Giving the People What They WantFeatures Inside Feature
December 15, 2013
Story By: Michelle Lee | Photos by: Nathalie Walker
Over the past few years, Oahu has seen a number of restaurants come and go throughout the island, initially opening with such pomp and circumstance only to quickly fall off the radar under the pressures of a competitive business market. In the transient, ever-changing scene that is the culinary world, local favorite People’s Cafe offers a ray of hope that with a solid, delicious menu and friendly disposition, one can go far.
For more than 80 years, locals have flocked to People’s Cafe to enjoy some of the most delectable and satisfying Hawaiian and local cuisine available. Family-run under the management of co-owners Thomas Ventura and Conrad Valdriz, the restaurant’s ongoing success provides a convincing testament to the quality of the menu’s homemade dishes.
“Our main focus is to use the freshest ingredients and make everything from scratch,” says Ventura, who also doubles as the restaurant’s chef. “Nowadays, it’s rare for Hawaiian food cooks to make everything themselves because the cooking process can be quite long and tedious, but we are willing to put in the time and effort because the end result is worth it.”
Perhaps the menu’s most famous dish is the always-popular Hawaiian Plate ($12.50), which comes with a mouth-watering lineup of laulau, kalua pig, chicken long rice or squid luau, lomi salmon, poi or rice and a slice of fresh haupia. “Everything is made fresh daily because we never use leftovers,” says Ventura. “Unlike some places, we also refuse to use MSG in any of our menu items.”
In addition to Hawaiian staples, People’s Cafe also regularly hosts an array of daily specials. The restaurant’s Combo Ribs ($12.95) is a comforting surf-and-turf dish consisting of barbecue ribs with shrimp and salmon.
“We simmer the ribs until the meat becomes fall-off-the-bone tender,” says Ventura. “It offers a great complement to the grilled salmon and shrimp, which we flavor with garlic salt, lemon pepper and lemon butter sauce.”
Fans of fresh, unadulterated seafood will love the Furikake Ahi ($9.95) daily special, which takes fresh ahi, purchased from the fish auction every morning, and pan fries it with panko breading and a pinch of garlic salt. In the very near future, People’s Cafe will continue to expand its seafood menu, starting with fresh sashimi and poke.
The latest member of the new People’s Cafe menu is sizzling Steak with Mushrooms ($10.95). The quintessential home-cooked comfort dish is made from high-quality rib eye steak served alongside sauteed mushrooms with bell peppers and onions. “It’s a dish we would often service only for special occasions,” says Ventura. “After seeing how much people liked it, it was inevitable we would put it on the regular menu.”
As People’s Cafe approaches its eighth decade in service, there are no signs of the restaurant slowing down anytime soon. In addition to dining in, customers may also order from the eatery’s catering service, which is available for both delivery and takeout. Throughout the week, People’s Cafe often can be seen catering various school events and fundraisers. “I started working at People’s Cafe as a line cook when I was just 17 years old and going to school myself,” says Ventura. “It’s important as a manager for us to be present in the community.”
Throughout economic highs and lows, People’s Cafe continues to serve up some of Hawaii’s most beloved dishes, many of which have been passed down from generation to generation. “We are blessed to have such a loyal group of customers,” says Ventura. “It has been neat to watch them grow up, get married, have kids and eat here as a family.”
1310 Pali Hwy., Honolulu
Monday-Saturday, 6:30 A.M.–8 P.M.
Sunday, 6:30 A.M.-5 P.M.