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Hawaiian Eats: People's Cafe

People’s Cafe: Kalua Pig/Laulau Combination Plate – Kalua Pig, Laulau, Lomi Salmon, Chicken Luau and Poi

Have you ever been to a restaurant that was so good, you felt like smacking yourself for having not “discovered” it sooner in your life? Well, that’s exactly how I felt after indulging in the ono grinds at People’s Cafe. What rock have I been living under? I mean, duh? This is like one of the best places for Hawaiian food on the island and I haven’t heard of them before?

Thankfully someone finally brought the People’s Cafe to my attention, and that would be Diner AC, c/o Diner E…

People’s Cafe is located on the street level of a business building next door on the Makai side of Pali Longs Drugs and Safeway. It’s certainly another one of those hole-in-the-wall gems that you could easily pass if not knowing about it while driving into Bishop street, which they’re just a block up from.

Here you see the dining room, filled entirely with locals “in the know” of the ono ‘kine Hawaiian grinds at People’s Cafe…

My sister’s ex-husband used to work on this Aku Boat…


Kula Kai Aku Boat painting

Let’s check out da’ menu…

Notice there’s Filipino dishes on there as well. Turns out the new owner is Tomas Ventura (Filipino), who runs the place along with his sister Judy. The place used to be owned by a local Japanese family, which Judy says the orginal recipes continue to be used under her brother’s command.

For a Hawaiian and local food restaurant, I’m surprised no’ mo’ Chili Pepper Water on the table as a standard condiment…

After  placing our order, it didn’t take more than 5 minutes and our dishes were already arriving at the table. Talk about quick service! And the place was pretty busy. Amazing!

So Diner A chose the Kalua Plate…


Peoples Cafe: Kalua Plate – Kalua Pig, Lomi Salmon, Pipikaula, Chicken Luau and Rice. $9.20

Diner E went Japanese-meets-Hawaiian “fusion” on us, opting for the Teriyaki Short Rib Plate…


People’s Cafe: Teriyaki Short Rib Plate – Teriyaki Short Rib, Kalua Pig, Lomi Salmon, Kim Chee and Rice. $9.50

Finally, yours truly went for the Kalua Pig/Lau Lau Combination Plate…


People’s Cafe: Kalua Pig/Lau Lau Combination Plate – Kalua Pig, Laulau, Lomi Salmon, Chicken Luau and Poi. $11.25

What was kinda’ frustrating is that they didn’t have a combination plate that had a little of EVERYTHING. Each combo has either this or that, but I wanted to try it all, dammm it! lol

I’m especially interested in going back for their Salt Meat with Watercress. I used to LOVE that stuff with poi. Haven’t had it in ages. My grandma used to make that for us. I also wanna’ try the ‘Lava Rock’ plate, which is basically a Laulau smothered with Hawaiian style beef stew gravy (just the gravy, not the meat and vegetables), with Lomi Salmon on the side. Diner C tried that and she said it was DELICIOUS. Beef stew gravy on a laulau eh? Sounds weird, but she said it’s ono, so I’ll buy it.

Let’s take a closer look at each dish, starting with Diner A’s Pipikaula…


People’s Cafe: Pipikaula (Hawaiian sytle cured beef)

It looks more like pieces of fried steak, but Diner A said it was indeed on the salty side. He really, really liked it, only complaining there wasn’t enough. He wanted more!

Now Diner E’s Teriyaki Beef Short Ribs..

People’s Cafe – Teriyaki Short Ribs

Diner E commented that they were well-marinated with a tasty Teriyaki Sauce, while the beef was very tender, only wishing it was more koge (charred) on the edges. Still, a thumbs up.

Of course with Short Ribs, gotta’ get da’ Kim Chee…

People’s Cafe: Kim Chee

Now check out the Kalua Pig…

People’s Cafe: Kalua Pig

OMG, this is one the best Kalua Pig I’ve had from a restaurant yet. Seasoned with just the right amount of Hawaiian Salt, with that “just like from da’ Imu” smoky accent and tender and moist, moist, moist. Also get bits of fat here and there for added flavor. So ono. 5 SPAM Musubi on their Kalua Pig.

Whack da’ Kalua Pig wit’ da’ Poi… buggah broke da’ mout’!

