While it is just down the street from my office, the last time I had been to Ono Grill it was called Teriyaki Fantasy. It has been about four years. My extended absence was not because there was anything wrong with the place, I just havent been in the office that much. My consultant was going over there to pick up some lunch the other day and he offered to pick something up for me, so of course I had to place an order. The consultant duly fetched my order and delivered it to my desk, post haste. (See, consultants really are worth the bucks, it only cost the company about $100.00 to get my lunch delivered, and it was still hot.)
Ono Grill is a little hole-in-the-wall, adjacent to a fire extinguisher company, just across the street from a cemetery, down the street from the Monterey Park branch of El Tepeyec, which is near a brand new assisted living facility, which is also directly across the street from the cemetery. I love the dynamics of all of this. Someone who is not careful, could OD on Hollenbeck burritos at El Tepeyec on a regular basis, for years on end, and despite the readily available extinguishers, end up with chronic heartburn, thus becoming debilitated and pre-maturely aged and need to check in to an assisted living apartment and spend their remaining days contemplating their future home, just across the street, outside their picture window, while having the meals they should have been eating all along brought in from Ono Grill.
When I last visited Ono Grill in its incarnation as Teriyaki Fantasy, the establishment consisted of about four tables with mismatched chairs, a cold case full of canned soda on the side, and a 30 inch high order counter with the open kitchen immediately behind it (nothing is hidden from the customers in this place). Mama-san and Papa-san did the cooking and order fulfillment, sometimes with the help of a member of the younger generation. This was a getaway destination for myself and a couple of colleagues, when we all worked for the Wicked Witch Of The West. We could walk in, place an order with the nice people behind the counter, pick up a few sodas, grab a table and enjoy the Glenn Miller sound on the radio while waiting for our orders. It was almost as if we had gone through a time travel portal to Honolulu and 1940.
Apparently Mama-san and Papa-san have turned over the establishment to the younger generation, because my consultant tells me they were no where to be seen. That might explain the name change, and fortunately, not any change to the essence of the establishment.
So I had my consultant bring me back a double chicken teriyaki bowl and Udon soup with chicken. Apparently I had really missed eating this stuff, because two days later I opted for another order of the chicken teriyaki and a side of tempura.
Everything I enjoyed was simply prepared. The chicken is breast meat grilled with a slight char on the edges, then cut in chopstick friendly chunks. The chicken chunks come reclining on a bed of rice and with a coverlet of teriyaki sauce on top. The chicken tastes like chicken, it is not adulterated with anything else. Just a fresh, clean, grilled chicken taste. The teriyaki sauce is sort of a butterscotch color, thick, not too sweet, and flecked with sesame seeds. The rice had a nice, not too glutinous texture. The grains adhered to each other quite easily, which made it very easy on those of us who are chopstick impaired, but the grains were not too gluey. Of course it was nice to be able to swirl some of the teriyaki sauce in amongst the rice grains and slurp it all off of the chopsticks. The chicken and rice filled one foam container and cost $5.75 (for the double size, the regular order is $3.75).
Another quart sized, round, foam container held the soup. The soup was very, very hot, which is exactly how I like my soup. The broth was very mild tasting, and my unsophisticated palate could not detect what that base flavorings were. It was the color of a cup of strong Lipton tea and had a few, very few, greens floating in it, which appeared to be possibly green onion or leek. There were also chunks of the same grilled chicken as was served in the teriyaki bowl. So unlike many other a soup with chicken in it, this soups chicken was not boiled to death, it was fresh off the grill, and had some body and texture to it. Of course there were big, round udon noodles in the soup which I dutifully slurped up. This would be a great soup to warm a body on a cold day. The basic soup was $3.50, adding chicken brought the price to $4.25 (vegetables could have been added for $0.50 more).
The side of tempura was as good as I remembered it. It also came in a foam container, which meant that some of it got a bit limp on the trip, but not all of it, and limp or not, it was good. There were about four slices of zucchini, two or three broccoli florets, two slices of yam, about four green beans, a big slice of something that could have been egg plant, but was quite firm, a slice or two of onion and two shrimp. The shrimp were shrimpier in size than my recollection from the last time. The tempura batter was wonderful, thin, crunchy (not all of it got steamy on the way to my desk), and came accompanied by a dipping sauce. This is the civilized way to eat fried food, with an almost translucent batter, enrobing fresh, barely cooked vegetables, snagged on the end of a couple of chopsticks. The side of tempura came in at $3.95, truly a good deal.
All things considered, I think this is a good place for lunch or a snack, with tasty food at good value. It does get crowded at lunch time, so if a visit is planned, it might best to time it for just before or just after the 12:00-1:30 window.
There is more besides teriyaki and tempura to be explored in this place. Here is a rundown on the entire menu:
Chinese Chicken Salad
Potato Macaroni Salad
Crispy Chicken Salad
Plates ($5.50-$6.95, include rice, potato salad and green salad)
Chicken Katsu (pounded thin, breaded, fried, w/Katsu sauce)
Chicken Katsu Curry Combo
Karaage (marinated, fried chicken)
Portuguese Sausage & Eggs
Teriyaki Beef Steak
Kalbi Ribs (Korean style marinated, grilled, short ribs)
Tonkatsu (breaded pork w/Katsu sauce)
Tonkatsu Curry Combo
Kalua Pork (smoked, shredded pork)
Salmon Katsu (breaded and fried, w/Katsu sauce)
Spam & Eggs
Combo Plates ($6.50-$8.95)
Big Island-teriyaki chicken, teriyaki steak, tempura
Teriyaki Chicken & Spam Musibi
Teriyaki Chicken & Beef
Teriyaki Chicken & Tempura
Ono Combo-any two items
Teriyaki Beef & Spam Musibi
Teriyaki Beef & Curry
Teriyaki Chicken & Salmon
Double Teriyaki Chicken
1/2 Beef & Chicken
Karaage (regular or spicy)
Oyako Don (chicken w/egg)
Tempura Don (tempura w/egg)
Chicken Katsu Don
Katsu Don (pork cutlet w/egg)
Loco Mocos ($5.50)
Loco Moco-grilled hamburger topped with two eggs and gravy over steamed rice
Spam Loco Moco
Gomoku Udon (chicken, tempura, vegetables)
Saimin (Hawaiian style noodles with green onion & char siu)
Teriyaki Chicken Noodle
Maui Chicken Chow Mein
Garlic Udon Pasta with chicken
Fried Rice ($3.95-$4.50)
Spam Katsu Musubi
Sesame Chicken or Karaage
Seu Mai Katsu
Potato Macaroni Salad
1975 Potrero Grande Drive
Monterey Park 91755
Mon-Fri 10:30 A.M. 8:00 P.M.
Sat 11:00 A.M. 8:00 P.M.