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A taste of Hawaii on the Mainland, a must for Santa Cruz visitors

Wasabi Avocado Kani Poke

Transport yourself to Hawaii when you visit Pono Hawaiian Grill and enjoy a delicious Hawaiian feast in the Beach town of Santa Cruz, California. Pono Hawaiian Grill in Santa Cruz is a hidden gem that is a bit off the beaten path, but a path definitely worth taking.

Sometimes going off the beaten path will find you the best restaurants.  We found Pono Hawaiian Grill when we were spending the day in Santa Cruz.  We were looking for something different to eat, and just decided to use YELP! to find it.  It had the highest rating with great reviews, so we decided to try it. This led us off the downtown strip, just a couple blocks away, and it was so worth it.

Entering Pono…

Let’s just start with the entrance.  You will not be compelled to go in, it almost looks industrial from the outside, and you would never know that what lurks behind the doors is like stepping into Hawaii.

Once in the doors, you are faced with an extensive menu of standard Hawaiian fare like Teriyaki, Katsu, Saiman, Pork Lau Lau, Kalua Pork, Loco Moco, well, you get the idea.  In addition, they have some american standards like hamburgers as well as some more exotic choices like Loco Moco Burrito.  I suggest you review the Menu before going, otherwise you will stare at the menu for a long time before finally ordering.

Order your food…

This is an order and pay first type of restaurant.  You order and pay at the front, then find a seat with your table number and wait for your food.  At this time, you can have a seat in one of the couches, indoor tables, or outdoor tables in the tiki patio. There is a full bar, so if you didn’t order a soda or canned Hawaiian fruit drink, you can order yourself a Mai Tai, beer, or other beverage of choice.

Sit back, but not for long…

As you wait for your food, you will be entranced by the decor.  It is festive and eclectic, making you really feel like you are in a Hawaiian beachside restaurant. The outdoor patio is almost always full, but maybe you’ll be lucky and find a seat and enjoy the outdoor tiki feel. Most evenings, and some weekend afternoons, you can enjoy live entertainment ranging from 60’s music to a 3 piece Hawaiian luau music.

Don’t worry, though, you won’t have to wait long.  The food service is quick and efficient.

Ahh, the food. YUM!

I don’t know what to say but YUM!  Now comes the fun part.  One thing to be aware of is that they give typical Hawaiian portions, that means BIG.  If you are a light eater, you may want to share, or plan on bringing leftovers home with you. The last time we went, this is what we had. So far, the only thing I wasn’t thrilled with was their Masubi’s.  I’ve tried both the Spam and Chicken, and it was just a little bland.

Kal-bi Korean Short Ribs

A huge plate of short ribs, rice, and macaroni.  Very standard, but the short ribs here are high quality and just cooked to perfection.  The sauce has the perfect balance of salty and sweet and is lightly glazed to just make your mouth water.

Creamy Wasabi Mayo Kani Crab & Avocado Poke

This was INCREDIBLE!  A delicious blend of avocados, wasabi, mayonnaise and the kani crab accompanied by seaweed salad, I was in heaven.  This is something that I will definitely try to recreate at home.  The ginger didn’t seem necessary to me, but the blend of the crab with the seaweed salad was just perfection.


Yes, it’s true.  My son ordered the hamburger.  I didn’t get a picture of it because I stepped away to go to the bathroom, in that time the food arrived and he had already eaten 1/2 of it before I got back.  I felt funny taking a picture of a half eaten burger 🙂  But, let me tell you that was one BIG BURGER.  My son is a little bit of a foodie himself, only wanting Kobe Beef burgers or my homemade burgers (see JW Smokehouse Burger Recipe).  He was thrilled with the quality and size of the burger.  Juicy and cooked exactly as he asked (Medium), definitely a good choice.

Where is Pono?

You can find Pono Hawaiian Grill at 120 Union Street in Santa Cruz California. Visit them on their WEBSITE and/or like them on their FACEBOOK PAGE.

There you have it!

Now you know, when planning your next trip to Santa Cruz, California, plan at least lunch or dinner at pono for a taste of Hawaii on the Mainland.