“What’re your most popular dishes here?” I asked the waitress.
“Everything’s good on the menu. It doesn’t matter what it is.”
Normally, I would throw away an answer like that. In this case, the restaurant is Hawaiian Style Cafe in Hilo. I wasn’t so quick this time to disregard it because Travel & Leisure Magazine voted its pancakes among the best in America and because the restaurant has been a hit among locals for some time. It’s been in operation since only 2011, but you’d never know it when you first walk in, exuding an atmosphere of having served satisfied local customers for a long while. Because of its location on Manono Street, it doesn’t attract the casual tourist who may be sightseeing around the main part of Hilo around Lili’uokalani Gardens. It turns out I also had the original Kamuela (Waimea) restaurant on my list of possible eating spots if we visit the North Kohala area.
When we first got to Hawaiian Style, we stared for the longest time at the sandwich board outside.
These were only the specials!
The regular menu is impressive in its own right. Just perusing the breakfast list is enough to make you want to come back. Suffice it to say that all the standard Hawaiian items are on it, including the famous pancakes, pork chop and eggs, omelets which any of four meats (the cafe makes its own Portuguese sausage), chicken fried steak and loco moco. Its most daring breakfast entrée is something called the Mok-a-Saurus, a dinosaur-sized plate of Spam, chicken cutlet, kalua pork, hamburger patty and two eggs on top of fried rice, smothered in plenty of gravy. And one other highly regarded item is kalua hash (served with two eggs and fried rice). This is a serious eating place, more for gourmands than gourmets, anathema to the yogurt-eating crowd. Anything on the menu is served all day, announced the waitress.
It took a while for my wife and me to decide what we wanted. The first roadblock we had to get past was the enormous portion sizes. “We don’t want you to go away hungry,” another waitress beamed. The quandary was reconciling the conflict between quantity and wanting to try different things on such an interesting menu. We wound up ordering seared ahi and Seoul Bowl, both from the specials menu. We would leave behind much of the rice if we had to (and we did have to), two scoops with the ahi and a big bowlful that came with my Korean-inspired dish.
The tuna, sprinkled liberally with a nori (seaweed) and sesame seed (both black and white) furikake, was cooked perfectly, a remarkable feat to sear the outside while keeping the inside moist in fish sliced a half-inch thick. A similarly prepared ahi we had at Eggs n’ Things last year was in fact overcooked though tasty. Even if my wife would’ve preferred furikake coverage on the concealed parts of overlapping slices, she praised the fish (☆☆☆½), dressed with a subtle wasabi aioli. Instead of a mac salad that came as a side, she chose a dinner salad, another way to cut down on the carbs.
Seoul Bowl is actually a donburi, the best tasting one I’ve had since Sawa Tea in Vancouver (now closed). Spicy and sesame oil-coated ahi poké, Korean chicken wings (dakgangjeong) and avocado were served on rice, scattered with lots of flavorful furikake and green onions. The tuna was faultlessly fresh (as you’d expect in Hawaii) and the wings were heaven itself, supremely crispy, moist, a tad too sweet and salty. An outstanding donburi (☆☆☆☆).
It would be easy to come back here for dinner (or lunch) if it weren’t for the fact that there are so many other places to eat in Hilo. Hmm, breakfast could be another matter.
Hawaiian Style Cafe
681 Manono St.
Hilo, HI 96720