Bellevue’s first ever Filipino-Hawaiian restaurant brings new cultural food to the community

Tiffany Domingo, Reporter

As someone who was born in the Philippines, I grew up eating Filipino food everyday. Having moved to Nebraska, I have always “preached to the choir” about needing a Filipino restaurant around Bellevue. My dream finally came true on Saturday, Jan. 12 when Ono Pinay Kitchen had their grand opening. The new restaurant is Bellevue’s first restaurant featuring Filipino food. Feeling intrigued and ecstatic about the restaurant’s opening, I decided to check it out.

The restaurant is family owned and is managed by Maria Villegas, along with her husband and children. Villegas was born in Hawaii and moved to Nebraska. She and her family decided to open the restaurant mainly for the Filipino-Hawaiians who miss home cooked meals, but also to introduce and educate the Nebraska community to the cultural food.

I was a little overwhelmed when once I walked inside. The place was packed with curious customers who all looking very eager to eat their first Filipino food. I instantly noticed how small and tight the place was. Tables and chairs were squeezed into every space possible. There were a few tables outside, but due to the current season we are in, no one dared to sit there.

Even through the busy environment, the hostesses and waiters remained calm and presented a positive attitude. They were helpful with all the customers, and answered every question about the food.

All the food served is homemade, and is cooked by Maria Villegas herself. Though the menu has quite a small selection of four main plates, it introduces the classics of Filipino-Hawaiian cuisine. They serve chicken adobo and pancit noodles, which is every Filipino child’s meals. But they also bring out kalua pork and spam with furikake rice, which are common Hawaiian dishes. Those four plates are served daily, as well as snacks, pastries, and drinks. The chef also offers two “specialty plates” that are different every day.

When I ordered my food, I stuck to what I knew and got chicken adobo so I could better compare it to what I get at home. I also bought a Philippine-brand mango juice to compliment my meal. The food was served in a styrofoam “to-go” box, and when I opened it, I wanted to melt in my seat. Steam was coming out of it, and it was like cartoon steam where it slowly travelled up your nose, and filled up your nostrils with the aroma of the meal. The food overfilled the box, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it didn’t really give off an appealing look. But in my experience, Filipinos don’t care about how the food looks–if it’s good, eat more.

The chicken adobo was so tender and juicy. Chicken adobo is comprised of soy sauce, vinegar, black peppercorns, and bay leaves. Ono Pinay Kitchen’s had the perfect balance of sweet and salty. It was like how my mom makes it at home, but with the chef’s own special touch. As a true-born Filipino, it was exactly what a chicken adobo is supposed to taste like. The meal also came with lumpia. Lumpia is a Filipino eggroll, and like french fries in America, you will get lumpia in almost every Filipino restaurant. Biting into their lumpia was satisfyingly crunchy, but that was all there was to it. It was all-right, but I could also be biased against that because my mother has the best lumpia recipe I’ve ever tasted. Pancit also came as a side, and pancit is just the Tagalog (the Philippines language) word for noodles. And again, it was good, but not as good as my mom’s. But if I were someone who has never tried it before, it would be a totally different review.

Ono Pinay Kitchen is only open Monday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. They’re closed on weekends because the owner caters for private parties. It’s disappointing when you’re a high schooler, but the purpose of this is to get more business during the lunch hour, especially for the military since the restaurant is so close to the back gate of the Offutt Air Force Base. The restaurant does plan to expand their hours once the weather starts to get warmer.

Ono Pinay Kitchen is located at 2221 Madison St., right across the street from Dairy Queen and Kwik Shop in Olde Towne Bellevue.