No trip to the Hawaiian Islands is complete without attending a luau. Spend an evening hearing lively music, watching vibrant hula, eating kalua pig fresh from the imu–Hawaiian for “underground oven”–and for the adults, drinking flowing mai tais.
In Hawaiian, paina, (pronouned pah-eena) means “a party with dinner.” It’s the traditional word for the more modern equivalent of what we know of today as a luau. Luau are a fun and still widely observed tradition for residents celebrating birthdays, graduations, weddings and more. For visitors, it’s a great way to learn about Polynesian culture and enjoy a delicious feast.
One of Oahu’s best luau is on the North Shore at the Polynesian Cultural Center. Tuck into a large buffet before watching the talented entertainers of the center perform traditional dances.
If you’re on the west side, visit Paradise Cove for an evening luau with an ocean view, great food and good entertainment. Before the luau begins, enjoy traditionally inspired crafts and games.
For traditional Hawaiian food on the island, look no further than Helena’s Hawaiian Food, Highway Inn, Ono Hawaiian Foods, Yama’s Fish Market and Haili’s Hawaiian Food.
Here are the 10 Best luau across Oahu, as well as the places serving authentic Hawaiian food.
Haili's Hawaiian Food
For authentic Hawaiian food in a laid back, home style atmosphere, visit Haili's Hawaiian Food. The Kapahulu Avenue eatery has been in business since 1948 when Mother Haili started serving simple, traditional Hawaiian food at the Ward Farmers Makert. Her recipes still thrive today. Popular menu items include plate lunches such as the "Big Kahuna" served with kalua pig, laulau, chicken long rice, lomi lomi salmon, poke, haupia (a coconut milk based dessert) and poi. The restaurant also mixes and serves up traditional shoyu and limu (seaweed) poke. You'll leave Haili's Hawaiian Food with a full belly and a smile on your face. ((808) 735-8019)
Yama's Fish Market
Yama's Fish Market is a small, fresh fish and Hawaiian food take out eatery tucked at the end of Young Street in Honolulu. What the space lacks in seating and decor it makes up for in friendly service and outstanding food. Yama's Fish Market is known for its traditional Hawaiian plate lunches and bentos. No matter how much food you order, be sure to save room for dessert! Yama's is renowned for its creative, and delicious, haupia (a coconut milk–based dessert). In addition to the traditional Hawaiian dessert, there are varieties made with sweet potato, pumpkin, brownie, strawberry-jello and lime. ((808) 941-9994)
Ono Hawaiian Foods
Ono Hawaiian Foods, on Kapahulu Avenue, just outside of Waikiki is appropriately named. As they say in Hawaii, the food is ono, or delicious! The small, unassuming restaurant is known for its authentically-made Hawaiian plates, featuring kalua pig, lomi lomi salmon, haupia (a coconut milk–based dessert). Be sure to give yourself plenty of time when making the trip to Ono Hawaiian Foods. It's always crowded and because of the small space, you might have to get your food to go. And be sure to arrive hungry! The serving sizes are large, but it's so good, you'll want to eat every last bite. (808-737-2275)
This Hawaiian food mainstay boasts two Oahu locations. The original Highway Inn opened in 1947 in in Waipahu on Oahu's Leeward side. The Toguchi family opened its second location in Kakaako in Honolulu in 2013. The family-run Highway Inn is Hawaiian and local comfort food at its finest. The restaurant makes its own laulau (pronounced like "wow-wow"), a traditional dish in which pork, chicken or butterfish are wrapped in luau leaves and steamed for several hours. The Hawaiian eatery is also known for its popular Hawaiian plate lunches, including poi, kalua pork and lomi lomi salmon served in cafeteria-style trays. (808-954-4955)
Helena's Hawaiian Food
For the best Hawaiian food, simply and honestly prepared, a must visit on Oahu is Helena's Hawaiian Food. The James Beard Foundation award-winning restaurant was started by Helen Chock in 1946 and is ran by her grandson Craig Katsuyoshi today. The small eatery, located on North School Street in Honolulu's Kalihi Valley neighborhood, features authentic Hawaiian food prepared from traditional recipes that have gone unchanged since the restaurant's opening seven decades ago. Popular items–ordered ala carte or part of a set menu–are the house made pipikaula ribs, kalua pig, fried fish and squid luau (a seafood–coconut milk–taro leaf dish). You'll want to come back the next day. (808-845-8044)
