Kua Aina – The Hawaiian Burger joint that rounded the globe to land in the UK! It has a special place in my heart because most of my family is from Hawaii.
The first Kua Aina Burger opened on Oahu’s north shore, in the sleepy town of Haleiwa, in 1975. It has been a haven for surfers and those who flocked to the great beaches on Oahu’s north shore for over 40 yearss. If you ever find yourself in Haleiwa on the way to some of the world’s best surfing spots, drop in and try the original!
Kua Aina is Hawaiian for ‘Back Country’ but also can be a term for someone who is from the back country. To native Hawaiians, it also means someone who lives the Hawaiian way and Hawaiian culture.
Kua Aina expanded down to Honolulu, Hawaii’s capital, near Ala Moana shopping center and I try to make it there every time I’m visiting the family. 40 years after being founded, they still serve up some of the island’s best burgers. Kua Aina expanded to Japan and now has three locations in Tokyo. Then in 2012, a British expat returned home and decided to open up a Kua Aina on Carnaby Street and bring some Aloha to London.
As of 2016, Kua Aina UK has three locations: Carnaby Street, Goodge Street, and in Belfast. They also have a traveling food truck that tours the UK summer festival scene. A great story for a tiny business coming out of the north shore Hawaiian surf heritage!
To be completely honest, while still tasty, the UK incarnation of Kau Aina is not quite the hit for me that it is in Hawaii. The burgers are juicy and well cooked, but just don’t stand out from the crowd because the menu is slightly different to what is served in Hawaii.
It’s not that they are bad – far from it. They just don’t inspire me to rave about them – and the only burger on the menu that is kind of Hawaiian is the pineapple burger which is £8.25 for 1/3 lb or £9.45 for the 1/2 lb. If you were actually in Hawaii, you could get the poi bun – a fresh-baked roll that’s purple in colour from the local taro root that it’s cooked with. In London you get a semi-brioche seeded bun, which is good, but run-of-the-mill for the UK burger scene.
Kua Aina does a 1/3 lb. and 1/2 lb size for all of heir burgers and offer the standard cheese and bacon burgers along with a pineapple burger and an avocado burger as well. They do a bunch of teriyaki-style chicken burgers too, but honestly, who cares about chicken?! They do give you a massive basket of fries if you order them, so bring a friend.
What actually sets Kua Aina apart for me are the Hawaiian fish sandwiches. They do both a grilled Mahi Mahi (dolphinfish) and a seared Ahi tuna steak sandwich – and they are both excellent at £8.45. If you’ve never had Mahi mahi, then get some in your belly ASAFP! Mahi mahi is a meaty, white fish with a hefty bite to it. It’s delicious grilled or seared and will fill you up more than a flakey Atlantic white-fish will!
Mahi Mahi is found in most of the world’s tropical waters, but is arguably the best known fish in Hawaii. It’s more commonly known Dorado or Dolphinfish. The Mahi Mahi name means ‘very strong’ in Hawaiian. It’s a local favourite and so very much worth a try.
Kua Aina also serves beers from the Kona Brewing company on the big island of Hawaii. They have traveled over 7000 miles just for your enjoyment and they are spectacular. My Favorite is the Fire Rock pale ale with its copper color from roasted malts and hops Galena, Cascade & Mt. Hood.
Other varieties include the Longboard Lager, Pipeline Porter, Big Wave Golden Ale and Wailua Wheat. I urge you to try them all if Kua Aina has them in stock. Probably not in one sitting unless you’ve been pub-training! They are a little taste of paradise, laced with subtle flavours of local fruits or spices. I never visit the family in Hawaii without buying a case of Kona beer for my stay, it’s delicious and a local favorite as well.
Credit to Kua Aina UK for all the photos in this review. You can find Kua Aina in London at 26 Foubert’s Place, just off Carnaby Street, or at 40 Goodge Street as well. You can visit their website here.
Kua Aina rating – 38/50
Beef (8): juicy and falvorful.
Bun (7): heavily seeded and distracting.
Toppings (6): Exotic toppings, but pricey to add.
Value (7): You pay for their Carnaby location and hip decor.
Ambiance (10): Great design and woodwork makes you feel like you’re in Hawaii.