Last week our gang went on our usual end-of-week local grinds hole-in-the-wall lunch hunt, this time bound for School street in the upper Kalihi area, where many iconic, old-school Honolulu eateries reside, or have resided in the past. And who else to steer us (actually drive us) in that direction than Kalihi Eats Tour Conductor Extraordinaire, Diner E.
We originally were gonna’ hit-up Toshi’s Delicatessen (Okazuya) on King Street, though by the time we got there at 11am, everything was just about wiped out. Which is not a surprise, as with most popular Okazuya’s, you usually need to get there by – at the latest – 10:30am in order to get the good stuff; or earlier than that even better.
Since Helena’s Hawaiian Food is just a few doors Ewa (west-bound) of Mitsuba on School street, Diner AC had da’ “ono’s” (“hungry feeling”) for Hawaiian food, so she walked up and ordered lunch from there while the rest of us got our Okazuya on at Mitsuba. I came close to going for Helena’s as well, but I just had some ono laulau and Lomi Salmon from Young’s Fish Market and Kalua Pig from Bob’s Bar-B-Que the night before (we had a mini luau of sorts at mom’s house), so was kinda’ “Hawaiianed-out” for the time being.
School street is actually a more recent location for Helena’s, as the original Helena’s Kitchen was formerly located on N. King Street across Diner’s Drive Inn, just before Farrington High School. Yet this location still has that old school feel, as if they never missed a beat. Well except for the passing of matriarch and founder Mrs. Chock of course.
On this visit, the dining room had a full house of patrons when I walked in to check it out after getting my order at Mitsuba. It seems every time I go into a popular Hawaiian food eatery around the island, there’s always a local celebrity or two in there eating, to which this time at Helena’s enjoying da’ grinds was Kumu Hula (Hula teacher) and popular Hawaiian music artist Robert Cazimero (The Brothers Cazimero).
Instead of going for one of the set Hawaiian food menu choices (4 options), Diner AC went ala carte and created her own “back to basics” set. Gotta’ say, great choice! Specifically that would be an order each of (Hawaiian style) Beef Stew, Helena’s ever-popular Short Ribs Pipikaula Style, Haupia and a bowl of fresh Poi…
Let’s have a closer look at (so we can drool over) each dish…
Just about every table in Helena’s had an order (or two or more) of their signature Short Ribs Pipikaula…
Notice at Helena’s they grill their Pipikaula to order, not served dry like jerky and uncooked as some other places serve it. Nothing wrong with that either, mind you. Yet still, as you can figure, adding that seared crust on the salty, dried-out beef kicks it up, again as Emeril says, beyond notches known to mankind!
Wit’ those two buggahz, gotta’ get da’ poi, cuz…
Then for dessert, throw in some scratch-made Haupia…
Sharing that tray of Haupia are some sliced white onions to eat as “condiments” with the Pipikaula, Beef Stew & Poi. Das’ a winnah combo right ‘deah, cuz! Just ‘chrow in some Hawaiian salt fo’ kick in some extra flavah, oah even Chili peppah wattah. Ow’right!
Whoa brah, get all dis’ good ‘kine basic stuffs, might as well just ‘chrow in one laulau, some kalua pig, lomi salmon and squid luau and make one full-on Luau plate ar’ready!
I didn’t get to try the beef stew or poi, but did get a taste of the Short Ribs Pipikaula and the Haupia, and by that small sample alone, can attest to Diner AC’s rating for Helena’s on this visit as giving this particular spread of Hawaiian grinds a solid 5-SPAM Musubi rating. After all, if Robert Cazimero is seen eating here, that’s as good a celebrity endorsement as you can get for a Hawaiian food restaurant!
Helena’s Hawaiian Food
1240 N School St
Honolulu, HI 96817
Helena’s Menu (<—click to download PDF; current as of 2/09)
The Tasty Island rating:
(on 2/12/09 visit for Beef Stew, Pipikaula, Haupia & Poi)
(5) Superb. Worthy of repeat visits or purchases. (Broke Da’ Mout’!)
• Helena’s Hawaiian Food – ‘Ono Kine Grindz review
• Helena’s Hawaiian Food – Yelp User Reviews
• Helena’s Hawaiian Food – Cooking with Amy
• Tiny Helena’s Wins Big at Beard Awards – Honolulu Star Bulletin
• Inside Helena’s Hawaiian Kitchen – Honolulu Star Bulletin
Now let’s “hele” (go) on over a few business doors Daimond Head (east) bound to Mitsuba Delicatessen (Okazuya)….
