In recent years, Ono Hawaiian Foods has become a tourist must-stop in Honolulu. It’s been in every guide book imaginable and after being featured on No Reservations, its fate was sealed. Still, the restaurant doesn’t seem to have changed much. When we went early one morning before they were open, there was a good share of locals already waiting, and the restaurant was as charming as ever; down to the sign on the door.
I made sure to “NO GET MAD” even though the sun was bearing down on me, and I was as hungry as hell.
At 11 am, the doors were finally unlocked, and David and I settled in and quickly ordered. David ordered the Fried Fish ($8.80). The fish of the day was fried ahi, and it was simply sautéed with minimal seasoning, and served on a bed of watercress. The fish was fresh and cooked well, if a little plain, especially when eating with a bowl of white rice. He made do though with a little drizzle of soy sauce.
I ordered the Laulau ($5.95), pork wrapped in taro leaves and steamed. The laulau came with white rice, chili water (a blend of water, pepper, and vinegar), chili sauce, and sliced raw onions.
I was a bit confused on how to go about eating the laulau, but upon seeing my confusion, the woman behind the counter came over to help. Steps are as follows: 1) Sprinkle sea salt on the sliced onions; 2) Tear the laulau open and rip off a piece of pork (taro leaves are edible); 3) Dip the pork in either the chili water or chili sauce (the chili water is less spicy); 4) Eat the pork with a slice of onion (the onion is supposed to open up your taste buds); and, 5) Repeat.
The steaming pork, luscious and tender, tore easily. I preferred dipping the pork in the chili water. Chili sauce is spicier, but sometimes it’s a bit too sharp, especially in this case where the pork was very mild in flavor. As for the taro leaves, it reminded me of cooked spinach, but less bright. Overall, I liked the laulau. In fact, I liked it a little too much. I ate more than I should have and after the meal, I was seriously porked out. During rest of the trip, I stuck to seafood.
I also ordered some poi ($1.88) to go with my laulau. At Ono, they have fresh poi or day-old poi. Day-old is more sour. I ordered the fresh, but even the fresh was much more sour than the version I had Mama’s Fish House. It was also more gummy. In terms of preference, I’m leaning towards the blander version at Mama’s, but I liked the poi at Ono also. Day-old poi may take some time getting used to.
Our meal ended with haupia, not the cute mignardise-sized bites at Mama’s, but two nice hefty squares. And although these blocks didn’t have toasted coconut on top like at Mama’s, it was made up for in size. Delicious. If only every meal ended with haupia; small, large, or otherwise.
We hoped to go back to Ono one more time before we left, but unfortunately, we ran out of time, especially with all the other places I wanted to try. As always, too much food, too little time. Tourists may love Ono Hawaiian Foods, but there’s a reason locals keep going back: good Hawaiian food at a reasonable price. Sometimes guide books aren’t too much off the mark.
Ono Hawaiian Foods
726 Kapahulu Avenue (b/n Hunter and Williams St; map)
Honolulu, HI 96816