Hawaii Feasting: New to Me

Update 2021: Sadly Snow Factory is no longer in business.

I recently returned from Hawaii, spending a week with family and friends and enjoying a much needed vacation. As usual there were lots of opportunities to enjoy the local foods I can't get in Boston. But on this trip I also got to go to a number of new-to-me places - some long-time established Hawaii institutions that I've never been to and a couple of newer restaurants too.

Seared ahi from Side Street Inn on Da Strip

Let's start with Kamehameha Bakery and their poi (taro) and strawberry donuts. Similar to the Portuguese malasadas that you find throughout Hawaii, the difference is these are glazed rather than rolled in sugar. Light, airy, not overly sweet, these donuts are great for breakfast, dessert, or a snack.

Poi and strawberry donuts from Kamehameha Bakery
(the poi donuts are missing their signature purple color)

In the past I've talked about shaved ice. No one makes it as well as they do in Hawaii. My two favorite places are Waiola Shave Ice on Oahu and Ululani's Hawaiian Shave Ice on Maui. On this trip my cousin introduced me to Snow Factory which makes Taiwanese-style xue hua bing or snow ice. Whereas Hawaiian-style shaves unflavored ice into fine crystals and then adds flavoring in the form of different syrups, snow ice is made by infusing the flavors directly into the milk-based ice. The ice is shaved into fine sheets and served with different add-ins - everything from sweetened condensed milk to mochi balls to candy bits - and it looks nothing like its Hawaiian cousin.

Coconut ice topped with mochi, azuki beans, and
toasted coconut

Mocha espresso ice topped with chocolate sauce
mochi balls, and Heath Bar bits

One thing I won't find on the mainland is Hawaiian food and I'm not sure I'd enjoy it even if I did. I can replicate kalua pig with some reasonable success by following Sam Choy's recipe. My sister has also sent me poi powder that I can reconstitute so I have options, although not ideal, if I really need a fix.

Many places in Hawaii will have a weekly Hawaiian plate special on Fridays but there are local restaurants that specialize only in Hawaiian food, some which have garnered national attention. The biggest problem with these places, outside of their popularity, is the parking. We've tried in the past to get to Helena's Hawaiian Food but have been stymied by the inability to find parking. This time we went early and got a spot right in front of the restaurant.

Everything was exactly what I wanted and hit the spot. Even as I write this I'm craving more. In addition to the staples of kalua pig, poi, chicken long rice, squid luau, and lomi lomi salmon, Helena's is known for its short ribs pipikaula style - short ribs that are marinated, dried, and fried to perfection.

Helena's was everything I wanted it to be and I can't wait to go back. If you go, know that they are a cash-only establishment.

Local comfort food

Helena's famous short ribs pipikaula style

Another local mainstay that has also gained its own national recognition is Side Street Inn. I went to the original Kaka'ako location years ago but recently a sister restaurant, Side Street Inn on Da Strip, was opened closer to my home.

Among the many dishes they're known for, the one I looked forward to was their pan fried pork chops. But I have to say our favorite that night was a Chinese-style steamed whole snapper with lots of steamed vegetables and a soy-sesame sauce. So ono.

The staff is super friendly, the atmosphere is casual, and the food is plentiful. I can't wait to go back.

Pan fried pork chops with lots of rice on the side

Chinese-style whole steamed snapper

Love the bottle of Hawaiian chili water.
This is the best kind of bottle recycling.

And finally my friend introduced me to MW Restaurant, a relatively new kid on the block. We went to MW for lunch and ordered off of their prix fixe menu. The portions are generous - I started with the tacos and was served two full-sized soft tacos that would have been plenty as a main course. It was followed by mochi-crusted monchong. The meal ended with their signature dessert, the MW Candy Bar. It was a good meal with great conversation and delicious food. Can't ask for anything more.

Pulled pork tacos

Mochi crusted monchong with pickled accompaniments

The MW Candy Bar

I love that I can still enjoy my favorite Hawaiian comfort foods while exploring new eateries. I can't wait to go back for more.

Getting There:

Kamehameha Bakery
1284 Kalani Steet
Honolulu, HI 96817

Helena's Hawaiian Food
1240 N School Street
Honolulu, HI 96817

Side Street Inn On Da Strip
614 Kapahulu Avenue
Honolulu, HI 96815

MW Restaurant
1538 Kapiolani Boulevard
Honolulu, HI 96814

Related Articles:

Hawaii Feasting: Mostly Maui

Happy New Year and Hawaii Feasting in Review