LUNCH PICK: After 25 years, Hino still inspires customer loyalty — and even poetry*
Place: It’s difficult to describe this one-of-a-kind Japanese hole-in-the-wall to the uninitiated. The best I can say is that it looks more like a washed-up underground club than a restaurant, but that the environment feels forgivable when the food is so consistently fresh, comforting, and delicious. If you ask chef-owner Terry Hino, he’ll tell you his restaurant is really an extension of his living room. Surrounded by friends and regular customers, he recently celebrated Hino’s 25th anniversary in Hintonburg.
The Deal: Fridays and Saturday evenings are the popular nights for Hino regulars but, unbeknownst to many passersby (it’s difficult to tell from the outside when Hino is open) Terry cooks a warm, inexpensive, satisfying lunch every day except Sunday and Monday.
The Crowd: Terry is fond of cooking for the guests he is fond of (i.e. not everybody) and therefore most Hino customers appear to be regulars who are no doubt as much fans of the man as of his no-nonsense sometimes-Japanese-fusion fare (think: teriyaki burger or a Cajun chicken Caesar salad).
The Dish: Terry’s wonderful homemade thick shiny teriyaki sauce plays a starring role on the menu — it appears on everything from a warm chicken salad and a sirloin steak to a hunk of fresh salmon and a thick juicy burger. There are a couple of different stir-fries, curries, and a spicy fried dish called “Mad Chicken”.
The Cost: All mains are $10-$14. Soup of the day is $3.
Hino, 1013 Wellington St. W., 613-722-1129. Closed Sunday and Monday.
*The Poem: From the collection “Maple Across The Road and Other Poems” by Tom MacGregor published by Baico Publishing of Ottawa. Reprinted with permission from the author.
Is tired of the clichés.
Sure, as a young Japanese immigrant
He took work
In commercial Japanese restaurants
Where his cooking skills
Of the way he flipped a steak
Or juggled a grinder of pepper.
Never order from the menu.
One asks him what he has fresh
If it’s shrimp or scallops
He’ll fry it in oil
Perhaps with a different sauce.
As he says, “There are no recipes
For the things I cook.”
He’s not selling décor
In his small place on Wellington Street.
The walls are dedicated
To photos of friends
And gifts others thought appropriate
For his fusion style.
Still he is a performer
Complaining about business
Or speaking of a possible girlfriend
While giving orders in Japanese
To the girl at the cash register.
He still flips the meat with flare
And juggles the spices
Without bothering to measure.
This is Hino’s restaurant.
He does things his way
In this new land
Where loyal customers
Like it that way.