Love lomi lomi but hate the hula? Curious about poi but not crazy about the high price of luaus?
Most visitors to Hawaii get their only taste of Hawaiian food at the luaus given by hotels and tour companies. Some complain that the prices are high, and others call the entertainment hokey -- but they don't want to do without Hawaiian food entirely.
Ah, but kamaainas -- that's Hawaiian for locals -- know there's a better way to enjoy the delights of kalua pig or lomi lomi salmon. They go to restaurants featuring Hawaiian food.
Now, these restaurants don't have snowy white tablecloths or large, lavish menus. With one exception, there are no hulas, no flaming torches, no masters of ceremonies.
But to some of us, that's a plus. If you don't mind eating at a Formica table or at a counter, or reading a menu with the prices scrawled by hand, you'll have a chance to eat some delicious food, meet real Hawaiians and save money in the bargain.
Oh, and do try the poi, the ground and cooked fibers of the taro root. Tourists usually compare its taste to library paste, but kamaainas combine poi with other foods to complement their flavors.
Aloha Poi Bowl
Visitors to Waikikiwho venture outside the Oahu tourist district should head for the Aloha Poi Bowl. A 10-minute drive from Waikiki, it caters to the lunch and dinner crowd with authentic Hawaiian dishes.
Besides a wide variety of a la carte specialties, the restaurant offers a number of combination plates. For $5, the visitor can have kalua pork or lau lau (fish and pork steamed in taro leaves), lomi lomi (marinated salmon), rice or poi, pipikaula (spicy beef jerky) and, for dessert, haupia, a coconut pudding.
Big spenders who are willing to spring for the $6.25 combinations may also select chicken long rice (Hawaiian for transparent noodles), tripe stew or beef stew.
Aloha Poi Bowl, 2671 S. King St., Moilili, 808-944-0798. Open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Sunday 3 to 8 p.m.
Ma's Family Inc.
On Kauai, a k a the Garden Island, Ma's Family Inc. has been serving up luau food for more than a quarter of a century. A tiny place, Ma's can hold only about 100 people, half of them usually locals. A good sign.
At breakfast time, mainlanders can feast on lau lau or kalua pig along with eggs, rice and toast. Another breakfast possibility is the kalua pig omelet with cheese and green onions. Coffee or tea comes with the breakfast order, and the price is $5.
Less authentic but equally delicious possibilities are French toast made with Hawaiian sweet bread, and pancakes with papaya or pineapple.
Ma's Family Inc., 4277 Halenani St., Lihue, Kauai, 808-245-3142. Open for breakfast, 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. daily, and for lunch, 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Old Lahaina Cafe
More like a traditional luau is the meal visitors are likely to get at the Old Lahaina Cafe on Maui. The plantation-style establishment looks out at the beach, the sea and the distant islands of Lanai, Kahoolawe, and Molokai. The cafe specializes in beef, salads and sandwiches, but it also offers Hawaiian dishes.
Tuesday through Saturday evenings, the cafe hosts the Old Lahaina Luau along the beach -- the royal compound of the great kings of Maui more than 300 years ago. There's an imu (below-ground oven) at water's edge, for fresh kalua puaa (imu-roasted pork). The evening includes a shell lei greeting, open bar, traditional luau buffet dinner and a musical program that traces the hula from its roots in the Marquesas Islands to the dances of modern times.
Between luaus, the cafe serves such island specialties as a luau omelet filled with lomi lomi salmon and kalua pork on the side ($7.95). At dinner, guests may begin the meal with poki, a dish of marinated raw ahi (you may know this fish as yellow-fin tuna).
For a main dish, there's the luau plate that combines kalua pork, chicken long rice, sweet potato, lomi lomi salmon, rice or poi for $10.95. This plate accounts for about 25 percent of the meals served in the cafe.Old Lahaina Cafe, 505 Front St., Lahaina, Maui, 808-661-3303. Open daily for breakfast, 7 to 10:30 a.m.; lunch, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; happy hour, 3 to 6 p.m.; and dinner, 5:30 to 11 p.m.
Over on the Big Island of Hawaii, there's Hawaiian food to be had at Jimmy's Drive-In. Of course, there's no drive-in, and there may not even be a Jimmy. But such incongruities don't bother locals; the place is crowded with families. It's so popular, in fact, that service can be slow.
But don't let that deter you. The combination Hawaiian plate offers lau lau along with pipikaula, lomi lomi salmon, with poi or rice for $5.25. Another special value is the kalua pig, lomi lomi salmon, pipikaula and raw onion combination, also with poi or rice, for $5.40.
Jimmy's Drive-in, 362 Kinoole St., Hilo, 808-935-5571. Open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Carol Schwalberg is a freelance writer in Santa Monica, Calif.