Best Hawaiian food spot is 62 years old, @HighwayInn and is still a 'best-kept secret'

Lisa and I had a great dinner at Highway Inn in Waipahu!  We also got to see sisters Monica and Regina, two of the family members. Monica and Regina were hosting a dinner for five of the Highway Inn Scholarship recipients and their parents. If you are in the area, you have to stop! If you are out of the area....make the trip!

After 62 years, 'Highway' is still a 'best-kept secret'

By Khalida DuBose

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Following Bobby Toguchi's stroke in 2003, daughters Monica, at left, and Regina assumed responsibility of daily operations at Waipahu's Highway Inn. Today, the widely popular Hawaiian food restaurant continues to attract patrons from all over the island — and beyond.


Justin R. Dotson photo


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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Bobby Toguchi recently accepted a proclamation award from Mayor Mufi Hannemann.


Justin R. Dotson photo


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This is the first of a three-part series celebrating area businesses that have been in operation since Hawaii's territorial days.

WAIPAHU — For those who crave authentic Hawaiian food, Highway Inn in Waipahu continues to be the go-to place for "a taste of old Hawaii."

"I came all this way to eat at this place because the food is so good. It's ono-licious," said Kalua Dung on a recent day while enjoying lunch at the small eatery. "A lot of people from the Leeward side come here, not just people from Waipahu. I usually tell people, 'Here (Highway Inn) is where you can get some real Hawaiian food,' when they ask me where the best places are."

Dung is not alone in her assessment of the eatery, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary in business. The restaurant — which originally opened in September 1947 and was founded by the late Seiichi and Sachiko Toguchi — is regularly bustling with customers from all over the Hawaiian Islands.

"We have customers from all over the state, but we're still one of the best-kept secrets," claimed Regina Toguchi, vice president and general manager. "My dad always relied on word-of-mouth for business because he comes from a time when people didn't always advertise, which is something I've changed since I came into the company. Now people come in, and they say, 'You guys have been around 60 years, but I never heard of this place.'"

Though some may not know of the restaurant, Regina, Seiichi's granddaughter, believes that fact gives the restaurant appeal.

"We're a local restaurant, where local families for generations have come to eat," she said. "We're not a touristy place that you're going to find in a pamphlet in Waikiki, or a place people are going to know about just from visiting the island."

For its service to the Waipahu community, the moderately priced restaurant was recently recognized by the city, and was presented with a certificate of appreciation for the contributions it has made to the town in the last six decades.

The restaurant's history dates back to Seiichi, who was born in Hawaii in 1914 but raised for a short time in Ginoza-son, Okinawa. At age 14, Seiichi moved back to Hawaii and took a job as a dishwasher in a cafe. With no formal education but a strong desire to improve his economic situation, Seiichi quickly learned how to cook Hawaiian and American foods, and was soon promoted to assistant cook.

In 1945, during World War II, the Toguchis and their three children were interned in a Japanese Internment Camp on the mainland. A year later, the family returned to Hawaii, and Seiichi once again began working hard to regain financial stability. After many attempts to earn enough income to support his growing family, Seiichi decided to open a restaurant.

The original location of Highway Inn was on Farrington Highway. But in 1960, the restaurant was moved to the heart of Waipahu on Depot Road before finally finding a permanent home on Leoku Street in 1984, under the ownership of Seiichi's son, Bobby Toguchi.

In an effort to expand services to its many customers, Bobby added a seafood market — conveniently located adjacent to the restaurant — and catering service to its operation in 2000.

Now in its third generation of ownership, Highway Inn currently relies upon the talents of Regina and her sister, Monica Toguchi, to handle the business' day-to-day operations.

Regina, 28, took on the huge responsibility in 2003 after her father, Bobby, suffered a massive stroke. Monica, 34, desiring to lend a helping hand, recently returned from Portland, Ore., where she was studying for her Ph.D. in clinical psychology.

The local eatery was originally a four-table space with three or four employees on staff. Today, the restaurant has not grown as much as one might expect, in terms of size, but has 14 tables that seat about 54 people and boasts 35 employees.

"This is one of those businesses where our customers know us, and we know them," Monica said. "It's very ohana here, and we're proud of that."

"That was one of my grandfather's wishes — that all people would be able to come together and enjoy real Hawaiian food," Regina added.

Highway Inn -

94-226 Leoku St # B1, Waipahu, HI 96797-1919
(808) 677-4345  Get directions