Tony Roma’s: A New and Improved Classic

Cover Story Features

January 21, 2012

Story By: Dining Out Team |

Mention those three luscious words, “baby back ribs,” and the first thing that comes to mind is Tony Roma’s. Revered as one of the most globally recognizable names in the restaurant industry, Tony Roma’s is the largest casual theme restaurant chain specializing in ribs, boasting its success with nearly 200 restaurant locations across the globe, including one in the heart of Waikiki and another in Aiea.

  • Baby Back Ribs and Filet Medallions Combo ($29.99)
  • Tony Roma's Waikiki regional chef JP Choy and general manager Grace Villagracia with Nolita Deli Panini and Grilled Mahimahi Salad.
  • Beef Short Rib ($26.99)
  • Shrimp Scampi Pasta ($18.99)
  • Grilled Mahi Mahi Salad ($15.99)
  • Nolita Deli Panini ($12.99)
  • Steak & Wild Mushroom Flatbread ($12.99)
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“In the beginning, Tony Roma’s focused primarily on ribs, with only a few side dishes such as french fries and cole slaw,” says Waikiki general manager Grace Villagracia, who’s been a part of Tony Roma’s ohana for the past 10 years. “The Waikiki location opened in 1980, and we had a very limited menu back then, yet through the years we’ve evolved and the concept changed — now we offer a little bit of everything, an eclectic array of cuisine.”

The first Tony Roma’s opened its doors in North Miami, Fla., in January 1972. Then, four years later, Clint Murchison Jr., a Texas financier and owner of the Dallas Cowboys, was impressed by Tony Roma’s product and agreed to purchase the majority of the U.S. franchise rights and establish a jointly owned company, Roma Corporation, to fund aggressive growth and expansion. Today, this award-winning restaurant still serves a multitude of its signature baby back ribs to patrons, but has expanded its menu to focus on a variety of culinary favorites as well — not just ribs. The eatery now offers an extensive selection of steaks and seafood entrees, along with various appetizers and desserts.

“For the longest time (because of our name), people thought we were an Italian restaurant,” Villagracia explains. “They would come in here looking for pasta, we wouldn’t have it, and they would walk out. But now, with the evolution of our menu we do offer pasta — Shrimp Scampi Pasta ($18.99) is one of our biggest sellers, actually.

“The menu had previously changed at least once every year, but in the last few years we’ve revamped the menu every six months or so,” she adds.

In fact, a newly revised version of the menu was released just last month and has garnered nothing but a positive response from customers. Browse through the menu and you’ll find an abundance of items to greet all palates and taste buds, starting with a brand new appetizer, Steak & Wild Mushroom Flatbread ($12.99). A chef’s recommendation, this starter dish features crisp flat-bread topped with grilled, all-natural beef tenderloin, melted Havarti cheese, crumbled bleu cheese, wild mushrooms, red peppers, chives and a creamy horseradish sauce. Then continue your food journey with all-new entrees such as Beef Short Rib ($26.99) and Nolita Deli Panini ($12.99). Regional chef JP Choy has been working at Tony Roma’s Waikiki since its inception, and makes magic in the kitchen with each and every edible creation. For example, Beef Short Rib presents hungry diners with succulent grilled bone-in short ribs that have been braised for 12 hours, and topped with a savory Cabernet demi-glace, and fire-roasted zucchini, yellow squash, red peppers and carrots, accompanied by mashed red potatoes. And if you’re in the mood for a classic sandwich, Nolita Deli Panini is a top-notch pick, with thin-sliced smoked turkey, Genoa salami, melted Havarti cheese, homemade Italian-spiced pepper-oncini and caper sauce piled high on toasty Italian bread.

“The response to the new menu has been very good,” Villagracia says. “A lot of the new items have been selling extremely well. And although the menu is so diverse, we still sell predominantly baby back ribs. I would say we sell close to 300 slabs of ribs per day.”

Of course, it all comes back to the classic Tony Roma’s Original Baby Back Ribs ($24.99 Roma Rack, $18.59 half slab, $28.99 full slab) — tender, lean pork loin meat basted with Tony Roma’s original sauce, or your choice of Roma Red Hot Sauce or Carolina Honey — and St. Louis Ribs ($21.99 Roma Rack, $16.99 half slab, $25.99 full slab) — a larger, meatier cut of pork rib with more natural marbling, finished with your choice of sauce.

“Our ribs are so tender and the meat literally falls off the bone,” Villagracia explains, noting that it’s the sauce that really started it all. “The sauce is made from a secret recipe, and it’s tangy with a hint of sweetness.

“Now we have a Ribs & Combos section of our menu that customers love, especially Baby Back Ribs and Filet Medallions Combo ($29.99). It’s a complete meal, and some people tend to share it because of the rather large portion size,” she adds.

According to Villagracia, 90 percent of Tony Roma’s Waikiki clientele are tourists, who appreciate the local flair that exudes from a few of Tony Roma’s delicious masterpieces, such as Grilled Mahi Mahi Salad ($15.99). This newly introduced salad is a mouth-watering creation that greets diners with mojo-grilled mahi mahi on a bed of Asian greens adorned with housemade pineapple salsa, grape tomatoes, macadamia nuts and cilantro, served with Hawaiian dressing and toasted Italian cheese flatbread.

However, Tony Roma’s Waikiki is doing its best to draw in the locals as well.

“We want more locals to come on over and check out the new menu and look of the restaurant. We remodeled last November — it’s definitely more up-to-date and the ambiance continues to be very homey,” she says of this family-friendly establishment that seats 128 individuals, offers a full bar, and can accommodate large parties.

“We don’t take reservations, so we recommend that people come early, but we do offer free valet parking from 5:30 p.m. daily.

“Here at Tony Roma’s, we want to start 2012 fresh, and we’ve been very lucky! We’re extremely grateful to our patrons — we’ve received an excellent response regarding our new look and menu — and we couldn’t ask for more,” Villagracia says with a smile.

Tony Roma’s

  • Where
    • Waikiki
    • 1972 Kalakaua Avenue
    • Honolulu, HI 96815
    •  
    • Aiea
    • 98-150 Kaonohi Street
    • Aiea, HI 96701
  • Call
    • (808) 942-2121 (Waikiki)
    • (808) 487-9911 (Aiea)
  • Hours
    • Waikiki
    • Open Daily
    • 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.
    •  
    • Aiea
    • 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
    • Sunday – Thursday
    • 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.
    • Friday – Saturday