Santa Cruz Good Times

Apr 18th
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Ono Hawaii Calls

dining_ponocomboPono Hawaiian Grill brings island magic to Cypress Lounge

Cypress Lounge now shares its space with Pono Hawaiian Grill, brought to you by “Braddah” Timmy Hunt who previously co-owned Aloha Island Grill. The menu holds a bounty of traditional Hawaiian dishes and those influenced by Asian cuisine.

The Lounge’s interior now sports island-themed art, and the large patio has been revitalized with tropical ginger plants, woven reed wallpaper, and a roof thatched with palm fronds. Aloha Fridays feature live Hawaiian music.

Appetizers ($2.50 to $7.95) such as Hawaiian Fresh Spring rolls with pineapple-macadamia nut hoisin sauce, and Manapua dumplings filled with char siu pork make perfect bar snacks. Salads ($4.50 to $6.95) include Da Mana Salad, a vegetarian mixture of tofu poke, brown rice and vegetables.

Most of the meats, as well as tofu, are available in wraps ($5.95) with house-made pineapple salsa, and also in sandwiches and ramen-style noodle soup. Garden burgers ($6.95) join beef burgers ($7.95) with either teriyaki with grilled pineapple or pineapple barbecue sauce and onion rings.

Regular plates ($6.95 to $8.95) feature tofu, seafood, chicken cutlets and teriyaki as well as island favorites like steamed Pork Lau Lau. The kids menu ($3 to $3.50) includes quesadillas and burgers with fries. Pono’s beverage menu includes water and sodas and is independent from the Cypress Lounge bar where we separately purchased pints of Santa Cruz Aleworks’ hoppy IPA ($4).

Nine variations of poke, the Hawaiian raw fish salad, are served as an appetizer, salad or rice bowl. Offerings include a vegetarian version with avocado and tomatoes. A bowl of the spicy poke ($5.95) with cubes of soft red fish tossed with piquant green and white onions was drizzled with fiery Sriracha-style red chili sauce, dotted with black sesame seeds and topped with sesame-oiled seaweed. Quite ono (delicious).

In the popular Hawaiian snack Musubi ($2.75), a sheet of nori seaweed secured a block of rice and a piece of teriyaki chicken. It is also made with the traditional Spam.dining_ponopoke

Pono's sliders are stuffed with Kalua pork which are served with ono pineapple barbecue sauce. A generous plate of Kalua Pork ($7.95) with cabbage pulled into fine shreds was tender, and its flavor held a hint of smoke. But with my mainland mindset, I would have enjoyed it more with a bit of the aforementioned sauce. A bowl of fruit (add 75 cents) to replace the macaroni salad included ripe blueberries and melons.

A loaded platter of Pono’s Seafood Combo ($12.95) held a wonderful combination of flavors. A large piece of seasonal fish cooked Katsu-style, which was the dense, flaky, white-fleshed mahi, was breaded and deep-fried and served with tonkatsu; the Japanese A1 sauce of sorts made with fruit and spices which was salty and sweet with a tart aftertaste. Deep-fried butterflied shrimp were coated with large shreds of sweet coconut. Thin slices of ginger-soy marinated Kalbi Korean short ribs were sweet and tender. The plate included two scoops of white rice and green salad (add 75 cents) dressed nicely with sesame vinaigrette.

Pono Hawaiian Grill at Cypress Lounge, 120 Union St., Santa Cruz, 426-PONO. Full Bar. Open Tuesday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Wednesday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Thursday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 1:30 a.m., and Sunday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Visit

Comments (5)Add Comment
written by Sunny, January 20, 2012
Thanks braddah tim for bring maui to santa cruz - we're just home from maui one week and missing aloha and spam musubi! Love the music at Pono! Can you find a way to import the wonderful scent that drifts through the tradewinds!?
written by Michele David, October 24, 2011
I had Pono Hawaiian Grill cater an event I put on for a large group of economists at UCSC, and they all loved it! Besides the fact that the food was super amazing, I was really happy to work with Timmy on the menu and to deal with the business side of things, and then to work with his staff at the event. They all seemed stoked to be working and thus they made it a more pleasurable experience for everyone. They were a nice mix of being professional and fun, which turned a potentially boring dinner into a lively celebration -it was like the Aloha spirit was brought to my event. I couldn't have been more pleased with my decision to use them and I highly recommend Pono for any event -not just Hawaiian themed events. Trust me -everyone will love it.
written by Jenn Hunt, August 25, 2011
Congratulations to my brother Tim, a.k.a. Braddah Timmy. I am so proud of you! You make the food over here on Maui sound like it's missin' something! I can't wait to try the food at your new restaurant. I am sending you lots of love and aloha across this big ocean. XO your sis jenn
written by Will Constantine, August 18, 2011
The Pono Grill is one of those unknown treasures of Santa Cruz! I have been there a dozen times in the last month and a half. The food is great, being as good or better than any that I have had in Hawaii and it is very inexpensive too. It is now my favorite downtown lunch stop. On Friday nights there is Hawaiian music and local hulu dancers that put on a show that is better than any of the luaus that I have been to on the islands and there is no cover charge. I have been to the music five times now and more and more of my friends also keep showing up. It is also more than just a grill with great food and amazing Hawaiian music because the staff, the musicians, the local hulu dancers and the patrons truly manifest and share in the friendly Aloha spirit and the culture of Hawaii making going there on Friday nights more of a Hawaiian cultural and spiritual experience then a night on the town. It is truly a trip the Hawaii without the airfare.
written by Velia Anderson , August 18, 2011
I have been a patron every Friday night and several Sunday afternoons since the Pono opened. It is a wonderful experience--the food, the music, hula dancers and the aloha. The food is so delicious (and available as take-out) that I am going to make a point of making it a lunch destination in addition to the music events. Thank you for reviewing this wonderful place. The food and music are better than most places in Hawaii.

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