An Old Favorite Introduces New FlavorsCover Story Features
September 18, 2016
Story By: Ali Resich | Photos by: Anthony Consillio
For quite some time, the staff and customers at Shiro’s Saimin Haven have had a front-row view of the rail construction that runs along Kamehameha Highway, right in front of the restaurant’s cozy spot within Waimalu Shopping Center. But rather than let the ensuing traffic and delays bring them down, the crew at Shiro’s is dishing out the same warmth and positivity late founder Franz Shiro Matsuo was known for, to provide a true haven from all the commotion.
“We really appreciate the people who take the time to battle the traffic and come in here,” says Bryce Fujimoto, Matsuo’s grandson and general manager at Shiro’s.
“We see everyone stuck in traffic and we tell them, ‘Just come inside, eat a little while, let the traffic die down and then you can be on your way.’ It’s our goal to take someone who’s having a bad day and send them off with a better day.”
Surely brightening each diner’s day is the restaurant’s local-style comfort food, which has been adored by generations of islanders since 1969. At the flagship eatery and takeout window in Aiea (Shiro’s also is located in Ewa Beach), loyal patrons satisfy their appetites with island favorites, breakfast classics, sandwiches, “burgas” and, of course, bowls of simmering saimin. As Fujimoto explains, however, an important part of keeping customers happy is offering them something new. “We’re really trying to key into what our customers want,” he says. “In order for the regulars to keep on coming, we feel it’s our obligation to create new dishes every once in a while so they won’t have to venture off to other restaurants.”
Shiro’s is getting ready to unveil a host of new regular Wednesday specials, which will debut Sept. 21 and be available at the Waimalu restaurant (dine-in and takeout) and for catering (with advanced notice). The first special is crispy, flaky and fried-to-perfection lumpia prepared two ways: filled with kalua pork and cabbage and served with chili pepper vinegar, or Shanghai-style with pork and vegetables alongside sweet chili sauce or Filipino banana ketchup. Both of these savory treats are priced at $1.50 apiece and made in-house for maximum freshness.
Shiro’s famous Chili Frank also is back by popular demand on Wednesdays in both Waimalu and Ewa Beach, delighting taste buds with a mix of chopped hot dog, beans and ground beef. Guests can scoop up every last ounce of the soul-soothing chili with spaghetti and a grilled dinner roll for $8.50; rice and mac salad for $8.50; or in a Chili Moco ($7.95), Shiro’s take on a loco moco, with two eggs, a 4-ounce burger patty, rice and chili instead of gravy.
Chili Frank on its own also is available for catering, with prices ranging from $26.75 for a small pan (feeds 10-15) to $84.50 for an extra large pan (feeds 45-50). According to Fujimoto, who also oversees catering operations, the longstanding catering side of the business continues to attract a growing number of companies, churches and families in the community. “Customers are getting a lot more savvy now and trying out different caterers until they find the one they want. That’s why we keep in mind bringing up new dishes and trying to keep our costs as low as possible, which is why we make as many items in-house as possible. Not only is it healthier and taste better, but it’s a lot more cost effective,” he says.
Fujimoto notes that Shiro’s catering is based out of the Waimalu restaurant’s central kitchen and made with the same handcrafted touch as the restaurant’s menu. “We’re going for catered food that is homestyle comfort food,” he says.
Slurp This Up
Shiro’s wouldn’t be a “Saimin Haven” if it weren’t for the 60-plus varieties of savory soup options it carries, all sizzling with homemade broth, wonton and the eatery’s own brand of noodles. You can enjoy saimin with as many or as few toppings as you’d like, but first-timers are encouraged to try the Dodonpa bowl, reigning supreme with 10 garnishes, including char siu and luncheon meat, just to name a few.
“Our kitchen manager, Warlie Aguarin (pictured), makes a wicked homemade chili,” says general manager Bryce Fujimoto. “We used to serve it as a special, and customers were actually getting upset that we didn’t have it anymore, so we’re bringing it back.” He adds that Aguarin, who started at Shiro’s nearly 15 years ago as a line cook, has been perfecting the beloved recipe for years.
Shiro’s Saimin Haven
Waimalu Shopping Center (and in Ewa Beach)
98-020 Kamehameha Hwy., Aiea
Restaurant and catering: 488-8824 | Takeout: 488-4834
Sunday-Thursday, 7 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 7 a.m.-11:30 p.m.