Tony Roma’s an All-American Classic

Cover Story Features

January 4, 2015

Story By: Alana Folen | Photos by: Anthony Consillio

We live in a diverse food culture that’s expanding and transforming at the drop of a dime. Keeping up with the latest trends and “flavors of the week” can be a challenge, and amid the comings and goings of pop-up restaurants and hipster eateries, Tony Roma’s brings classic simplicity to the table. An all-American, family-friendly restaurant praised for its sumptuous baby back ribs, Tony Roma’s has been able to keep a steady pace in the culinary race. It’s ever-present, and is able to manifest itself with three survival factors that are integral in the culinary world: high-quality food, top-notch customer service and consistency.

With two Tony Roma’s locales in the Islands — Aiea and Waikiki — Dining Out recently sat down with Lennon de Leon, general manager of the Aiea location, to talk ribs; sweet and tangy, finger-lickin’ good barbecue sauce and everything else that comes with it. de Leon dished about must-have menu items, new specials and can’t-miss promotions all available within a contemporary setting (Tony Roma’s Hawaii restaurants were redesigned a few years ago).

“Tony Roma’s will continue to be innovative in terms of its menu and service,” de Leon says. “We change with the times, and we will continue to build new relationships with the young generation.”

DO: Tony Roma’s first opened in North Miami, Fla., In January 1972. Although time has passed, the restaurant’s commitment to excellence always is there, correct?

LD: Yes, our restaurant’s philosophy is “delivering the difference.” A lot of places have their own way of doing things. At Tony Roma’s we want to not only do it differently, but we want to deliver the difference to every guest who walks through our doors — that means doing every little thing to satisfy our guests’ needs.

DO: Much to the delight of kamaaina, when did Tony Roma’s make its debut in the Islands?

LD: Tony Roma’s was first introduced to Hawaii in 1980. The pioneer location is Waikiki. Tony Roma’s easily became famous in Hawaii, capturing both tourists and local clientele, thanks to our “World Famous Baby Back Ribs.” Tony Roma’s Westridge Aiea location opened in 1985, to cater more specifically to local families. Now, the establishment is a favorite place to celebrate special occasions and holidays, such as birthdays, graduations, Christmas, New Year’s, Mother’s Day, etc. Most of our regulars don’t need to see the menu to place their orders — our servers simply know what they want, “the usual.” Our baby back ribs made us famous.

DO: Please dish about these glorious ribs that everyone raves about! Our mouths are watering!

LD: A signature of ours, the lean, tender pork ribs are basted with our original barbecue sauce. Each piece of rib is slow baked until it’s fall-off-the-bone tender. After baking, the ribs then are grilled over an open flame and smothered in sauce that’s sweet and tangy. The sauce alone is good reason for families to crave our baby back ribs. And for a bit of everything, Star Studded Sampler entree ($28.99) is well worth it, presenting diners with a taste of Original Baby Back Ribs, St. Louis Style Ribs and Beef Ribs.

DO: Rumor has it that Tony Roma’s has expanded its menu, offering more variety for all guests, not just rib fanatics. Is this true?

LD: Yes it is! We have an extensive selection of steaks and seafood entrees, such as Filet Medallion Steaks ($26.99), which consists of three pieces of lean and tender filet medallions with a choice of three gourmet toppings. We’ve also introduced new pasta dishes. Our guests have claimed our Shrimp Scampi Pasta ($18.99) as one of the best of its kind, featuring shrimp sauteed in tomato pesto, garlic, Romano cheese, basil and a hint of chipotle tossed with linguine. For a great appetizer selection, I recommend Triple Play Sampler ($14.99), a trio of starters, including Potato Skins, Chicken Tender-loins and half Onion Loaf. For dessert, the majority of patrons go for Dessert Trio ($10.99), in which they may choose any three mini desserts. Our January special is Three Course Meal ($27.99 per person), starting with tossed salad with choice of dressing, followed by an entree of Fillet Medallion Steak and Grilled Shrimp Combo with two sides and finished off with ice cream.

DO: Sounds delicious! With this feast before us, what do you recommend to quench our thirst?

LD: Definitely “World Famous” Romarita. The original Romarita with Sauza Gold and Cointreau, along with Frozen Strawberry Mango Romarita.

DO: What has contributed to the restaurant’s longevity and success?

LD: The success of the restaurant is a result of what we offer in terms of food and customer service. Of course, Tony Roma’s wouldn’t be what it is without the people who support us through the years. We also listen to customer feedback in order to make diners’ experiences better ones. And we’re committed to introducing monthly specials and in-house specials to always keep the dining experience fresh. For instance, at Tony Roma’s Westridge (Waikiki location excluded from promotion), take part in Rollback Mondays, where you’ll receive a $5 discount on a full slab of Baby Back Ribs ($29.99 original price) throughout the month of January. And from Tuesday to Thursday, take advantage of 15 percent off takeout orders.

DO: Tony Roma’s Westridge takes the term “family dining” seriously. In what ways does the restaurant cater to ohana?

LD: We love the families who dine with us! Tuesdays, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., magician Glen Bailey wows audiences with a magic show, as does magician Alan Arita Wednesday nights from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursdays, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., join in balloon twisting by Suzette.

Tony Roma’s

98-150 Kaonohi St.
Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.

1972 Kalakaua Ave.
Daily, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.

Honolulu, HI 96815

Aiea, HI 96701

Ilima Awards
Hawaii's Best