Chef Chai Brings Hawaiian Food to Waikīkī
From pipikaula to chicken long rice, Kalo puts Hawaiian food—and some of Chai Chaowasaree's signature dishes—within reach of visitors.
Wow, lau lau! Real Hawaiian food in Waikīkī? It was exciting to see chef Chai Chaowasaree semi-quietly open a new restaurant on Kuhio Avenue a few weeks ago, but even more intriguing to learn it has a connection to the beloved Helena’s Hawaiian Food in Kalihi.
Chaowasaree was hoping to open a Hawaiian restaurant in collaboration with Helena’s last year, in Ala Moana Center. But, as we all know, COVID-19 shelved a lot of plans.
Meanwhile, at the Courtyard by Marriott, Spada Bar & Restaurant closed and Chaowasaree was tapped to help revive the space for the rebounding tourism market. In less than a month, he turned it around and opened Kalo. With the blessing of Helena’s chef-owner Craig Katsuyoshi, he hired Katsuyoshi’s brother-in-law and another former employee of the Kalihi restaurant, both of whom now work in Kalo’s kitchen. All of the recipes are Chaowasaree’s, however, and he uses his own techniques to get the Kalihi-esque flavors.
I think many people will go for the Hawaiian Signature Sampler ($45), which has kalua pork, ‘ahi poke, chicken long rice, lomi salmon, poi (when available) and rice, and of course, those pipikaula short ribs. I love that the flavors are clean and not greasy. But that pipikaula! It’s thick and firm, but also tender with a perfect amount of saltiness to make you go back for more. A la carte portions are $22.
Another favorite is the garlic noodles ($8) tossed with bacon and green onions, a classic comforting combination. Hmmm, maybe a meal of garlic noodles and pipikaula? Sounds like a winna!
We also loved the squid luau ($11), which isn’t too runny or sweet, the spicy Chai-style poke ($18), a generously sized lau lau ($15), and the hearty beef stew ($15) filled with slow-cooked boneless beef.
If you’re not into Hawaiian food, Kalo also offers Asian-fusion dishes that Chaowasaree is known for, like melt-in-your-mouth miso Chilean sea bass ($45), crunchy salt and pepper fresh Kaua‘i prawns deep fried so well that you can eat the shell, decadent pineapple lobster curry ($52) and barbecue chicken ($35).
The barbecue chicken was a surprise, as chicken is often the most boring item on a menu. Here, it’s moist and has a nice balance of local flavors, with or without the accompanying pineapple relish. We fought over the fragrant coconut-ginger rice that came with it.
When we first went, Kalo was out of lobster for the curry, so they served us shrimp curry instead. I actually prefer the shrimp to the lobster—it ended up being a richer curry (we had to keep going back to order it to be sure) that was craveable. This is served with a baguette, Vietnamese style.
Save room for dessert. As a local who’s eaten (and made) a lot of haupia, I could tell right off the bat that Kalo’s version ($7) is smooth and not cornstarchy. If you’re feeling splurgy, get the coffee pot de crème ($12) as well. Eating these together is magical—like an iced coconut latte.
While the prices may seem high, I think Kalo is exponentially more convenient for visitors—especially now, with a shortage of rental cars and ride shares—who can get a taste of Hawaiian food without hunting for parking in Kalihi and standing in line.
Parking is on street or valet at the hotel ($6 for four hours with validation).
Open daily from 4:30 to 10 p.m., and starting July 1 from 6:30 to 10 a.m., 400 Royal Hawaiian Ave., (808) 931-6222, kalohawaiianfood.com