Hollywood’s family-friendly Pono Brew Labs offers a South Pacific twist not only on craft brews, but on typical pub food — all in an easy, relaxed atmosphere.
After six years of creating South Pacific-inspired craft beers, Pono Brewing has opened its first brewpub in Northeast Hollywood — in a space that has a long history of housing pubs. Old World Brewing, Laurelwood Brewing and Columbia River Brewing are former residents of the same spot in the Hollywood neighborhood. Those past public house incarnations give Pono Brew Labs Restaurant & Brewery a lived-in vibe that instantly makes you feel at home. As does the excellent, attentive wait staff.
When my family visited on a Sunday evening, my 10-year-old daughter, Adela, and 7-year-old son, Cruz, immediately noticed pinball machines toward the back of the restaurant. And after we ordered drinks and a starter of Mai’s Filipino beef lumpia ($10), they left our booth to check them out. They excitedly reported that Pono had a four-player Pac-Man game. My husband ended up getting cash from a nearby bank (there’s no ATM inside Pono Brew Labs) and breaking it at the bar so we could play a spirited family bout of Pac-Man (pictured below). Pro tip: Bring quarters or dollar bills. There’s also three pinball machines. And the game area overlooks the giant vats in the brewing room one floor down.
Pono brews its beers at Zoilghaus Brewing in Southeast Lents, and will continue producing their large-batch beers there. But the Pono Brew Labs in Northeast will give the brewmasters a chance to play around and create special, single-batch recipes at the seven-barrel brewhouse.
Pono is known for its fruit-driven beers with a tropical twist. I tried the popular Pineapple Express Kolsch; it’s not overly perfumed with pineapple — it’s a delicious Kolsch with a hint of something extra. And since I hardly finish a beer these days, I appreciated that you can order a half pint of draft beers ($5). Pono also has a long list of house beers and other brews on tap.
The food menu has an Asian- and South Pacific-pub focus — think Kalua pork fries and beef bulgogi cheesesteaks. But lighter, healthier seafood options also dot the menu, something my husband appreciated. He ordered the furikake-crusted ahi tuna with rice and braised bok choy (pictured below, $24). He found some bites of ahi buttery, and a few that were chewy, and he would have like a little more bok choy on his plate. I tried the island-style fried rice with Spam ($13). It was filling, well-seasoned and packed with eggs, carrots, edamame and sweet-salty chunks of Spam.
Adela ordered the Little Pono Burger with fries ($11) from the Keiki Menu for kids. It was a sizable burger and she gave it a thumbs up. And Cruz ordered the kids’ chicken teriyaki with rice and macaroni salad ($9). He said the chicken was as good as the teriyaki at Ate-oh-Ate, one of our favorite restaurants and ate a solid portion of it. (The Keiki Menu also includes grilled cheese and chicken fingers.) Overall our meals were good — but didn’t hit the mark for extraordinary.
After we finished eating we went back to the arcade area to play a little more pinball and gawk at the brewery below. It was such a relaxing place to be, my family just wanted to hang out some more. And that’s the cool thing about Pono Brew Labs, it invites lingering with its hospitable Aloha vibe.