Classic Comfort Food

Digest Foodie Fare

November 19, 2011

Story By: Dining Out Team |

Anything that claims to be the haven for something sets a high standard for itself. And luckily for customers of Shiro’s Saimin Haven, the restaurant lives up to its lofty proclamation.

  • Shiro's "Mistah Saimin"
  • Owner Franz Shiro Matsuo with the BBQ Short Ribs ($9.30), Oxtail Saimin with Gau Gee, Vegetables and Garnishes ($11.95), and Country Fried Noodles with Pork Adobo ($9.30)
  • Medium Assorted Sushi Platter ($33.95)
  • BBQ Short Ribs ($9.30), Oxtail Saimin with Gau Gee, Vegetables and Garnishes ($11.95), Country Fried Noodles with Pork Adobo ($9.30)
  • Three Choice Chicken Platter ($45)
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The family-run joint has a casual, welcoming atmosphere, and the servers are friendly as they dish out heaping portions of saimin. The restaurant, which has three locations in Ewa Beach, Waimalu and Waipahu, has been the go-to place for saimin since the 1960s. Shiro’s boasts an extensive menu, including 60 different saimin options, all of which were created by restaurant founder Shiro Matsuo.

Matsuo describes his dishes as old-style comfort food. And while many of these saimin dishes have now become favorite meals in the Islands, that wasn’t always the case. When he first started out, “saimin was then just a snack,” Matsuo explains. “I thought, ‘why not make it a meal in itself?’ It had never been done before.”

So, Matsuo set out to create dish after dish of saimin menu items such as Nabeyaki Saimin with Shrimp, Chicken, Beef, Poached Egg, Wun Tun, Vegetables and Garnishes ($9.15), Mochiko Chicken Saimin With Wun Tun, Vegetables and Garnishes ($7.70) and Oxtail Saimin with Gau Gee, Vegetables and Garnishes ($11.95).

Matsuo is constantly thinking up new dishes, and finds inspiration in day-to-day life. “Sometimes I get the idea when driving, or when talking with people, or even when sleeping,” he says. “Sometimes I will wake up in the middle of the night just to write down my idea.”

And while the saimin menu is huge, don’t miss out on Shiro’s other offerings. The fried noodle dishes include Country Fried Noodles with Pork Adobo ($9.30) with a perfect mix of char sui and Spam. Other options are BBQ Short Ribs ($9.30), Shrimp Burga on Bun ($6.80) and Grilled Mahi Burga on Bun ($6.95).

Shiro’s Saimin Haven also offers catering for any type of event and can accommodate any size party. Catering options include Medium Assorted Sushi Platter ($33.95) and the Three Choice Chicken Platter ($45).

With all of these classic local favorites, Shiro’s has attracted a loyal customer base over the years, and Matsuo is extremely grateful for his patrons. On Nov. 22, Shiro’s Saimin Haven will hold a Customer Appreciation Day. Starting at 9 a.m., the first 100 customers will receive a hand-made Wun Tun Sampler, which includes three pieces of Wun Tun in Dashi. They also will get a copy of Shiro’s Dear Hearts: Common Sense + Realistic Thinking. Matsuo will be at the restaurant signing books from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. All regular customers who are recognized by servers will receive a Wun Tun Sampler.

As another way to recognize its loyal customers, the restaurant also will be rewarding those who participated in Letters To Shiro. If you submitted a letter by Nov. 10, stop in to pick up your copy of the book.

On the Side

When Shiro’s Saimin Haven founder Shiro Matsuo got his assignment as a latrine orderly while serving in the Army in the 1940s, he wasn’t sure what was next for him. All he knew was that despite his less than ideal job, he was going to be the best darn latrine orderly that they had ever seen. “Whatever you do, give it your best shot,” Matsuo says as he recalls his early military days. And sure enough, his hard work paid off he was soon recognized by the sergeant of the mess hall and was asked to join the mess unit. “The boss encouraged me to learn from him about cooking,” explains Matsuo. He was then promoted to the cook’s helper and later a head cook.

Once his service ended, Matsuo set out to work in the restaurant industry, cooking in various restaurants in Hawaii and California, and teaching culinary arts at Kapiolani Community College.

But Matsuo had long been dreaming of owning his own restaurant. When a space became available, he jumped at the chance, despite the fact that he had little financial capital to get the business off the ground. “It was the biggest decision I ever made in my life,” he says. “But against all of these challenges, I followed my heart.”

He opened the first Shiro’s Saimin Haven in the 1960s, and now at 92, Matsuo is still full of energy and a passion for cooking.

The walls of the Waimalu location are lined with Matsuo’s poetry a series called Dear Hearts. Many of the Dear Hearts poems are positive reflections about life and following one’s dreams. Even in casual conversation, Matsuo is a poet. “You have got to have a dream,” he says, sitting in a booth at the back of his restaurant. “No matter how impossible it may seem.”

Shiro’s Saimin Haven

  • Where
    • Waimalu Shopping Center
    • 98-020 Kamehameha Highway
    • Aiea, HI 96701
  • Call
    • (808) 488-8824
  • Hours
    • Sunday – Thursday
    • 7 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.
    • Friday – Saturday
    • 7 a.m. – 11:30 p.m.