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Half a century of pleasing palates

Features Inside Feature

July 28, 2019

Story By: Caroline Wright |

As the 50th anniversary of Shiro’s Saimin Haven approaches next month, the managers and employees of this legendary Waimalu restaurant are getting ready for the exciting month ahead. They’re also thinking with affection of the late Franz “Shiro” Matsuo, also known as Mr. Saimin, who opened the restaurant in 1969.

Highlighted on the menu this week is a quartet of meals conceived by Shiro himself. “They’re all his original creations,” says vice president and catering manager Bryce Fujimoto, who adds that Shiro’s recipes have remained essentially untouched all these years. “We’ve stuck with the model of ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!'”

For five decades, this amazing little diner has served thousands of meals from an enormous menu that includes, among many other delights, more than 50 versions of saimin. And as devoted customers know, every plate and every bowl is a labor of love that begins with simple, wholesome ingredients.

“A lot of these items take a lot of time to prep,” says Fujimoto, who is the grandson of Shiro Matsuo. “Sometimes we run out of certain items, but that’s because we don’t take shortcuts. We do things the right way every time.” To help avoid disappointment, guests planning to drive a long distance for a particular dish might want to call ahead to make sure there’s an ample quantity.

That means Shiro’s corned beef hash starts with potatoes that are cooked and grated here, and corned beef that’s prepared and cooked in-house as well. The lau lau are made in Shiro’s kitchen, just the way Shiro liked them, with pork butt, pork belly, and a slice of butterfish. Almost everything is made completely from scratch, including the delectable teriyaki sauce that originated with Shiro himself.

“We don’t ever stop making beef stew and lau lau! We make it all week long,” chuckles Fujimoto. “The lau lau is a two to three day process at least.”

Customers who’d like to help celebrate Shiro’s 50th anniversary will be invited to visit the week of Aug. 18 for what Fujimoto promises will be a special worthy of this very special occasion. “It’s going to be something really good,” he says. “It’s meant to be a big ‘thank you’ to the community, and everybody who’s supported us throughout the years.”

JOE’S SAIMIN DELIGHT ($12.25)

Photos by Lawrence Tabudlo

Eat like a local celebrity when you order Joe’s Saimin Delight, named for the legendary local newscaster Joe Moore. “Joe came in for saimin,” explains vice president and catering manager Bryce Fujimoto. “They asked him what he wanted in it, and he said, ‘Roast duck!'” Each bowl is loaded with Shiro’s homemade noodles, locally sourced roast duck, won tons, won bok, and a garnish of char siu, luncheon meat and green onions.

SHIRO’S ORIGINAL WITH CORNED BEEF HASH ($9.05)

Enjoy a breakfast created and loved by the founder of Shiro’s himself! It is made with corned beef hash, two scoops of starch, and two soft scrambled eggs with dashi, shoyu and green onions. “It’s completely original!” says Fujimoto. “This is what Shiro liked to eat for breakfast. It’s a really unique dish.”

LAU LAU WITH “LOCAL” BOY BEEF STEW ($12.55)

It’s a meal made with hungry guys in mind, but hungry ladies like it, too. “We don’t use stew meat; we use pot roast that we cut by hand,” says Fujimoto. “It takes a lot of time, but it makes the end result that much better.” Each delectable lau lau is made in-house, too, with luau and ti leaves sourced from Wong’s Farms in Kaneohe.

SHIRO’S ORIGINAL CRISPY CHICKEN ($11.50)

That famous housemade teriyaki sauce is what makes this chicken a local-kine work of art. “Shiro was very proud of his teri sauce,” says Fujimoto. For this dish, half a broiler chicken is steamed and fried, then covered with that irresistible sauce. It’s accompanied by two scoops of white or brown rice, mashed potatoes, or french fries and corn.

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