With all my traveling around the island of Oahu, I see a lot of new things. Let’s face it, everything here is still new to me. The funny part, though, is that Hawaii is really not that different from Missouri once you get to know it. There’s a culture of hard work, a beautiful landscape, great food, and way more history. It may be new but it actually feels like home to me. Because of that fact, I’m constantly reminded of things from my childhood. One thing I’ve thought a lot about lately were these trips I used to take with my dad. My dad is a man with simple tastes. He eats his steak well done, and not very often. He always loved a pork steak, fried chicken, hot dogs, and sausage gravy. Other than that it was any vegetable he could grow, and we grew a lot of them. He also loved tiny, hole in the wall restaurants. We would go on trips to different parts of the state every so often for some reason or another and inevitably there would be some small diner or lunch counter. They were always serving hamburgers, or biscuits and gravy, or a bbq pork steak plate that we just needed to try. Besides that, he always knew the owner, or at least knew the story of how the restaurant came to be in its present state. There was always some story to be told one way or another. These were probably the best times I had with my dad as a kid. He was a tough character in those days and these trips were some of the only comfortable times we had together.
Now that I’m a dad, I think about making the same memories with my daughter. Just like my dad was always looking for a small place with a story, I can’t help but find myself seeking out places that have a fascinating story behind them. The one I’m most excited about lately is Shige’s Saimin Stand in Wahiawa. It reminds me of a place we went when I was kid in Middletown, MO. It’s a tiny place that’s been open since the 1990’s but the history at Shige’s is much deeper than even that. The owner’s grandparents actually operated at saimin shop in Haleiwa in the 1950’s and they use the same noodle press from that shop in Shige’s today to make noodles daily for their customers. Pro-tip: you can see the noodle machine on the walk to the restroom—it’s definitely worth checking out!
What I love most about Shige’s is the focus of the experience. It’s all about the noodles and the sandwiches. The menu isn’t huge but everything is exactly what you want from a place like this. The real choices are the classic saimin (sy-MIN), the udon (ooh-DON), and the wunton mein (in Hawaii this is pronounced MIN, but traditional Chinese pronunciations are typically MAYN) . The saimin is the signature dish (for more information on saimin and its history see my previous article). The classic noodle soups are served in hot dashi (broth) and garnished with char siu (Chinese BBQ pork), spam, sliced omelette, and fish cake; vegetables are available for a small up charge and include Napa cabbage and bean sprouts. Your other choices include burgers, sandwiches, and other local favorites like loco mocos and spam musubis.
Shige’s has become a normal spot for me. I’m totally hooked. The noodles are actually a little bigger than I normally enjoy but they are so good it just doesn’t matter. You can taste the difference in the daily housemade noodles. A lot of saimin places don’t make their own noodles but I’m noticing that all of my favorite places do. There’s nothing wrong with the purchased noodles—they can be fantastic but my favorite noodle so far is Shige’s, hands down. (My other favorite is Shiro’s but they also make their own noodles daily) The dashi is actually a shrimp and beef combination that’s very flavorful but very subtle. It’s the type of broth you can eat everyday.
My order is always the classic Hawaii combination of saimin and a burger. Recently, however I had the good sense to try the wonton mein (at Jacqui’s suggestion) and I have to say that I’m now a believer. Their wuntons are the best I’ve had, ever. With the wunton mein, you get the best of everything; noodles, garnish, and wuntons. We always go super classic with our dipping choice, as well, with shoyu (soy sauce) and Chinese hot mustard on the side. I’ve lately developed a new habit that some may find blasphemous but that I really enjoy. Once I mix my shoyu and mustard, I actually pour it directly into my dashi for a totally unique flavor experience. This way I get the flavors in every bite of noodles but without the mess of dipping.
Even our daughter gets in on the action. On her first visit, she had actually eaten just prior to coming to the restaurant so we didn’t expect her to want much. She found space in that little tummy though and she still wound up eating all of Jacqui’s wuntons and 75% of her noodles, not to mention a significant chunk of Jacqui’s burger. Needless to say, Jacqui was not happy. From then on we decided Jacqui gets a large order and the little one gets her own bowl for Jacqui to fill. It’s a good strategy that has worked well so far. Jacqui gives the kiddo a portion out of her bowl and the little one still gets her goal of eating Mommy’s food (while Mommy actually gets a bite to herself).
Now, I mentioned the burgers earlier but now we gotta really talk about the burgers. I’m hooked on those, too. As I mentioned before, the classic combo is a bowl of saimin and a burger and when I’m at Shige’s I just can’t resist. They’re burgers always hit the spot. Since I love to indulge, my weapon of choice is usually the Double BBQ Cheeseburger. It’s just a big bunch of sauced up, cheesey goodness, and what else do you need in your life? No matter which one you choose, their burgers are the perfect compliment to steaming bowl of noodles.
What I love most about Shige’s is the approachability of the place. Everyone is welcome all the time. The menu is small so you don’t need a ton of time deciding what you want. There’s limited seating but it’s well lit and the servers are always smiling, happy, and welcoming. It’s the perfect place for me to create the same kind of memories that my dad did with me and I’m very grateful for that. Hopefully, one day she’ll take her children somewhere and tell them all about how their Grandpa loved his noodles and always took her to his favorite places to tell stories.
Tips for Parents
There is limited space in this restaurant, so leave the strollers in the car while you eat, if you can. They do have high chairs, but we didn’t see any booster seats. There is a single restroom for customers, but no changing table. There’s no kids’ menu, but they do offer small or mini servings for the noodle dishes and plate lunches. The servers we had all seemed very familiar with serving toddlers and brought us small covered cups with straws for Nugget and tried to place the hot soups and sharp knives away from tiny hands, so that was a definite plus. Nugget is going through a phase where she insists on holding on to a menu throughout the meal and having all her own (adult) silverware—the servers were unphased by this and were happy to play along which isn’t always the case at some restaurants.
Where can you Try Ono Oahu?
If you’re looking for the quintessential relaxed experience, avoid lunchtime completely during the week. This place is the go to spot for all the lunch time working locals in Wahiawa so anytime from 11:45am to 1:30pm is pretty rough going. I stick to early weekend lunches or late weekday lunches for the best chance to get get parking and a table. When you get there you seat yourself. There is both counter and table seating and the staff is typically on it and will know you’re there. The main menu is on the wall above the counter and on the adjacent wall above the tables. They’ll bring you the check at the table, but you’ll go to the counter to pay. There is a fair amount of parking, but it can fill up during lunch hours.
Shige’s Saimin Stand is located at 70 Kukui St, Wahiawa. The parking lot is one way so you have to enter it from the Kamehameha Hwy side (Hwy 80)—when I asked google for directions it had me make a left on California and then a right onto Kukui which would mean you’d be entering the parking lot the wrong way. If you’re staying on the east or west side of the island you’ll take H1 then head north on H2. Get off at the Wahiawa exit (exit 8) and keep right to get onto Kamehameha Highway. The parking lot entrance is in between California and Kilani. Shige’s is on the left at the very end of the parking lot so you won’t see it from the road, instead look for the Hawaii Tactical Outfitter or the Wahiawa Mall sign and turn into that parking lot. As you’re exiting you can make a left (to California) or a right (to Kilani) to get back to the main road.
If you’re headed here from North Shore you’ll pretty much just follow Kamehameha Highway and it will be on your right after Kilani. There’s a gas station on the right at Kilani and Kamehameha Hwy and you’ll see the sign for Wahiawa Mall, but the businesses are faced the opposite direction.
This is a great spot to grab a bite to eat if you’re headed to or back from the North Shore, or if you’re stationed at Schofield Barracks.