On most lists of the best of Hawaiian cooking on Oahu is Ono’s Hawaiian. The restaurant has been serving food since 1961 when it opened for business. Because Ono’s has been popular with locals and tourists alike, long lines form to get seated at one of the very few tables inside. A sign on the door encourages you to be patient and go with the flow (“No huhu,” which means “No get mad“). The place isn’t much to look at from the outside, but once you step through the doors, you come into the small dining space and are greeted warmly by owner and staff alike. The walls are adorned with memorabilia and old photos, presumably of celebrities who’ve dined here. It seems that not much has changed since the first day. The lady who brings your meal scopes you out and asks, “First time?” If it is, she will explain to you how to eat the meats.
We ordered a Kalua platter and salt meat with watercress (a la carte). The platter is a good way to sample many of the islands’ favorites. Not only do you get whatever the
platter is named for (such as Kalua pig, left) but also lomi-lomi salmon, pipikaula, poi, rice and haupia. So here’s the island way to eat the meat: take a small portion, dip it in chili water (which can be refilled with a big bottle on each table), then dip it in poi and eat. You can also augment all this with some lomi salmon and a raw onion slice sprinkled with Hawaiian rock salt. As they say here, broke da mout.
The kalua is made in the old-fashioned way–in an imu, or underground oven–though not by them, according to the owner. It is fork-tender and smoky goodness. The salt meat with watercress (top photo) was supposedly invented by the matriarch, who took the island staple of stewed salted beef and added watercress to appeal to the island’s Asian population. Now, a few other island restaurants serve it. The watercress is one of the very few vegetables you’re likely to eat in a Hawaiian diet.
The pipikaula here is a kind of beef (flank steak) jerky, though not in the sense that most Americans know it. It is marinated, then dried, but not to a leathery texture. You can eat these with dentures.
The haupia is a coconut cream, starchy dessert flecked with shredded coconuts.
Ono’s is a rare family-owned restaurant that both has been around a long time and serves excellent examples of its type of cooking.
Ono’s Hawaiian Foods
726 Kapahulu Ave
Honolulu, HI 96816