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Ali Carte
Ali Carte

Aiea’s ‘Haven’ of local-style comfort

By Ali Resich Photos By Nathalie Walker
August 24, 2014

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When Franz Shiro Matsuo, known affectionately as “Mistah Saimin,” first opened Shiro’s Saimin Haven in 1969 at Aiea Bowl, to share his wildly delicious comfort foods, Hawaii’s diners instantly took to his creative renditions of saimin and other island favorites. More than 40 years later, the late founder’s legacy lives on, as his family continues to serve up the same treasured classics (and then some) at Waimalu Shopping Center, where the eatery has been located since 1971.

Throughout the years, the mom-and-pop restaurant has gained countless loyal customers, who return time and time again for a taste of the menu’s expansive range of soups and entrees. In addition to 65 types of saimin, there are mood-enhancing dishes galore that any regular would confirm are musts. Mistah Saimin’s grandson, Bryce Fujimoto — who is one of four managers and oversees catering operations — shares with AliCarte that some of those classics are Succulent Pork Cutlet with Gravy ($9.95) and Double Hula Teri Burga ($7.50).

“These are Shiro’s originals,” says Fujimoto. “We have, however, increased the portion for Pork Cutlet, because people’s appetites have grown over the years.”

Succulent Pork Cutlet with Gravy is about as sumptuous as a meal gets, offering large slabs of pork katsu smothered in rich yet smooth brown gravy, and served with two scoops of rice and vegetables. The recipe, according to Fuji-moto, is one of Mistah Saimin’s classics. “He basically liked to get that stuff that he liked to eat at home (on the menu), so it’s homestyle cooking.

“Like the gravy, I can’t really stress enough that it’s made the old-fashioned way. It’s a whole day process to boil down all those bits of vegetables and beef,” explains Fujimoto.

When it comes to Double Hula Teri Burga, imagine sweet and savory flavors converging into two house-made burger patties, covered with a thick glaze of teriyaki goodness, and that’s what patrons receive. The dish’s tempting ways lure customers in with an extra burger bun and lettuce sandwiched between the patties, as well as fries and a pickle on the side.

Patrons also are often unable to resist trying at least one of the saimin varieties before leaving Shiro’s. Since choosing from a list of 65 types can be tough, Fujimoto recommends going for the latest addition — Miso Ono Clam Saimin ($9.95).

The manager says this bowl of yummy comfort came about after a long-time customer requested to see more seafood items on the menu. As an establishment that takes its customers’ requests to heart, the kitchen was able to combine miso and clam effortlessly into a new saimin.

Fujimoto adds that, “The guy who suggested that we put clams in our saimin, he tasted it and said, ‘Oh, this thing is ono!’ So we call it the Miso Ono Clam Saimin.”

This loyal patron was right about that, as Manila clams, char siu, luncheon meat, sliced egg, green onion, house-made pork hash won ton and vegetables fill this satisfying bowl. And unlike many saimin houses, Shiro’s still makes its own noodles from scratch, having mastered the perfect firmness and thickness to balance its freshly made broth. It’s heartfelt touches like these that make this dedicated family-run locale worth visiting.

In addition to Waimalu Shopping Center, Shiro’s can be found — and enjoyed — in Waipahu and Ewa Beach.

Shiro’s Saimin Haven

Waimalu Shopping Center
98-020 Kamehameha Hwy., Aiea
488-8824 for restaurant and catering 488-4834 for takeout
Sunday-Thursday, 7 a.m.-10:30 p.m.
Friday-Saturday, 7 a.m.-11:30 p.m.
ShirosSaimin.com