Hopelessly Devoted to Barbecue Pork Ribs

Columns Ono, You Know

January 26, 2014

Story By: Alana Folen | Photos by: Leah Friel

Happy Sunday, Ono readers! My love affair with food continues, this time with barbecue pork ribs — such a simple American classic, or so you would think. This week, however, with a serious need for ribs (not just any ribs, though, as my taste buds were being more selective than usual), I needed to get my hands dirty with meaty morsels so tender, luscious and jam-packed with flavor. It’s obvious that you’ve booked a one-way ticket to Flavortown when the edges of your mouth are smeared with traces of barbecue sauce that’s so tangy, zesty and sweet — a kick of spice doesn’t hurt either. Sticky fingers also are evidence of an all-star meal.

So, now that you’re chomping at the bit in great anticipation of what’s to come, let’s get to the meat of it all. Here at the following Ono, You Know establishments I’ve fallen hard for ribs so incredibly delicious that I’m at a loss for words. But it’s my duty to share my passion for my national treasure with you. Get your napkins ready because a mess is always the best!

Kau Kau Grill

Notes of endearment from patrons adorn Kau Kau Grill, a more recent addition to Oahu’s food truck frenzy. Miles Oyasato and business partner Ty Takishita took on this entrepreneurial endeavor last April, with the goal of serving some of the best plate lunches in town. The concept is simply based on food that they like to eat.

Located on Kapiolani Boulevard, Kau Kau Grill is hard to miss, especially when the inviting aroma of melt-in-your-mouth barbecue sauce acts like a magnetic force, drawing customers to experience local-style plate lunches derived from original recipes and spruced up with the integration of homemade sauces.

And when we’re talking homemade sauces, of course, that also means a hearty slab of barbecue pork ribs fits into the equation. Kau Kau Grill’s Barbecue Baby Back Ribs ($12) tops the list of best-sellers. Why? Well, for one, the ribs are so tender, you don’t need a knife to cut through the meat.

What constitutes good ribs? An even better sauce — that’s a no brainer — one that is a combination of zesty, tangy, sweet and savory. All I can say is Kau Kau Grill has mastered the art of something special because there’s nothing quite like these irresistible ono to goodness ribs. A choice of white or brown rice, along with salad or potato mac salad with spaghetti noodles officially makes this a plate lunch. My recommendation? Opt for Krazy Rice. No questions asked, just know that it’s the best complement to your feast.

Kau Kau Grill is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m, so take the opportunity to earn some Brownie points from your boss. A full-on kanack attack will lead to a midday slump. However, when it comes to the big scheme of things, a mild food coma, a catnap and a puddle of drool on your desk are all worth it in the end. You know I scribbled my little love note on Kau Kau Grill’s truck of amazingness — Ono, You Know status, of course, because that’s the only way to do it!

Kau Kau Grill
1637 Kapiolani Blvd.

Tony Roma’s

When you think barbecue pork ribs, Tony Roma’s surely comes to mind. After all, this restaurant is renowned for serving up a meat lover’s dream feast.

This casual restaurant chain is a family favorite, with nearly 200 establishments across the globe, and Hawaii is home to one location situated on bustling Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki and another on Kaonohi Street in Aiea. Here, diners are getting their hands dirty and grubbing on slabs of The Original Baby Back Ribs (Roma Rack $24.99, Half Slab $18.59, Full Slab $28.99) basted with your choice of sauce, be it Roma Red Hot Sauce for a fiery kick, a sweet Carolina Honey or the classic Tony Roma’s Original Sauce.

It’s been said that the sauce is really what started it all, allowing these savory ribs to earn such hype. The details to this coveted sauce are kept confidential, but I can tell you that the result is the perfect marriage of tangy and sweet.

Keeping with the mindset of “go big or go home,” I often opt for St. Louis Ribs (Roma Rack $21.99, Half Slab $16.99, Full Slab $25.99) made especially for the bigger appetite. There’s nothing more ono than sinking my teeth into a larger, meatier cut of pork glorified with a more natural marbling and glazed with any sauce that “meats” my fancy.

But wait, there’s more! Take on the role of matchmaker and delve into a plate of St. Louis Ribs paired with barbecue chicken or filet medallions. Perhaps turn your meal into a feast from land and sea, and choose from South Miami fried shrimp, mahi mahi, grilled salmon or shrimp scampi. Priced at $29.99 — my personal favorite — Baby Back Ribs and Filet Medallions Combo is just waiting to be devoured.

Tell me, what carnivore can say no to ribs so tender and moist the meat literally falls off the bone? Certainly not me.

Tony Roma’s
98-150 Kaonohi St. (and Waikiki location)

Big City Diner

Big City Diner's Baby Back Ribs with Famous Guava-BBQ Sauce (Big Slab $22.99)

Big City Diner’s Baby Back Ribs with Famous Guava-BBQ Sauce (Big Slab $22.99)

Lastly, we’ve hit the big time at Big City Diner, where gigantic, eye-popping portions are the norm. The restaurant made its presence known back in 1998, when it opened for business in Kaimuki, and it wasn’t long before Big City Diner soon expanded with locations in Kailua, Ward, Waipio and Pearlridge.

A place for the whole family or a night out with friends, the eatery whips up American classics like nobody’s business, jazzing them up with an abundance of local flair. My, oh my! If I could, I literally would order one of everything on the menu — yes, in one sitting — because you can’t dismiss the fact that these grinds are crazy good! But, if I must limit myself, then Baby Back Ribs with Famous Guava-BBQ Sauce (Big Slab, $22.99) is a must. One of the diner’s most popular dishes, these ribs are smothered in a homemade mango guava barbecue sauce that is beyond amazing. Chunks of meat just melt in your mouth, and traces of sweet mango and guava offer a unique local touch that only can be achieved in the Islands. With my taste buds on cloud nine, the superlative eats don’t end there — garlic mashed potatoes round out the dish (my favorite). Delicious!

Is your stomach rumbling for ribs? Yes? Hurry, a kanack attack awaits at Big City Diner!

Big City Diner
1060 Auahi St. (and various locations)

Hawaii's Best
Hawaii's Best