Beachfront BurgersCover Story
September 13, 2020
Story By: Ginger Keller | Photos by: DUKE’S WAIKIKI
Duke Kahanamoku is well-known and loved across the islands. Whether you know him as the person who reinvented surfing, an Olympic gold medalist, Hollywood actor or have simply stopped to admire his larger-than-life statue at Kuhio Beach, there’s no arguing that the Waikiki native left monumental footprints upon Hawaii’s shores. Found in the midst of Kahanamoku’s childhood playground is a restaurant that strives to emulate his legacy.
“We try to be like how he was and how he did it back in the day,” says Keli‘i Gouveia, general manager of Duke’s Waikiki. “For example, our service, we try to be as good as we possibly can and engaging as we can. We try to match his aloha spirit — every day.”
With the ocean as its backyard, Duke’s Waikiki has no shortage of fresh, locally caught fish on the menu. Its Mac Nut & Herb Crusted Fresh Fish sets the bar for seafood entrées. Dusted in Parmesan and panko and lathered with lemon caper butter, the dish is served with basmati wheat berry rice and seasonal vegetables.
Now, the Poke Tacos — a favorite of Gouveia’s — is made up of raw ahi that’s cubed into bite-sized pieces, shoyu, Maui onions and chili flakes, all stirred up and placed on a bed of avocado inside of a wonton shell. As a final touch, a wasabi aioli is drizzled over the top. Another classic hit is the Cajun Fish Tacos. Served with fresh tortilla chips, the slightly spiced fish sits among guacamole, pico de gallo and a “mouthwatering” tomatillo sauce, to hear Gouveia tell it.
According to the Kailua native, another surely not-to-be-missed item is Duke’s Cheeseburger. Combining several favorable beef cuts (Angus, chuck, brisket and hanger, to be exact), the all-American meal comes with fries and includes aged-cheddar cheese, shredded iceberg lettuce, tomatoes and a Maui island dressing (their take on a thousand island) on a brioche bun.
Those who are allowed to legally consume alcohol (and enjoyably so) can relish in one of Duke Waikiki’s many cocktails. Known for its award-winning Mai Tais, this signature drink mixes Hawaiian juices and two types of rum.
The restaurant takes pride in utilizing alcohol companies from across the state. Its Coconut Mojito — made with a gold rum from Kauai’s Koloa Rum Co. — is a refreshingly light blend of coconut, mint and Kai Young Coconut Soju Shochu. Other concoctions, like Guava Jamz and Lahaina Burst, also have tastes of local liquor like Ocean Organic Vodka and PAU Maui Vodka.
Most restaurants offer curbside pickup to promote social distancing, but with the eatery’s pristine location in Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort, Duke’s Waikiki offers beachside pickup, too.
“Can’t beat the location, right? I mean, we’re on the beach, you can go surf, you can come in and grab a beer and go back out and surf,” Gouveia says. “If (a customer) wants curbside pickup, they call the restaurant and tell us to bring it out to the curb — no problem. Beachside pickup is when they come inside the restaurant and order, and if they’re surfing, they can eat and go back in the water.”
If it’s not known for its appetizing and comforting food, fun cocktails or million-dollar view, Duke’s is certainty famous for Kimo’s Original Hula Pie.
“The Hula Pie literally used to have its own website,” excites Gouveia. “It was so nuts and it still is. It’s an iconic dessert that started from Kimo’s way back in the day, which is our original restaurant. It’s just decedent.”
Found on the menu at every TS Restaurants (its parent company) location — including the Duke’s in Huntington Beach, La Jolla, Malibu, Maui and Kauai — this dessert has been a fan favorite for quite a few decades now. It starts with a chocolate cookie crust on the bottom and macadamia nut ice cream in the middle. Hot fudge oozes over the top as it’s decorated with toasted macadamia nuts and whipped cream.
“It’s huge,” says Gouveia. “One slice is — well, I could polish one slice by myself — but, one slice usually feeds two to three people. People just love it.”
It’s even possible to take home an entire pie, which comes with a pint of hot fudge, a pound of whipped cream and too many toasted macadamia nuts to count. It serves eight to 16 people, but if you eat it all by yourself, we certainly won’t tell.
With life in constant motion, Duke’s Waikiki’s welcoming atmosphere, picturesque view and delicious food can always be counted on.
“We’re living in a crazy world and with everything being closed and you need to get out, come pickup food from us,” says Gouveia. “We’re a safe, clean environment, and we’ve been safe and clean throughout the whole pandemic.”