Now let’s sample da’ Chicken Luau…

People’s Cafe: Chicken Luau

OMG, again! Winnah, winnah, Chicken Luau Dinnah! Perfect amount of coconut milk, all taro leaves, no spinach leaves here, with chunks of tender chicken in every bite. Both Diner A and myself only thought it was a little too sweet. They need hold back on the sugar a bit. Still, an EXCELLENT Chicken Luau.

Chicken Luau

I think they use Chicken so that kids will eat. Try getting kids to eat SQUID LUAU and most will gross out just by the sound of it and not even touch it. Can’t be cost, because Calamari is just as cheap as chicken.

Anyhow, 4 SPAM Musubi for the Chicken Luau. Scale back the sweetness and I’ll give it a 5.

Now let’s sample some Lomi Salmon…

People’s Cafe: Lomi Salmon

That’s Lomi Salmon alright, not no “Lomi Tomato”.  Get plenty chunks of salted salmon in it.  Tastes perfect. Not too salty, not too  subtle, jusssss’ right. Eat some Kalua Pig, a spoonful of Chicken Luau, then some of this, followed by the Poi and al-right! Winnahz! I give their Lomi Salmon 5 SPAM Musubi. It just doesn’t get any better than this.

Finally da’ laulau…

People’s Cafe: Pork Laulau (with just a small piece of butterfish)

My only wish is that they serve the Laulau still wrapped in the Ti Leaves, which not only keeps it hot, but imparts more flavor. Let’s cut it open and see what’s in it…

It has the prefect ratio of pork to luau leaves (luau leaves are Hawaiian Taro leaves). Our server said there’s also a little piece of butterfish in it for flavor, but I thought it really needed more of that. Of course butterfish is an expensive ingredient which is why they only use it sparingly. Personally I’d rather pay more and have more of it in there. It’s worth it. At least the generous amount of pork in it was seasoned right and wondefully moist, tender and flavorful.

The luau leaves were cooked thoroughly not giving me any itchy throat, a problem I’ve heard Young’s Fish Market is having lately with their laulau. The leaves were soft and fork tender, with my only complaint is that they weren’t salted enough, being rather plain in flavor. Not to fret though, as I asked for a dish of Hawaiian Salt, to which our server gave me this…

People’s Cafe: Hawaiian Salt and sliced raw Onion

Now THAT’s how you serve Hawaiian Salt my friends. Gotta’ get da’ raw onion wit’ em. See, this is like a side dish in itself. You whack da’ oddah stuffs, den’ you take a slice of the onion, dip ’em in da’ Hawaiian Salt, whack dat, den’ chase ’em wit’ da’ poi. Whoooo, da’ buggah winnahz!

Anyways, so I took some of the Hawaiian Salt and sprinkled it on da’ Laulau and it was now seasoned PERFECT, instantly turning my 2-SPAM Musubi Laulau into a 4-SPAM Musubi Laulau. Whee! Put more Butterfish in there and I’ll give it a 5.

As you see, Diner A and E aren’t Poi fans, which is just fine with me, as that leaves more for me! lol Well, here’s my very generous sized bowl of Poi…

People’s Cafe: Poi

I was really surprise at the size of the bowl of Poi they brought to the table. At $11.25 for those delicious Hawaiian dishes, plus this much Poi is a BARGAIN! I’m pretty sure it was Taro Brand. Didn’t taste like Hanalei brand (Kauai) or the Maui Poi.

Rounding it up, Diner E gave his Teriyaki Short Rib Plate 3 SPAM Musubi, Diner A gave his Kalua Plate 4 SPAM Musubi, and I also gave my Kalua Pig/Laulau Plate 4 SPAM Musubi.

Being a good indicator that the grinds here at People’s Cafe is really, really good, you see here our mostly “polished” plates…

The only reason most of my laulau was remaining is simply because I was already full from finishing all the other dishes. I decided to keep it mostly intact so I could have it for dinner later, which I did, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

As I mentioned earlier, when I return here I’m certainly going to try the Salt Meat with Watercress, as well as the ‘Lava Rock’. Can’t wait.  After all, it must be good if it’s the “selling point” on their T-Shirts….

