Full disclosure: I’m totally obsessed with Filipino food right now. I think about it everyday. I can’t help it, it’s in my nature. Obsessing over a new cuisine is nothing new for me. Since the early days of my relationship with Jacqui I’ve worked to understand the food and customs unique to Hawaii and Jacqui’s background. I’ve gone through phases of intense study of Chinese, Japanese, Native Hawaiian, and Hawaii Regional cuisines. I’d have a dish that would blow my mind and I’d focus in and learn everything I could about it. This would carry on until something else blew my mind and shifted my focus. Since we’ve moved to Hawaii it’s been a very similar process but much, much faster because there are all kinds of flavors I’ve never experienced around every corner and in every area of the island.
So, all that being said, this time it was pork adobo and pure happenstance. The first thing you should know is that food delivery is not actually a thing here. Restaurants don’t deliver as a rule. This was a little surprising to me because back in Missouri all kinds of places deliver to your house. Services like Bite Squad, Door Dash, and UberEats are just now starting to really gain traction. I had never used one before but Jacqui tends to like using apps so we decided to order dinner one night. Checking through the restaurants, one called Tiano’s stood out to me because I’d been seeing great things on Instagram and, surprisingly, was located just a few minutes away from where we live. It had good ratings and some serious diversity in the menu. The menu features a selection of steaks, pasta, sandwiches, and local favorites. But in addition to that it has a substantial Filipino menu. Years ago, my mother in law’s coworker and good friend, Patricia, loaned me a cookbook of traditional Filipino dishes. It was a fantastic resource and I picked up a few really tasty recipes but at that time I wasn’t nearly skilled enough to tackle most of the dishes at my fingertips. This would be my chance to experience a professional take on Filipino classics.
That night we had a sampling of items. I remember Jacqui got the prime rib and we got some French fries for the little one (because she had been good that day), and I got some fried rice and pork adobo. The steak was perfectly rare and the veggies were tasty so Jacqui was happy. I, on the other hand, was blown away by the pork adobo, pork shoulder slow cooked in a gravy of soy sauce, vinegar, bay leaves, and secrets of wonder. That last one isn’t a definite but there’s for sure some extra going on.
It’s gone on to be our go to spot for ordering in. Since the steaks are good, that’s always on the table as an option when the fridge is empty. I’ve stayed mostly with the fried rice and pork adobo personally, although I did order and enjoy the kare-kare, an oxtail in peanut sauce dish. The other day we were out running errands before Tropical Storm Olivia came to town and we needed lunch. It was finally time to head on down to Tiano’s properly. It popped into Jacqui’s mind because kids eat free on Tuesday and Wednesday. For us that’s a deciding factor because the kids menu has an excellent selection and our daughter will eat like a champ. I knew immediately I wanted to stick with the Filipino menu even though we knew the other items were excellent. I wanted to be more adventurous and fortunately, Jacqui was onboard. We got the chicken and fries for the little one. It’s just a safe choice almost anywhere you go. My expectations were low but it was really well done and the serving was substantial considering it’s a child’s portion. The chicken was crispy and flavorful, but did come out blazing hot so watch for that with your kids.
We started our meal with the Shanghai Lumpia (LOOHM-pee-uh). Lumpia are a traditional Filipino food in which some sort of filling—be it meat, vegetable, or fruit—is wrapped in an ultra thin won ton style wrapper that is then deep fried. The Shanghai lumpia are filled with ground pork. These served as a perfect appetizer. They were small but the order was plentiful. I found them a little plain by themselves, but with the dipping sauce it really made a nice bite. Though, honestly, I think any kind of Asian dipping sauce would’ve worked fine for me.
For our main course we wanted to try some noodles so we selected Pancit Miki Guisado (pahn-SIT MEE-kee ghee-SAH-doh). This version of pancit utilizes a thick egg noodle reminiscent of those you get in a vast array of Chinese restaurants. This type of crossover is not unusual since Chinese cuisine is major influence on the food in various parts of the Phillipines. In fact, I believe a lot of the reasons I am so drawn to Filipino food are the same reasons I’m drawn to Hawaiian food: there is a natural cross section of cultures that has taken place throughout the history of the area and this cross section is clearly represented in their food…and for whatever reason this completely fascinates me.
I scooped out the sisig (SEE-seeg). Anthony Bourdain used to talk about the greatness of this dish and this was my chance to try it. Traditional sisig is made up of the seldom used cuts of pork that are braised, then grilled, and then chopped and fried with peppers, onion, chilies, and garlic. It’s then served on a cast iron plate (think fajita plate) with a raw egg sizzling away in front of you. Tiano’s version sisig was absolutely everything I wanted it to be. To say I enjoyed it would be an epic understatement. Jacqui is actually annoyed at the discussion of sisig at this point…that’s the level we’ve gone to. The first thing you notice is the raw egg that’s literally cooking on the plate in front of you. The goal here is to spread the egg through the meat and allow it to cook on the cast iron plate in the pork mixture and then hit the whole thing with the calamansi or lime juice. At that point, get some rice and dig in. The first thing I got was the richness of the egg and the pork. The onions and garlic were subtle in flavor. The chiles built slowly. It’s a low heat but it’s definitely present and I loved it. There’s nice texture in the dish as well. The crispy, crunchiness of some of the pork really adds to the experience. I couldn’t recommend this any higher. I just absolutely loved it.
