Loco Ono brings Hawaiian cuisine to Vancouver with pop-up kitchens

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      Considering Vancouver's penchant for fusion and Asian cuisine not to mention our West Coast proximity to the Hawaiian Islands, Hawaiian food has been curiously underrepresented in our city.

      Local chef Jan-Michael Reyes is helping to change that with his Loco Ono pop-up kitchen events.

      Reyes told the Georgia Straight by phone that he launched Loco Ono in June 2015 and held three pop-up events in White Rock at the Wooden Spoon, and one at Calabash Bistro in Gastown. Due to the popular response, the Wooden Spoon owner invited Reyes to run a kitchen take-over at his other venue, Sip Lounge (1117 Granville Street), for the month of February. The kitchen take-over runs from Thursday to Saturday each week in February (Reyes said that it could be held over into March).

      Although Reyes is a Filipino Canadian from Vancouver, he was introduced to island cuisine during visits to relatives in California and Washington State. He now visits Hawaii every year and has created a menu that he says is a riff on Hawaiian plate lunches, which incorporate various cultural influences including indigenous, Asian, and European cuisines.

      "It's very standard-type food with different combinations that people might not be used to," he said, "but I always thought it was good and it really reminded of a lot of the food I grew up with."

      Some of the most popular menu items are adobo honey wings (with a soy, cane vinegar, garlic, and honey glaze) and loco moco (ground beef and bacon patty on rice with a fried egg, gravy, and crispy onion straws). Another big hit is buttermilk fried chicken and ube (purple yam) waffles with maple syrup and barbecue sauce.

      Buttermilk fried chicken and ube (sweet purple yam) waffles with maple syrup and barbecue sauce.
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      And pay attention, tuna poke fans. For those who love the Hawaiian fave, he's adding spicy tuna poke barbecue bowl (ahi tuna and barbecue flank steak on rice with seaweed salad) as a regular item due to its popularity as a featured special.

      There's even Canadian influence on the menu in the form of kalua pork poutine featuring kalua pork with fries, cheese curds, gravy, and Asian slaw.

      Kalua pork poutine features kalua pork on fries, cheese curds, gravy, and Asian slaw.
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      The prices are very affordable too: all dishes are $9.95 and drinks are $4.95.

      As for the fun name, Reyes explained that ono means delicious in Hawaiian and loco is a reference to the first Hawaiian food he tried—the loco moco. But he also likes its meaning as crazy (hence: crazy delicious).

      If you can't make it to Sip, he said he may have another pop-up at Calabash in April. And, of course, he would like to open a permanent location at some point in the future.

      "That's definitely the dream," he said.

      For the sake of local culinary diversity, let's hope his dream comes true.

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