Ono Grindz at Hawaiian Style Cafe (Hilo, HI)

“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.

specials menu

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 aonori (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.

Seared ahi with wasabi aioli, rice and salad

Seared ahi with wasabi aioli, rice and salad

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 (☆☆☆☆).

Seoul Bowl (spicy poke, Korean fried chicken and kimchi)

Seoul Bowl (spicy poke, Korean fried chicken and kimchi)

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

Hawaiian Style Cafe
681 Manono St.
Hilo, HI 96720

Lunch at Ten Ten (West Covina, CA)



Recently, after completing our shopping at Marukai Market for osechi ryori ingredients, we’d typically have lunch at Rutt’s, a restaurant inside the market near the southern entrance. This was the branch of Rutt’s doing business in Culver City. For some reason, it shut down operation since I was here last December and has been replaced by Ten Ten, a Japanese restaurant.

It took us a little while to adjust to the look of the new place. The dearth of food pictures, which were plentiful when the spot was Rutt’s, didn’t help us decide if we wanted to stay. What few pictures were displayed seemed to suggest that their specialty was donburi, bowls of rice with various savory toppings. As it turned out, it was probably more for marketing purposes because the menu leans more toward sandwiches (with Japanese fillings) and curry rice.

So after overcoming our initial hesitation, we figured we’d give this place a shot. Continue reading

Lunch at Samurai Bowl (Christchurch, NZ)

The September 2010 earthquake forced the closure of many businesses in Christchurch, many of them for good. This is one of the unfortunate consequences of natural disasters. Imagine how much more magnified the problem was for businesses in Fukushima.

Samurai Bowl was a Japanese restaurant with a popular following, especially among Japanese students studying here. It used to be located on Gloucester Street before being forced to close after the September quake. Eventually, the building in which it was located had to be torn down.

A year later, Samurai Bowl re-opened on Colombo Street in new digs, larger than before, and appears to be as popular as ever.

Though not advertised as such, the special Samurai Bowl is a tonkotsu style of ramen. It isn’t deeply porky or milky as the best examples of the broth, but it has nicely balanced, slightly gingery flavors.

Samural ramen

The miso ramen also had a good broth, its eggy noodles having a wonderful texture.

Not as impressive was spicy miso galbi-don. The generous beef chunks were somewhat chewy and gristly and the donburi was over-sauced.

Spicy miso galbi-don

Other customers had other interesting-looking dishes, some of which are on my radar for the next visit.

Samural Bowl
Shop 5/574 Colombo Street
Christchurch, NZ 8011
03-379 6752