honolulu, Hawaii 96817 | 808-845-8044 | helenashawaiianfood.com
- Price: Lunch for two is $40-50
- Hours: Monday: Closed; Tuesday-Friday: 10am-7:30pm; Saturday-Sunday: Closed