Home Cooking for the Holidays

Cover Story Features

November 30, 2014

Story By: Alana Folen | Photos by: Anthony Consillio

So just what makes Shiro’s Saimin Haven a household name? Perhaps it’s the restaurant’s philosophy “to serve not too skimpy, plenty tasty homestyle cooking that is priced right for guests near and far.” According to restaurant manager Bryce Fujimoto, the restaurant strives to take care of the community, but treat out of town guests with aloha as well. “Our goal is to offer a place where people can take a break from the daily grind and relax with some comfort food,” he says.

Shiro’s Saimin Haven first opened in 1969 at Aiea Bowling Alley, and relocated to Waimalu Shopping Center in 1971. Franz Shiro Matsuo is the restaurant’s founder and namesake. He played an active role in restaurant operations up until his death two years ago.

“My grandfather wanted to open his own restaurant all his life. The idea stayed with him through all of his trials and tribulations. He worked at a variety of different restaurants gaining knowledge and fine-tuning his skills. When he saw his opportunity, he seized it and gave it all he had,” says Fujimoto. ” At the time, saimin was just a snack. He wanted to revolutionize saimin, so he bombarded it with garnishes and side dishes. When he was done, he had a menu that boasted more than 50 different saimin variations, as well as local favorites.”

Nowadays, this mom-and-pop shop still is known for its over-the-top saimin selections, but the friendly staff also plays a part in turning new diners into loyal patrons. “Our servers, for example, don’t just serve food, they treat customers like extended family members. They welcome each and every person with warmth and aloha that just cannot be described,” says Fujimoto.

“Dining at Shiro’s has become a family tradition. We have watched children who used to come with their parents, become adults, and then bring their children. What piques people’s interest is the comfort food; what gets them to come back is the service.”

Now, with the holidays in full swing, the calendar is marked with festive parties and gatherings centered around family, friends and, of course, food. And since day one, Shiro’s Saimin Haven has bestowed merriment to many celebrations with its catering options. Despite competition from other dining establishments, Fujimoto says, Shiro’s catering department has grown by leaps and bounds over the last decade.

“Our catering department stands out from the rest because it reflects our restaurant philosophy of good home-style cooking, and we provide our customers with very generous portions,” he states. “We’re currently taking orders for Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. We take orders all year round, but will be closed Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.”

While the large catering selection can be overwhelming, Fujimoto makes the ordering process simple by identifying top favorites. Medium Sushi Platter ($39.95) is a guaranteed hit, as it features an impressive 72 pieces of assorted cone, maki, teppo and oshi sushi.

And all will gather around the table for Shoyu Pork (large pan $68.50, feeds 35 people) or a piece of Garlic Chicken (large pan $61.50, feeds 35 people) served potluck style. Golden brown morsels of boneless chicken doused in sweet-and-savory, garlicky goodness are too good to pass up.

No meal is complete without the starch, so a large pan of Country Fried Noodles ($57.60, feeds 35 people) — spruced up with pork, chicken, vegetables and spices, garnished with char siu and green onions — is an obvious addition to any meal.

Sweet Potato Tempura (large pan $40.15) and Macaroni Potato Salad (large pan $42.25) loaded with potatoes round out the offerings (a variety of catering pan sizes also are available to feed between 15 and 50 people).

Catering requests should be placed one week in advance, although certain items, such as fried noodles, sushi and chicken, only require one or two days’ notice. Call the Waimalu establishment at 488-8824 for more information

For kamaaina, Shiro’s cuisine is reminiscent of what you would find in grandma’s kitchen, and head chef Warlie Aguarin is a pro at what he does. Aguarin has 20 years of experience in the culinary industry, and has been part of the restaurant’s ohana for nearly 20 years, specializing in Hawaiian, Filipino, Chinese and Japanese cuisine.

On Shiro’s regular menu you’ll find a plethora of stellar dishes besides bowls of luscious saimin, including Lau Lau with Beef Stew ($9.95); “Beeg” Shiro with french fries ($7.95), a triple-decker sandwich with teri beef, char siu, grilled onion, lettuce and tomato; Dodonpan ($10.75), which features roast beef, Chinese roast pork, mushroom, won ton, imitation crab meat, char siu, luncheon meat, won bok and a side of fried shrimp; and Fried Rice Omellette with Pork Adobo ($8.95).

“We recently improved our teri beef and teriyaki chicken procedures, which customers seem to appreciate. These items are marinaded nearly twice as long as before,” adds Fujimoto. “We also have improved our pork adobo recipe by adding another layer of flavor.”

Anyone working in the restaurant industry can attest that it isn’t the easiest of trades. So, Shiro’s Saimin Haven changes with the times, adapting and adjusting to increased food, labor, utility cost and more.

“This combined with fierce competition and changing customer trends and tastes forces us to either fall to the wayside or grow,” states Fujimoto. “We are blessed to have a solid core, which enables us to do the latter.

“We will be proudly serving saimin for decades to come, with hope of restaurant expansion in town and on the Windward side.”

In addition to Waimalu Shopping Center, Shiro’s can be found 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.

Aiea, HI 96701

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Hawaii's Best