Jacqui really enjoys lechon kawali (leh-CHON kah-WAH-lee), crispy deep-fried pork belly mixed with raw onions and tomatoes, and further seasoned with a combination of soy sauce and spiced vinegar. This is typically her go-to dish. However, the last time we went for lunch, they were sold out so she was forced to be adventurous. At the suggestion of our awesome server, Ericka, Jacqui instead ordered the fried pork. This dish is similar to the lechon kawali but (I think) is made with pork shoulder instead. The dish comes deconstructed and you can eat each component separately or, the way Jacqui likes it, mixed together. She typically adds a little more vinegar to her mix which cuts through the richness of the pork and lightens the palate of the dish.
Normally we don’t go in for desserts. I’m normally not a guy with a sweet tooth, and with the baby we don’t often get the opportunity to spend the extra time enjoying an additional treat. But, when I saw the picture of the banana rollettes, I knew Jacqui wouldn’t let me leave without trying it. The menu describes them as a traditional Filipino dessert in which fresh bananas are wrapped in a spring roll wrapper and deep fried, they are then drizzled with caramel and cinnamon and served with ice cream. They’re basically banana lumpia (see above), as we mentioned earlier that they come with a variety of fillings. The standard offering comes with vanilla ice cream, but for a couple dollars you can get ube (OO-beh, purple sweet potato) ice cream. Ube is very similar to the yellow sweet potatoes popular in the mainland US, but a little sweeter and bright purple. For us there was no debate—it was ube ice cream all day.
Jacqui was the one to say it, but I think we both knew before we ordered it that there was going to be ube ice cream on our table. to tell you the truth, I’m pretty sure she decided she was going to find a way for us to have dessert the moment she saw the beautiful picture in the menu. At this point, I’d like to discuss presentation for a moment. It’s not something I usually get into, but at this point I think I need to comment. It’s so often that you go into restaurants and see pictures of their menu items and you decide to order them based on the plating in the photo. And more often then not, the dish served is similar… but just not the same. In this case, however, it was as if they brought us the exact plate from the picture. It was gorgeous. This was one of those times that you knew, if this tasted half as good as it looked, it would be amazing. And for me, it may have even tasted better than it looked. The bananas inside the lumpia were warm, soft, and almost creamy, and that was contrasted with the crispy hot exterior of the lumpia wrapper. My favorite part of this dish was how the ice cream began to melt on top of the warm lumpia and then mixed with the cinnamon and caramel forming an absolutely delectable sauce at the bottom of the bowl that I could then dip my bites of lumpia into. The amazing part of this was normally I’m not a fan of bananas at all; when I buy bananas it is strictly for Jacqui and the Nugget. But I couldn’t get enough of this! I almost decided to order 2 of them.
Overall, we have enjoyed everything we’ve tried from Tiano’s whether it was the prime rib, sisig, lumpia, or sinigang (tamarind-based soup, Nugget’s favorite is the shrimp and fish sinigang). It’s not cheap, but the portions are substantial as most of the entrees can probably be shared and the food is delicious.
Where can you Try Ono Oahu?
Tiano’s has 2 restaurants in Ewa Beach and Kunia, and 2 food trucks in Waipahu and Honolulu. If you’re looking to try some Filipino food you’ll have to drive out to the restaurants or to the Waipahu location. Aside from the pork adobo and the lechon kawali, the menu at the Honolulu truck is focused more on American food. That being said, their prime rib and shrimp are delicious so you’ll still be able to get a delicious meal at the Honolulu truck. The Honolulu truck can be found Monday-Friday 10am-2pm at Koapaka St between Chef Zone and Buick GMC Chevrolet.
The Waipahu truck can be found Monday-Friday 10am-2pm at 94-358 Hanawai Circle, behind Bank of Hawaii. There is also a limited menu here, but they do offer several of the Filipino dishes.
The Ewa Beach location is at 91-1001 Kaimalie St in the Ewa Point Marketplace. This location is a little out of the way compared to the Kunia location, if you’re traveling, but it is the original restaurant. This is our favorite location given that we live in Ewa Beach. Whether you’re traveling east or west on H1, you’ll take exit 5 and head south on HI-76 (Fort Weaver Rd). It’s quite a ways down, but will be on your right in the same shopping center as KFC, but located in the opposite corner of the parking lot. There is lots of space in the restaurant and lots of parking available.
The Kunia location is at 94-673 Kupohe St in the Kunia Shopping Center. This location is closest to H1 and is the easier of the 2 locations to reach if you’re driving. Whether you’re traveling east or west on H1, you’ll take exit 5 and head north on HI-750. It’ll be on your right, but you won’t be able to see it from the road—you will, however, be able to see Jack in the Box and Starbucks which are in the same shopping center. Much like the Ewa Beach location, there is lots of space inside and a good amount of parking. We haven’t eaten at the Kunia location yet, but the chef goes back and forth between the Kunia and Ewa Beach location so the food quality should be the same regardless. We have eaten at the Ewa Beach location several times and the food has been consistent every time.
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