A musician strums a ukulele onstage as hips sway around him in a hula dance. Laughing heartily with his friends at a nearby table, one man pinches seaweed-wrapped squares of sushi rice—authentic Hawaiian musubi—from shared plates as he talks up his latest adventures. At another table, the diners sing along with the ukulele player, eyes twinkling as the melody calls up memories of home.
This feeling of camaraderie, the spirit of aloha, is what owner Peter Be and his wife, Rena, wanted to capture when they opened Da Kine Cafe in 2010. When Rena, who was born in the Kalihi Valley on the island of Oahu, craved true Hawaiian eats, her choices were limited to lackluster mainland-style interpretations, such as lau lau wrapped in a tortilla instead of taro leaves. She put together a menu of authentic Hawaiian cuisine, with 10 variations of the hot noodle soup called saimin and 10 types of poke, which the head chef of the mainland's most famous Hawaiian restaurant dubbed the best in town. Classics such as the gravy-soaked beef patty of the loco moco fill the menu, waiting to be washed down with fresh-fruit smoothies and on-tap ales from the islands or local microbreweries. Gluten-free options are also available.
The décor reproduces the laid-back Hawaiian feel that Rena and Peter remember, so that even the restaurant’s stage wears a grass skirt. On Ohana Saturdays, visiting musicians take the stage, many of them winners of the Hawaiian islands' most prestigious music accolades, the Na Hoku Hanohano awards. Performers include slack-key-guitar player LT Smooth as well as the singer Mailani, accompanied by esteemed ukulele player Dr. Trey. Starting in the springtime, weekly festivals celebrate Hawaii's music, its dance styles, and its excessive number of festivals.