As mentioned earlier, Toshi’s Okazuya was just about wiped out, so we tried our luck at Mitsuba, arriving there around 11:30am, and they were getting there too, but still had enough selections remaining to make a well-balanced Okazuya plate.
Thankfully Mitsuba still had plenty of Chow Fun Noodles to go around…
Ooh, just give me that whole platter to go and I’d be a happy Okazuya camper! lol
Next to that they still had plenty of Chow Mein Noodles as well…
I didn’t ask, but this looks like one of them “local style” Spaghetti noodles, where they use Ketchup instead of Marinara sauce…
Mitsuba Delicatessen – Spaghetti
They also still had Garlic Chicken…
Mitsuba Delicatessen – Garlic Chicken
All the remaining meats were consolidated onto one big pan under the display counter…
Diner C loves her fish, so what else to get here but the Saba, along with an order of Chow Fun Noodles…
Diner E went for the “mega-selection” and got all this…
Mitsuba Delicatessen – Chow Fun Noodles, Lup Cheong (that sausage on the left side), Cone Sushi (top left tan-colored item), Kinpira Gobo (brown and orange sliced items on the top right), Nishime (in cup) and Hamburger Patty (center)
Finally, yours truly went with these selections…
Mitsuba Delicatessen – Ume Musubi (top left rice item with red thing in the middle), Hash Patty, Long Rice (the brown-colored clear noodles on the top right), Fish Cake (bottom right), Chow Fun (a shared portion courtesy of Diner C), and Kinpira Gobo
I really liked their Chow Fun. The seasoning and sauce element was just right, with a nice sprinkle of black pepper on it, plus the noodles were al dente, not mushy, and the abundant amount of veggies in it actually helped it. I was worried it would be too much, but it worked. This is a solid Chow Fun.
My only mistake in choices on this plate was getting the heavily marinated and intensely-flavored Gobo Kinpira along with the shoyu-flavored long rice, which both together was too “shoyu’ee”. Ya’ know? Thankfully I had that musubi and chow fun starch to help counter that effect, yet my blood pressure must have went up a bit after finishing this plate.
The fish cake was OK, but can’t compare with Nuuanu Delicatessen, my favorite of the genre. The Ume Musubi’s rice was also a little on the hard and loose side. It should have been more sticky and moist. The hash patty was pretty good.
Rounding up our Okazuya plates from Mitsuba’s on this visit, Diner C gave her plate a 3, Diner E a 3 and I give mine a 2.
I’d probably give my plate a higher rating had I not chose the Gobo Kinpira and Long Rice together, so keep that in mind: unless you’re a “shoyu freak”, don’t order more than one shoyu-based entree per plate at an Okazuya. At least not with the Gobo Kinpira. That’s some intense stuff; at least Mitsuba’s take on it is.
Here’s a look at Mitsuba’s menu board so you can see what we might have missed, as well as what you might want if you decide to check them out…
One last note, just like Hawaiian Food eateries such as Helena’s, Young’s or Ono’s, Okazuya’s such as Mitsuba are also getting quite expensive nowadays as well as far as casual/take-out lunch hour dining is concerned. At least when you add it all up.
My plate came out to $8.10, while Diner E’s came out over $11.00, and Diner C’s simple 2-choice plate $4.50 (which actually is a pretty good price; the fish items are cheap here!). While Diner AC’s seemingly basic selection of Hawaiian food favorites from Helena’s came out over $12. But keep in mind, these are food items that use costly ingredients and/or time-intensive steps to prepare, so you have to take that into consideration. Just keep that in mind so you don’t get sticker-shocked when they ring up your tab.
Yet these kinds of hole-in-the-wall eateries are truly hidden gems and icons in the history of Honolulu’s culinary scene, with more hits than misses and worth every penny just to have the opportunity to eat there while we still can.
1218 N School St
Honolulu, HI 96817
The Tasty Island rating:
(averaged rating on 2/12/09 visit for the 3 plates shown above)
(3) Very Good. Considerable of another visit or purchase. (Supah’ Ono!)
Since mentioning that Helena’s Kitchen was formerly located across Diner’s Drive Inn on N. King Street, and since we’re also talking about Okazuyas, here’s a few plates Diner E and C ordered from the NEW Diner’s Drive Inn at the same location as the former Diner’s Drive Inn, starting with Diner E’s plate…
Diner C’s plate…