That would be another cool shirt to wear around the casinos in Vegas.

So if you’ve already been to Helena’s, Ono’s, Young’s, Yama’s, Masa & Joyce and/or Highway Inn, and are still on the hunt for the “Best Hawaiian Food on the Island”, check out People’s Cafe near downtown Honolulu. Supah’ Ono, broke da’ mout’ WINNAHZ!

People’s Cafe
1310 Pali highway (nextdoor on the Makai side of Pali Longs and Safeway)
Honolulu, Hawaii
Tel. 536-5789

Business Hours:
Monday – Saturday 10am to 8pm
Closed on Sunday

The Tasty Island rating:


(4) Excellent. Worth another visit or purchase. (Winnahz!)

Related links:
People’s Cafe – Yelp user reviews

P.S. While People’s Cafe doesn’t serve dessert, they do give out post-Halloween candies (for a limited time only, while supplies last lol), in which case Diner A had an “Orange Creamsicle” flavored combination of Tootsie Rolls…

20 thoughts on “Hawaiian Eats: People's Cafe

  • November 7, 2009 at 9:36 pm
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    I’m not a fan of butterfish in my laulau. I think it’s the texture of it.

    Anyhoo, you have me craving Hawaiian food now. I think I shall get some tomorrow. I wish I could eat Hawaiian food every day, but it’s so expensive.

    Reply
  • November 8, 2009 at 8:01 am
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    Pomai Brah, this place have more selections of dishes than Helena Hawaiian Food but I still also like Helena. This place easy to find parking and I like to do shopping afterward at Long Drugs and Safeway. Now I do like good deal places to eat but I also do upscale from time to time.

    T.O.W. wil be for a very special occasion coming up and I will be all dressed up for it.

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  • November 8, 2009 at 8:41 am
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    Kimo, Helena’s is also Diner AC’s favorite Hawaiian food restaurant. Especially for their fried Pipikaula and excellent Laulau. But she likes People’s Choice too.

    Let us know how your dinner at Top of Waikiki goes.

    Marvo, really, everyday? Not me. I can only eat Hawaiian food about once or twice a month at the most.

    As for the texture of the butterfish, it also could be excessive pork fat that’s causing your dislike. I like some pork fat in my laulau for flavor, but not where there’s a whole huge glob of it, which I’ll pull out and leave on the side.

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  • November 8, 2009 at 10:33 am
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    Pomai, the shortribs would look and taste more better if there was more a charred edge indeed . Kimchee should have paprika added for more nicer presentation. I still head there for takeout and shop there too.

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  • November 8, 2009 at 10:36 am
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    gorgeous photos and excellent write up as always pomai. it’s a trip seeing safeway out there, feels like home here in northern california!!! i think i might have been there once when i went to HI for my brother’s wedding a few years back. went there to get some food for late night snacking. wish there were more cafe’s like that near my work at the Cal campus. keep the reviews comin’ pomai!!!!

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  • November 9, 2009 at 10:21 am
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    I’ve been there, but never had the Lava Rock. Something to look forward to.

    Next time you are in the downtown area, may I humbly suggest another hole in the wall, “Hole In the Wall” on Chaplain Lane. They, and Alii Grill on Union Mall, are on the shortlist here in my office. Parking’s kind of tough, but if you have a getaway driver lurking on a side street…or park at Longs and walk LOL.

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  • November 9, 2009 at 3:04 pm
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    Pomai, good to see People’s Cafe still operating. They’ve been there at that same location forever and serving up good Hawaiian fare with reasonable prices. Best of luck to them and more years of local Hawaiian kau kau.

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  • November 9, 2009 at 11:16 pm
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    Pomai – Find it hard to believe you never been to or heard of People’s Cafe. Been going there over 20 years. The building it’s in is owned by a Chinese society I belong to, which has it’s hall on the top floor – See Dai Doo Society. Always found the food good!

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  • November 10, 2009 at 7:23 am
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    Nate, tell me about it. At least now I know, and at least the restaurant is still going strong so I/we still have the opportunity to “rediscover” their onolicious Hawaiian foods.

    Paki, considering the quality AND quantity of their Hawaiian dishes, plus the super quick service, the prices are VERY reasonable.

