2021 Hale ‘Aina Award Winner: How to Build the Perfect Hawaiian Plate

We love our fish and poi (almost as much as Sean Na‘auao) but for the ultimate comfort food, we turn to our Hale ‘Aina winners for Hawaiian dishes passed down through generations as well as some sweet spins on a classic favorite.
Hawaiian Plate

Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino




Lau lau, Young’s Fish Market

Everyone knows the best recipes are passed down through generations. That’s the case with the lau lau at Young’s Fish Market, which was opened in 1951 by Wilfred and Charlotte Young. Though the market started out only serving—you guessed it—fish, the Youngs slowly expanded their business to offer Hawaiian plates and other items. Decades later, grandson, president and owner Daniel Young ensures the lau lau continues to be made the same way as under his grandparents: steamed for four-and-a-half hours for the softest lū‘au leaf, moist and cooked through. —KV 



Multiple locations, youngsfishmarket.com, @youngsfishmarket


Time your trip to Young’s based on what kind of lau lau you want: chicken (Mondays and Thursdays), butterfish (Tuesday and Fridays), beef (Wednesdays and Saturdays) or pork (daily). Call ahead for veggie lau lau, only available frozen.



Pipi kaula, Helena’s Hawaiian Food

Like every dish at Helena’s, the pipi kaula short ribs are a legacy of Helen Chock. They debuted when Chock opened her original restaurant in 1946, a time capsule for our taste buds: racks of soy-marinated ribs hung over the stove to air-dry, then taken down and fried to order. “It’s the recipe my grandma taught me,” says Chock’s grandson, Craig Katsuyoshi, chef and owner of the Hale ‘Aina gold award winner for Best Hawaiian. “I do it exactly the same way.” The result is a glossy, umami-packed rib you can sink your teeth into. We wouldn’t have it any other way. —MT



1240 N. School St., (808) 845-8044, helenashawaiianfood.com@helenashawaiianfoood 



Poi, Waiāhole Poi Factory

Waiāhole Poi Factory’s roots trace back to 1905, when it was built to process taro from surrounding lo‘i into poi. After a few iterations over the decades, including as an art gallery and incubator kitchen, it now serves classic Hawaiian plate lunches. But its specialty is still poi, offering two types made on the spot: milled and hand-pounded. The milled is like most poi we’re familiar with, but fresh and sweet, while the rarer hand-pounded (available Wednesdays and Sundays) is thick like mochi. —MC



48-140 Kamehameha Highway, Kāne‘ohe, (808) 239-2222, waiaholepoifactory.com, @waiaholepoifactory 


Pre-pandemic, Helena’s was frying up 300 pounds of pipi kaula a day. Now, after a boom in online orders, that amount doubles on busy days.



Haupia Desserts, Highway Inn

At most Hawaiian food restaurants, haupia comes in just one familiar and comforting form: a simple square. Highway Inn, open since 1947, offers that, of course, but also in other incarnations: as a sauce drizzled over bread pudding, a firm layer over purple sweet potato on a shortbread crust, and melded with chocolate for a creamy and smooth consistency—like a sliceable chocolate-coconut pudding—set on a tender crust. Other options include the rich kūlolo or poi fudge brownies. —MC



Multiple locations, myhighwayinn.com, @myhighwayinn 


SEE ALSO: The Hale ‘Aina Awards



  • One large wooden plate and two small wooden bowls
  • One fork
  • Two clean fingers for poi
  • One can of guava nectar (optional)
  • Eyes, preferably larger than
    your stomach
  • A bed, sofa or cot to lie on when pau