Onolicious

Wild chicken greeted us as we walked towards the Nu’uanu Pali. The northeast view of Oahu was beautiful, but we only enjoyed it for about five minutes, considering it was super windy and cold.

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Eat. Beach. Repeat.

That’s become the routine during our vacation. No complains here! I’ve been appreciating every relaxing minute.

We picked a random beach, Kailua Beach Park, and enjoyed the sun, soft sand and even jumped into the warm ocean. It was mostly overcast and the frequency of rain picked up, so we grabbed our things and continued our driving adventure around Oahu.

Dinner was approaching and I wanted to try Ono Hawaiian Foods, but they were unfortunately closed. We headed over to Helena’s Hawaiian Food only a few blocks away.

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Helena’s looked like a local joint, although it’s been featured by Andrew Zimmerman and is also on most tourists’ lists. Both Ono and Helena are known for their authentic Hawaiian cuisine. There are many great debates on who’s better (Bourdain featured Ono), but I was excited to try some genuine kalua pig, not caring which place it came from.

Jason and I ordered menu C, which included the kalua pig, lomi salmon, and pipikalua short ribs with small poi ($14.95). The waitress also recommended the laulau ($4). The dishes came quickly in small bowls, each offering several bites of their delicacy.

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The lomi salmon was like a ceviche, served cold and had a mixture of tomatoes, raw salmon and onions. It had way more tomatoes than salmon, which reminded me of salsa. I felt like I needed chips with this dish.

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The pipikalua short ribs reminded me of the ribs we had The Alley, but these had way more meat and fat. The smokiness was delicious and had a crunchy sweet char.

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The kalua pig was one of my favorites out of the set menu, which was cooked in an imu, an underground oven. The shredded pork meat was tender, moist and also smoky, with just the right balance of salt. I could eat this in a sandwich any day.

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The recommended laulau, a ball of pork wrapped in leaves and also cooked in an imu. The meat was juicier than the kalua, but I preferred the latter for its extra smokiness.

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The Polynesian staple, poi, was our least favorite. It’s made out of taro plant and has the consistency of yogurt. I’ve only had poi once and was expecting a sweet taste, but was shocked by its tartness. Tables around us were gobbling this dish up. I guess this is where the enjoyment of authentic Hawaiian cuisine stops for me. I managed only a couple of spoonfuls when I simply had to focus on the dishes I actually liked.

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Lastly, complementary, haupia, the highlight of the entire meal for me. This was the best haupia I’ve ever had, incomparable to the one I had back home or even the Chinese versions they serve at dim sum restaurants. The haupia were thick blocks of rich coconut pudding, but soft and melting in your mouth. They were so good; we had to order another serving ($2.25). I wished I could have taken this home with me. I’ll have to try to make it one day!

Helena’s is a bit hole-in-the-wall, but that’s what I also liked about it. No frills. The focus is on the onolicious yet affordable food. I’ll have to try Ono, if I ever come back, and compare the two.

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