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Ana Bananas in La Cruz

From my condo it’s about a 45 minute walk along the beach to La Cruz de Huanacaxtle. For years, La Cruz was little more than a place for the local fishermen to haul out their pangas. But then a couple of years ago the Mexican government built a big first-class marina here. It hasn’t really caught on yet. Most of the dock space is still empty. Yachties I know who have docked here say it’s not really worth it. You pay the same as you would for a slip space in the Puerto Vallarta marina but there are fewer services nearby. Still, several 4-star resorts have recently opened just up the coast (including the St. Regis) and maybe in 20 or 30 years it will become the Mexican Cannes.

Or not.

There are, however, a couple of interesting places to eat. One is called Tacos on the Street because…well, they put tables and chairs out on the street and that’s where you eat. It’s a family run place, owned by Jorge and his wife Raquel. Jorge cooks up the rib eye steaks that are chopped up for the tacos and Raquel is in charge of making the fresh corn tortillas and salsa.

This is their home and the restaurant side of the business is only open three nights a week—Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. They don’t have a liquor license but they don’t mind at all if you buy a beer or two at the market on the corner. Or even bring your own wine if you want.

The rib-eye tacos are amazing. The last time I ate there, I had six of them. And only stopped ordering because I thought I was making a pig of myself.

Then there’s Ana Bananas which you could say faces the marina if there was a view of the water, which there isn’t. There used to be. But when they built the marina they dumped earth in front of the outdoor patio and now it’s just a four-foot berm obliterating the view. Ana says they promised they would come back one day and remove the mound of earth and rocks but she isn’t holding her breath.

So, instead, she had some shade cloth painted with a scene of what the beach looked like before the marina was built. And this shade hangs on some PVC poles on the patio in front of the berm. So you can, you know, sort of imagine what the view would be like without the hideous mound of earth.

I’m not going to say the food is great at Ana Bananas because it’s not. It’s basically the sort of crap that yachties always seem to want—cheeseburgers, club sandwiches, nachos. But nobody comes here for the food (or the view). They come here on weekend evenings for the cheap beers and live music—the Banana Jam, as it’s called.

You never know who is going to be playing. As the white board in front of Ana’s says, the Rock of Ages band is made up of “friends and singers from far and near.” Which means whoever happens to be in the area and feels like jamming. Sometimes the music is awful. Sometimes it’s extraordinary. But it’s always interesting. 

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Aunty’s poi at Ono Hawaiian Foods

I’m in this surf shop in Honolulu buying t-shirts when I start to feel a little hungry so I ask the two Gidgets working there where I should go for dinner, telling them I don’t want any fancy tourist place, but someplace simple. And local. A place, maybe, where they eat all the time.

“Oh, I know!” says Gidget One. “There’s a Subway a block away.”

No, I tell her. Not a Subway. “Someplace with Hawaiian food. But not a tourist joint.”

Gidget Two says, “Pizza Hut across the street has a Hawaiian pizza.”

Screw it. So I did what I usually do. I just started walking. Away from Waikiki. Past Kapiolani Park and the zoo, up Kapahulu Avenue, looking for someplace, anyplace that looked half way interesting.

There were a couple of sushi places that looked promising but I wasn’t really in a sushi mood. So I just kept going. Past a barbecue place that would have been a contender if it hadn’t been closed (I’m a sucker for barbecue). Until I came to this total hole-in-the-wall joint called Ono Hawaiian Foods.

photos by David Lansing

photos by David Lansing

The place was cramped and crowded (though it was only 5:30) but I got lucky because a couple had just finished their meal when I walked in. So I grabbed their spot. The place was fascinating. The walls were plastered in headshots of mostly forgotten Hawaiian performers and beauty queens as well as stuff like a poster for “The Ultimate Honolulu Event,” a concert back in the 80s by Sammy, Liza, and Frank “in person at the Blaisdell Arena.”

On one side of me were three Japanese women taking photos of each other as well as every dish brought to the table by a waiter wearing a soiled Honolulu fish canning baseball cap. On the other side were a couple of GenX backpackers, the guy wearing a rainbow tie-dyed Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young concert t-shirt.

Basically, unless you ordered ala carte, it appeared there were only three choices at Ono (which is Hawaiian for “delicious”): the Chicken Long Rice Plate, the Laulau Plate, or the Kalua Pig Plate (you could also get a combo plate but that just seemed like cheating).

Still thinking about the barbecue place I’d passed that had been closed, I went for the kalua pork which also came with some pipikaula, a sort of Hawaiian beef jerky, lomi salmon, and either rice or poi. Had to go with the poi. Aunty brought my food, dished up in old melamine bowls and plates, out of the kitchen on a cafeteria tray. It felt a little bit like being back in junior high school.

I asked her if I could get a beer. “No beer,” she said, “only Pepsi.”

“Okay,” I told her, “I’ll take a Coke.”

“No Coke. Only Pepsi.”

Frankly, I’m not crazy about poi but, as you know, I have this philosophy which is Wherever you are, you have to eat the goat. The goat in Honolulu is poi. Despite the name of the restaurant, the purple-gray poi served at Ono was not delicious. It left my tongue feeling kind of tingly. Like when you were a kid and you’d stick a D battery on your tongue (surely I’m not the only one in the world who used to do that).

Seeing that I had pushed my poi to the side, Aunty came over. “You don’t like my poi?” she said.

Now she was making it personal. It was her poi.

“It’s good,” I lied, “I’m just really not a big poi fan.”

“Ah,” she said, somewhat satisfied. “How long you in Honolulu?”

Two, three weeks, I told her.

She shook her head in discouragement. “Not long enough to learn to like poi,” she said, walking away.

She came back a few minutes later with a bowl of haupia, a type of coconut pudding. “On the house,” she said, sliding it across the Formica table at me.

I thanked her and dug in. It was worse than the poi. But I ate it all anyway. Just so Aunty wouldn’t bring anything else out to the table. 

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