Smoke and Steam


Enjoy local eats for breakfast, lunch, or dinner at Highway Inn.

First, let me just say that I love Hawaiian food. Much like how I love Hawai‘i. The scenery, the delightful concoction of cultures, and the people (most of whom gravitate toward plate lunches and spicy ahi pokē) make this small, isolated island chain what it is today. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Today, I’m lunching at Highway Inn on the Our Kaka‘ako block facing Ala Moana Boulevard with my sister/aspiring chef/food fanatic, Jolie, and my brother-in-law, Terry. A tall, American-educated entrepreneur with a typical love-hate relationship with metropolitan cities, Terry grew up in the Midwest, where his diet primarily consisted of meat and potatoes. Only recently has he opened up to the idea of ethnic cuisine, and my sister couldn’t be happier—though I have to admit their frequent disagreements about food are often amusing to me.

Cuisines are key to their corresponding cultures and should be celebrated. Luckily for us, the historic Highway Inn opened a second location last year in Our Kaka‘ako and features traditional Hawaiian favorites like lau lau, beef stew and na‘au pua‘a (pork chitterlings and taro leaf stew), all made with the same recipes that owner Monica Toguchi’s grandparents used when they opened the first Highway Inn 67 years ago. The atmosphere is laid-back and full of locals (always a good sign), a modern iteration of black and white photographs hanging on the walls that feature Hawaiian families and long-ago island life. The interior is bright, with a sleek plantation style that provides plenty of room for a wide range of clientele who come for their whole fried ‘akule and poi Twinkies.


As I’m looking around, our order arrives. The lau lau combo plate includes juicy pork wrapped in taro leaf served alongside rice, sweet potato, lomi lomi salmon, chicken long rice, and haupia. It takes hours to prepare Hawaiian food of this caliber. Traditionally, an imu (pit oven) was used to get that nice, smoky flavoring in the pork, but today, Highway Inn makes an equally savory version with an oven and liquid mesquite. Surprisingly, my sister and Terry agree on the wonderful, robust flavors of the kālua pig and the lau lau.

“I think we are getting somewhere!” my sister shouts, elated at Terry’s satisfied demeanor. “I didn’t know Hawaiian food could be so good,” he replies. “I’m impressed.” For dessert, we gorge on the pineapple upside-down cake made with kiawe flour.

With an array of glorious dishes, Highway Inn offers food that is memorable and real. After listening to Terry talk about the food of the Midwest, I am happy to live in a world where sizzling smoked pork and pipikaula exist a short drive away from Italian hoagies and headcheese carnitas. We are only too lucky to have a restaurant steeped in tradition so close to our urban grid, a restaurant that continues to perpetuate Hawai‘i’s culture.

Highway Inn is located at 680 Ala Moana Blvd. For more information, visit myhighwayinn.com.