    Spotty, thanks for the other downtown grindz tips. Alii Grill and “Hole in the Wall” is now locked on my radar!

    Raph’, most of the Safeways here have undergone a major facelift in the store. They look more like your typical Whole Foods now. Sometimes at Whole Paycheck Foods prices, too, depending what you’re getting. But I like their meats, especially their beef, which I find is of better quality and cut than the competing supermarkets.

    Erica, Diner E pointed out that People’s Cafe’ Kim Chee tastes more like Japanese style Tsukemono (salt and vinegar) than the spicy Kochuujang-flavored Korean Kim Chee. Which I’d be fine with.

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  • November 12, 2009 at 10:52 am
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    Credit cards accepted? I dont like to carry cash. haha.

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  • November 14, 2009 at 12:06 pm
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    Hugh, sorry, cash only at People’s Cafe.

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  • December 23, 2009 at 4:26 pm
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    Their tripe stew is also very delicious. Loads of tripe, not mostly carrots and onions, as other places’ tripe stews are. A bit salty, but I don’t mind for just the amount of tripe you get. If you like tripe stew, I highly recommend People’s! Yum. I love getting that with a side order of the squid lu’au. Mmmmmmm.

    (I always mean to try the lava rock but then I get there and change my mind and get the tripe stew instead. One day, I hope.)

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  • December 24, 2009 at 8:03 am
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     Meg, thanks for the tip on the Tripe Stew. I’ll keep that in mind. I LOVE Tripe Stew. My mom’s one is awesome. Tripe Stew is another dish you just gotta’ eat with Poi. No other way. Same with the Salt Meat and Watercress, which is another dish I really wanna’ try here.

    Reply
  • August 25, 2010 at 2:48 pm
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    I just returned from my visit home, and the night before I left, two of my friends and I went here to have dinner! Yikes, I wish I could have this food here on the mainland! It was SO onolicious!!

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  • August 27, 2010 at 1:13 pm
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    Ann, glad to here you enjoyed it. Great, great place!

    I referred someone moving from the mainland to Oahu to this place, and am waiting to hear what he thought of it. He asked where I would recommend as the VERY FIRST PLACE TO EAT when he arrives here, and I recommended any of one of our popular Hawaiian Food restaurants, particularly recommending People’s Cafe because it’s most accessible (located in the heart of town, no hype and long lines, plus plenty of parking).

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  • August 4, 2012 at 2:16 pm
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    I am in horror and bewilderment – People’s Cafe is closed. a For Rent Sign is on the door
    WTF?

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  • August 5, 2012 at 8:20 pm
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    Pomai, has anyone made a spam club sandwich better known as a double deck spam and BLT sandwich combined?

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  • September 24, 2012 at 6:39 pm
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    There’s an ongoing discussion on Yelp about People’s Cafe, where apparently they reopened on Tuesday, September 18th (3 weeks ago), according to Star Advertiser’s ‘Buzz’ column by Erika Engle.

    Come to discover, Erika mentioned The Tasty Island in that article!

    Erika said, “Some online reviews about the restaurant are negative, but on popular sites including http://Yelp.com, http://UrbanSpoon.com, TripAdvisor. com, Yahoo!Travel and local blogs including Tasty Island Hawaii, the positive reviews far outweigh the negative, and liken People’s Cafe to other well-known Hawaiian food institutions in town including Helena’s Hawaiian Food, Ono Hawaiian Food and Yama’s Fish Market. Another well-known Hawaiian food institution worth mentioning while we’re at it, is Waipahu’s Highway Inn. It’s not mentioned in the posts observed by TheBuzz, but your columnist suspects there’s a rule somewhere requiring that Highway Inn be mentioned in any conversation about Hawaiian restaurants on Oahu.”

    According to that article, Erika made several attempts to reach the owners, with no response, just a sign on the door that they will were reopening on Tuesday, September 18th. As noted, the phone number has been disconnected, and still is. I’ll have to stop by tomorrow and get the 411 myself! I’ll keep ya’ all posted.

    I’m curious if it’s under new ownership, as People’s Cafe had been previously soldby the original owners (local Japanese) to Tomas Ventura, who was their head cook under the original ownership. This is according to Tomas’ sister Judy who ran the place.

    Reply

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