Waikiki Starlight Luau- Hilton Hawaiian Village
As the name suggests, the Waikiki Starlight Luau is a celebration under the stars. Located on the rooftop of the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki, this entertaining luau features hula, drumming and music of Hawaii, Tahiti and Samoa, as well as the traditional foods of the Pacific. Before the luau begins, enjoy interactive games, including a conch blowing shell contest. The Waikiki Startlight Luau buffet menu features South Pacific inspired dishes, followed by lively, traditional entertainment for visitors of all ages. The Hilton Waikiki luau is held Sunday to Thursday on the rooftop of the Mid-Pacific Conference Center, weather permitting. ((808)947-2607)
The Royal Hawaiian Luau - Aha'aina
Each Monday evening, the manicured Ocean Lawn of the Royal Hawaiian, also known as the Pink Palace of the Pacific, becomes the grass stage of the Aha Aina luau. This Waikiki luau is a cultural celebration with an ocean view. Kick off your evening at Oahu's second oldest hotel with cultural demonstrations such as kapa–barkcloth–making and poi-pounding. The Aha Aina luau menu features poi, poke, kalua pig, steamed mongchong, Korean kalbi ribs, fresh fruit and dessert. The luau tells the story of Waikiki and Oʻahu through traditional dance and song. Plan ahead for this weekly event and be sure to make reservations. (808-921-4600, 808-923-7311)
Germaine's Luau, nestled on a beach in Kapolei, is an Oahu luau mainstay. The popular luau features an exotic buffet including poi, chicken long rice, lomi lomi salmon, taro rolls, haupia (a coconut milk–based dessert), pineapple, island fish and kalua pig, fresh from an imu, or Hawaiian underground oven. The luau also adheres to Polynesia's other cultural traditions, including fire knife dancing, hula to traditional costumes and lore. And if you are feeling adventurous, there is an opportunity at the end of the luau to dance on stage with the talented performers. Round-trip transportation to and from Waikiki is included in each luau admission ticket. ((800) 367-5655, 800-367-5655)
Paradise Cove Luau
If you want a luau with an ocean view, head to Oahu's west side for the Paradise Cove Luau. Located inside the Ko Olina Resort in Kapolei, this evening starts off with traditionally inspired crafts and games, such as lei making, Polynesian temporary tattoos, spearing throwing and more. The Paradise Cove luau itself begins with an imu ceremony, in which a day long roasted pig is unearthed from a Hawaiian underground oven. Tuck into a buffet spread featuring kalua pork, lomi lomi salmon, poi, haupia (a coconut milk–based dessert), salads, rice and more. The evening ends with lively cultural performances just as the sun sets. For an additional fee, Paradise Cove offers shuttle transportation. (808-842-5911, 800-775-2683)
Polynesian Cultural Center Luau
On the North Shore of Oahu sits the expansive, 42-acre Polynesian Cultural Center. The center features interactive villages showcasing the traditions of the island people of Hawaii, Tonga, Samoa, Aotearoa, Fiji and Tahiti. Each village is filled with cultural demonstrations, family-friendly activities and more. The center is also home to one of Oahu's best luau programs. The dance, traditional clothing and storytelling, visitors get to experience the pastimes and traditions of Polynesia's peoples. Plus, there's a big buffet not to be missed. The best part is a roasted pig being unearthed from an imu, or a Hawaiian underground oven. (Note: As the Polynesian Cultural Center is ran by the Church of Latter Day Saints alcoholic drinks are not served.) ((808) 293-3333)
About Tiffany Hill
Tiffany Hill has lived on Oahu’s Leeward and Windward sides, but today she calls Honolulu home. She is a writer whose work is regularly published in regional and national publications, and online. When she’s not on assignment, you can find her playing roller derby.
Read more about Tiffany Hill and her work here.
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