Looking for the closest thing you can get to authentic Hawaiian cuisine that’s not made in someone’s home kitchen? You’ll find it at Highway Inn Kakaako on Oahu. This iconic establishment—which has been serving up heaping portions of Lau Lau, kalua pig, beef stew, poi, poke, and other local favorites for three generations—is a must-do during your stay in Honolulu.
Lots of places bill themselves as “authentic,” but if you’re looking for a restaurant that delivers on this promise—and then some—look no further than Highway Inn Kakaako on Oahu. The second outpost of this iconic Highway Inn tradition, Highway Inn Kakaako is located in SALT, the lively city block serving as Honolulu’s cultural epicenter.
All travelers know that there’s no better way to experience the most authentic flavors than tracking down where the locals dine, and you’ll find plenty of locals at this vintage gem. Now in its third generation of family ownership, the original Highway Inn opened its doors in 1947 with the goal of serving “a taste of old Hawaii.”
While a lot has changed over the past seven decades, some things thankfully have not—namely the phenomenal menu, award-winning cuisine, and aloha spirit, all of which have kept generations of locals and visitors returning for more.
Speaking of “aloha spirit,” it’s alive and well here—not only in the food but also in the atmosphere and friendly service. This spacious restaurant has ample indoor and outdoor seating with both family-style picnic tables and regular tables. (You also have the option of taking out.) When you dine at Highway Inn Kakaako you might even forget that you’re in a restaurant because of the at-home vibe and amazing comfort food. The walls are even adorned with photos of customers!
Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Highway Inn Kakaako has an intriguing open kitchen that lets you get a glimpse inside the “magic” as it happens. And, indeed, “magical” is a worthy word to describe the love, care, and attention that go into making this homestyle cuisine. For an up-close-and-personal look at the Lau Lau-making process, go on a Monday, Wednesday, or Saturday between 9:00 am and 1:00 pm for a demonstration. (If you’re traveling with a larger group, you can also call the restaurant to arrange for a show.)
For even more of a treat, go on a Friday afternoon for local live music. (Check the website for the lineup.) There’s also a fun bar menu and Pau Hana on weekdays from 3-6 pm with great deals on cocktails, beer, and wine.
The food at Highway Inn Kakaako is hot, fresh, and extremely filling with something for everyone, including many vegetarian and pescatarian options. (There are even hamburgers for the not-so-adventurous eaters.)
While everything we tasted at Highway Inn Kakaako was scrumptious, a few of our favorites included:
An impeccably seasoned burger patty topped by outrageously delicious gravy with all the authentic accouterments. (You WILL want to lick the plate.)
Buttermilk Pancakes with Lilikoi Syrup
Fluffy and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. While we opted for the lilikoi (passionfruit) the haupia (coconut) was equally tempting. Ask for both!
The Hawaiian Sampler
Can’t decide? This massive sampler plate is a veritable smorgasbord of traditional dishes. Go hungry or share!
Kalua Pig Combo
Unbelievably succulent and juicy morsels of pork with your choice of sides. It might be the tastiest meal of your trip—or of your life!
Looking for a “lighter” option? These tasty tacos feature sautéed fish and onion in an ube tortilla topped with lettuce, chili aioli, avocado mousse, and salsa.
One word of caution? “Ono” is a Hawaiian word meaning “good to eat,” and to feel like napping afterward is considered a telltale sign of ono food. The takeaway? You might want to plan on taking a nap after your meal.
We also recommend trying to save room for dessert because the pastry display is fantastic.
If you’re interested in learning more about the food you’re eating, ask for the Malihini guide while you wait, which contains a very helpful and informative glossary.
-Parking can be tricky at SALT so leave yourself ample time. There is 10-minute parking for take-out, and the restaurant does validate if you park nearby 440 Keawe Street Garage.
-If you’re planning to return, make sure to ask about the Frequent Diner program for points toward cash back and other rewards.
-Up for a good laugh before you go? Call their number and listen to the recording.
-If you’re dining with more than six people, you can call ahead to make a reservation. Otherwise, there may be a wait at busy times, but the experience is worth it.