BY SARAH C. LANGE | PHOTO BY DAVID SZYMANSKI
As if the tender kalua pulled pork and sweet carrot-pineapple slaw weren’t enough reason to stop at Ono Kine Grindz, the East Tosa restaurant also serves a Hawaiian version of ramen called saimin. “It literally means ‘little noodles’ — ‘min’ is noodle, ‘sai’ is little,’” says co-owner David Lau. “It’s a crossover from Chinese and Japanese (fare), when the plantation era was happening in Hawaii, maybe 150 years ago. It was a working-class man’s lunch. It’s whatever you had left over. It’s a classic.”
In that vein, co-owner Guy Roeseler thoughtfully chooses a little bit of everything to elevate the dish to a colorful, deluxe one that satisfies with different flavors and textures. He starts with a chicken broth base and adds fresh saimin noodles, blanched choy sum, crunchy pickled lotus root, char siu chicken and a hard-boiled egg. Like Hawaii itself, the bowl symbolizes how the intermingling of cultures can birth something beautiful: Shao mai, or Chinese shrimp dumplings, share space with Korean kimchi and a chewy kamaboko fish cake from Japan. Roeseler garnishes the hearty meal with cilantro, green onions and Yasai fumi Furikake seasoning blend, which includes ground pumpkin and sesame seeds, garlic and ginger. “That’s sprinkled on to give it a little zing,” he says. Saimin comes with an addictive sweet and spicy sauce for dipping.
Lau, who was born and raised in Hawaii, and Roeseler, who lived there for a decade, are gracious hosts and can accommodate vegan and gluten-free diners. While most of the menu is gluten-free, call an hour ahead for a gluten-free version of saimin. 7215 W. North Ave., Wauwatosa, (414) 778-0727, okgrindz.com