Food & Drink

Pono Kitchen Brings Authentic Island Cuisine to Santa Cruz

Pono Hawaiian Kitchen & Tap offers traditional poke bowls served four ways

Owner Timmy Hunt says Pono Hawaiian Kitchen & Tap is committed to a very traditional preparation from where poke was born. PHOTO: TARMO HANNULA

Pono Hawaiian Kitchen & Tap on Capitola Road offers up authentic island cuisine seven days a week from 11:30am-8:00pm.

Timmy Hunt, the owner for the past 10 years, grew up on Maui and brought his family recipes with him when he moved to Santa Cruz in 2000. He says that pono means “righteousness,” and his restaurant’s primary goal is to grow the local community by sharing the aloha spirit in a pono manner. He spoke to GT about the food and continuing to grapple with the pandemic.

What is your most popular poke bowl, and what sets your poke apart?

TIMMY HUNT: Probably the Braddah Timmy bowl; it’s a fresh and healthy option. It comes with sashimi grade ahi, alaea (a Hawaiian sea salt with volcanic clay), cubed avocado and cucumber, housemade kimchi, chili flake, seaweed salad, pickled ginger, and furikake seasoning over choice of rice. What sets our poke apart is that it’s a very traditional preparation that comes from where poke was born in Hawaii. We also serve our poke four ways: in a bowl, as a plate lunch, as an appetizer, and as a salad.

What are some of the other house specialties?

As far as pupus (appetizers), our kahlua pork fries are one of our top sellers. It’s our signature slow-cooked Hawaiian pork over crunchy French fries, and comes with pickled jalapeños, melted jack and cheddar cheese, and spicy aioli. One of our more popular entrees is our Hawaiian fish and chips, featuring katsu-style mahi that’s deep fried golden and crispy. It’s served with fries, tartar sauce, and house-made island slaw. The barbeque combo is another favorite. It comes with Korean-style Kalbi short ribs, beef teriyaki, and chicken teriyaki and is served with furikake seasoned rice, macaroni salad, and kimchi. It’s a bountiful plate and is a great option when you’re extra hungry.

How has the restaurant been doing amidst the ongoing pandemic?

Everybody is trying to figure all this out and just survive and get through. Fortunately, prior to the pandemic we had a good takeout presence. That’s been built up even more throughout, and it’s really helped sustain us. But like all restaurants, we still need continued support to keep us in business. Online ordering has also just been launched, and we have our own ordering app coming out soon too.  

3744 Capitola Road, Santa Cruz. 831-476-7458, ponokitchenandtap.com.

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