From the sidewalk, Ono Hawaiian Foods may not look like much. The nondescript, faded red facade of the restaurant, located on busy Kapahulu Avenue just outside of Waikiki, doesn't exactly shout "Come on in." The decor is simple, and so are the plates and flatware and plastic drinking glasses.
But the interior walls brimming with photos of famous faces, including just about anybody well known in the Hawaiian Islands along with Hollywood stars such as George Takei, Lily Tomlin and Chuck Norris, might offer a clue about the true status of Ono's, as it's known to Oahu residents.
Ono's is, in fact, one of the best places in the state for a traditional Hawaiian meal and has been for the better part of the past five-plus decades. You'll find a mix of both locals and visitors dining at the restaurant, sampling poi, kalua pig, lomi salmon and the absolutely scrumptious pork lau lau, which is made fresh every morning and features steamed pork wrapped in taro leaves.
Anthony Bourdain even filmed an episode of "No Reservations" a few years back at the restaurant. According to owner Clayton Oh Young, the TV personality tried everything but the poi.
"There are shots of him stirring poi in the show," Young said of Bourdain's visit. "But he never tasted it."
Since Ono's is so close to Waikiki -- it's several blocks north of the Honolulu Zoo -- the restaurant is accustomed to welcoming visitors, and the friendly staff is great about introducing the menu to first-timers. They'll explain how dishes have been prepared, noting, for example, that kalua pork is traditionally cooked in an underground oven known as an imu.
Grab a bite near the Bishop
Oahu visitors keen to sample traditional Hawaiian food will certainly want to schedule at least one meal at Ono's, which actually means delicious in Hawaiian. But why stop at one top-notch Hawaiian restaurant when you can visit two?
Visitors planning a trip to Honolulu's extraordinary Bishop Museum should also set aside time for lunch at Helena's Hawaiian Food, located on North School Street and just a five-minute drive from the museum.
In business for nearly 70 years, the eatery remains tremendously popular among locals today and also features excellent lomi salmon, poi, kalua pork and lau lau dishes.
But diners shouldn't leave without sampling Helena's fantastic pipikaula short ribs; the meat just falls off the bone.
For details, visit www.onohawaiianfoods.com and www.helenashawaiianfood.com. Diners will need to bring cash for both restaurants.