The Essential Guide to Taro: 12 Local Dishes That Showcase the Versatility of Kalo
Get a taste of taro in everything from curry and chowder to doughnuts and pie.
Clockwise from top left: poi mochi doughnuts from Liliha Bakery; poi glazed doughnuts from Kamehameha Bakery; poi pancakes from Highway Inn.
Photos: Steve Czerniak
Poi Mochi Doughnuts
These ring-shaped doughnuts, which debuted last summer, are giving the bakery’s signature Coco Puffs some stiff—or rather, chewy—competition. The poi is evident when you pull apart the segments to reveal the bright purple dough inside. Right now, the bakery makes more than 3,000 of these doughnuts a day for its two locations.
515 N. Kuakini St., (808) 531-1651; 580 N. Nimitz Highway, (808) 537-2488; lilihabakeryhawaii.com
‘Ai Love Nalo
This charming eatery in Waimānalo specializes in plant-based food using local ingredients, and the taro falafel in the restaurant’s popular Medi Bowl is a tasty innovation. Instead of chickpea, this fritter is made with taro, fried until crispy and packed with flavor. It can even be ordered as a burger, served on a locally baked whole-wheat vegan bun smeared with baba ghanoush and beet hummus.
41-1025 Kalaniana‘ole Highway, Waimānalo, (808) 888-9102, ailovenalo.com
Poi Glazed Doughnuts
These chewy doughnuts glazed with a poi-flavored sugar are easily the bakery’s top seller. Soft and fluffy on the outside, warm and gooey on the inside, these doughnuts are best eaten fresh out of the oven. Go when the bakery opens at 3 a.m.—and don’t be surprised if there’s a line.
1284 Kalani St., (808) 845-5831, kamehamehabakeryhi.com
Da Hawaiian Acai Bowl with Pa‘i‘ai
Diamond Head Cove Health Bar
This shop smartly adds pa‘i‘ai to its popular acai bowl, loaded with bananas, strawberries, blueberries, local honey and bee pollen. Perfect post-surf pick-up.
3045 Monsarrat Ave., (808) 732-8744, diamondheadcove.com
Earlier this year, ‘Umeke Market removed meat from the menu, replacing it with more plant-based choices, including kalo curry, one of its top sellers. Locally grown taro is simmered in coconut milk with carrots, potatoes and seasoned with organic ginger and local ‘ōlena (turmeric). It’s slightly spicy, slightly sweet and all delicious.
1001 Bishop St., #110, (808) 522-7377, umekemarket.com
Kūlolo Poi Mac Nut Pie
Hawaiian Pie Co.
For the entire month of December, Hawaiian Pie Co. is serving its kūlolo poi mac nut pie, so popular that “people coming running when we make it,” says co-owner Jan Hori. The kūlolo is made in an imu, which adds a little extra flavor.
508 Waiakamilo Road, (808) 988-7828, hawaiianpieco.com
Smoked Opah Corn Chowder with Kalo
Mahina & Sun’s
Chef Ed Kenney uses kalo in dishes at all four of his restaurants—the yaki pa‘i‘ai at Mud Hen Water is a cult favorite. At his Waikīkī locale, he pairs local kalo with smoked opah and watercress in a corn chowder that’s comforting and delicious. “It’s the staple of the Native Hawaiian diet,” he says. “How could we not serve it?”
412 Lewers St., (808) 924-5810, mahinaandsuns.com
Hawaiian Chip Co.
From Monday through Saturday, taro chips are sliced and fried to order at the Kalihi shop. Add your own seasonings, from the popular zesty garlic to the spicy Kīlauea Fire. The taro used comes from local farms on O‘ahu and Hawai‘i Island.
1928 Republican St., (808) 845-9868, hawaiianchipcompany.com
Poi Biscuit and Gravy
Koko Head Café
This dish, which features a house-made poi biscuit topped with mushroom gravy and a soft-poached egg, has been on the menu since the brunch spot opened in 2013. Even the kalo flour in the biscuit is made in-house.
1145 12th Ave., (808) 732-8920, kokoheadcafe.com
Highway Inn Kaka‘ako
The poi makes these pancakes moist and the house-made haupia sauce and local mac nuts are perfect complements. The restaurant also serves a kūlolo brownie à la mode.
680 Ala Moana Blvd., #105, (808) 954-4955, myhighwayinn.com
Sweet Lady of Waiāhole
Waiāhole Poi Factory
You can’t order this without thinking of the song by Bruddah Waltah that inspired it. The simple combination of warm, freshly made kūlolo and haupia ice cream is such a perfect combination, we wondered why we’ve never had it before. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, workers hand-pound poi right in front of the rustic poi factory.
48-140 Kamehameha Highway, Kāne‘ohe, (808) 239-2222, waiaholepoifactory.com
Helena’s Hawaiian Food
Opened in 1946, this cash-only old-school Kalihi eatery serves top-quality Hawaiian food four days a week so good it earned a James Beard Award in 2000. Founder Helen Chock’s grandson Craig Katsuyoshi adapts with the times and cooks a vegan lū‘au stew, so diners can order just like that or with chicken, squid or beef stirred in.
1240 N. School St., (808) 845-8044, helenashawaiianfood.com