March 19, 2014 | By Yu Shing Ting

Get a true taste of Hawai’i at this long-time restaurant.

Whether it’s your first time to the islands or if you’re a regular, a definite must-do when you come to Hawai’i is to eat some traditional Hawaiian foods.

Among the popular Hawaiian Food eateries on O’ahu is Ono Hawaiian Foods, located on the border of Waikiki, down the street from the Honolulu Zoo on Kapahulu Avenue.

A local favorite for more than five decades, this small hole-in-the-wall is known for its fresh, ‘ono’ (Hawaiian for delicious) food, and great service. Throughout the years, celebrities from around the world also have stopped in, leaving proof with photos and autographs that cover almost every wall of the restaurant.

The most famous, according to co-owner Clayton Oh Young, was probably Muhammad Ali who dined in during a visit to Hawai’i in the 1970s. “When he came, it was crowded,” recalls Oh Young, whose mother Sueko started the business as a way to earn more money while raising four children as a single mother. “He didn’t have too much time to eat, but he acknowledged everybody and took a picture. People were coming out of their cars to shake his hand.”

Oh Young adds that Jack Lord (the original Steve McGarrett from the TV series Hawaii Five-O) also was a regular at the restaurant, as well as many local politicians, including the late Sen. Daniel Inouye, and Hawai’i governors John Waihee (who liked the beef stew) and George Ariyoshi (who often ordered take-out).

In addition to Hawaiian food, Ono’s also serves some local favorites, such as Chop Steak, Tripe Stew and Beef Curry. But its No. 1 selling menu item is the Combination Plate ($24), which can serve two people, and consists of kalua pig, pork lau lau, pipikaula, lomi salmon, haupia, rice or poi.

The kalua pig is cooked in an imu (an underground oven), and then shredded and seasoned with sea salt. The pork lau lau is made fresh every morning, and for those who aren’t familiar with this dish, it’s a taro leaf that looks like collard greens or spinach wrapped around pork and steamed.

As for pipikaula, it’s beef that has been marinated and dried, similar to beef jerky. Lomi salmon consists of diced-up tomatoes, salmon and onions, and is garnished with green onions. And the poi, which is from the Honolulu Poi Company, is taro root that has been steamed and mashed with water. And for dessert, there’s haupia, which is a coconut gelatin.

Also popular among regulars is the Salt Meat Watercress ($13.60), featuring big chunks of beef short ribs that are soft and tender, and served in a soup.

“From the front of the house to the back of the house, everything pretty much has stayed the same since the restaurant first opened,” adds Oh Young, who runs the restaurant with wife Cynthia, step-brother Toyo Shimabukuro and longtime employee Vivian Lee. “Mom passed away about five years ago, but we still follow her values. Almost all of the foods are freshly made every morning, and we treat our customers like family.

“We try to give the best service we can give, especially when tourists come in and they’re not sure what to order. We will explain everything to them. We want them to enjoy the food.”

Standard soft drinks are available, but customers are welcome to bring in other drinks to enjoy with their meal. Guests are seated on a first-come, first served basis, and street parking is available nearby.

Ono Hawaiian Foods
726 Kapahulu Ave. (808) 737-2275
11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday Closed Sundays and some holidays (Fourth of July, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day)

Photos: Jeff Sanner