Thursday, June 16, 2011

Helena's Hawaiian Food

Helena's Hawaiian Food, now on North School St. in Honolulu, Hawaii, has been selling authentic Hawaiian food since 1946.

Craig Katsuyoshi hard at work.
Craig is the grandson of Helen Chock (the founder of Helena's)
A painting of where the original Helena's was (on North King St.)
Looks like the original menu -- perhaps the very first menu from 1946?
Despite living in Hawaii for the first quarter-century of my life, I basically only heard about Helena's after seeing it featured on "Man v. Food."

My father and I arrived at about 10:45 in the morning on a Tuesday. The place was already jamming with people despite only being open for about 45 minutes.

I was hungry, and I went with several menu options. First, the Combination "B" plate ($10.25), with kalua pig and their signature pipikaula short ribs, with two scoops of rice. Pipikaula is basically fried marinated beef short ribs. The cool part about Helena's is that they dry their meat after it's marinated -- by hanging it over the stove. The pipikaula is then fried to order.

I also ordered poke fish with opihi ($5.50) and their plain boiled butterfish ($4.85). Basically, it came to over $21 worth of food, including tax.

Huge plate on the left has the pipikaula short ribs, kalua pig, and two scoops rice.
Haupia and raw onions are in the back conainer.
Poke fish w/opihi in the back circular container.
Chili pepper water is the orange liquid on the far right.
Boiled butterfish in the center front circular container.
The pipikaula lived up to the hype. It was basically a soft, temperature-hot jerky piece of meat that you can rip off the bone with your teeth. It had nice flavor, and any fat on the meat became awesome crunchy goodness.

Helena's prepares their kalua pig in an imu (a pit that becomes an underground oven), and that too was awesome. It was a bit salty -- which it should be, in my opinion -- and smoky from the hours of cooking. the kalua pig was extremely moist, just dripping with liquid. Just proper, authentic kalua pig.

The haupia was wonderful. It was actually quite light. The mellow, pleasant coconut flavors just made me want to have more. As a note, the haupia comes free with your meal if you order a combination plate.

The boiled butterfish was also good, although it wasn't the best thing ever. I liked how the meat just fell off the bone, but it took a little effort to extricate the meat from the skin. The fish basically sat in the water and onions it had cooked in, making the water a bit richer, to the point of a nice fish stock. Very simple flavors here.

I had never tried opihi before, and I found it to be pretty good. Think of something like raw oysters, mussels, or clams, with that fishy, salty taste, and that's really what it is. Combined with the raw fish, onions, and seasonings, it was a welcome sight and taste for me. People who are not real big on seafood may be turned off by it or just dislike it. It's likely an acquired taste.

If you like a little heat, Helena's offers some chili pepper water with your meal.

If there's one criticism about Helena's, it may either be finding parking at Helena's or waiting for your food. My father and I were fortunate to find parking in front of Helena's, but there aren't very many spots. The place also gets too busy at times to comfortably wait around. We kept getting in the way of the servers or other customers while waiting around.

But overall, Helena's is the place to go for some authentic Hawaiian food. Craig Katsuyoshi has amazing skill with that pipkaula, and I would come back just for that! I'd also find some room for more kalua pig and haupia. 9/10

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