Kona Kitchen: Ono Grinds in Seattle


Loco moco is not the first thing I’d normally order when breakfasting in Hawaii. Steamed white rice topped with a fried egg and brown gravy sound tasty enough, not so different in concept from an egg benedict really. It’s the ground beef patty that gives me pause, the potential always there for lean and rubbery meat like many a burger. Even the celebrated loco moco from Rainbow Drive-In (Honolulu) failed to impress. It’s not that I don’t like beef patties (I do); it’s just in combination with rice that doesn’t do it for me. Go figgah.

I had lunch at Kona Kitchen recently, which many consider the best Hawaiian restaurant in Seattle. On the menu was the classic loco moco. For lunch, there’s also katsu loco. Instead of ground beef, rice is topped with battered and fried chicken thighs. More than that, you have the option to substitute fried rice for white. Yowza! To me, this sounded much more appealing.

The serving size is hefty. The waiter hinted it would be a challenge to finish. Was he right. Crispy chicken katsu and an over-easy egg sat on a bed of Hawaiian-style fried rice. We’re talking an enormous quantity, an umami bomb of soy sauce-laced rice mixed with little cubes of Spam, barbecued pork and green onions. And that divine gravy! Though the rice is softer than I like, this dish alone should put Kona Kitchen on the culinary map. This couldn’t be better made on the islands.

Mochiko chicken is marinated and sweetened with sugar, batter and fried. Kona Kitchen’s is good, with hints of ginger, served with two scoops of white rice and a very good mac salad. A few nuggets were a bit dry.

Mochiko chicken

The menu also has saimin, that favorite of Hawaiian noodle soups. It also has wonton min that adds housemade wonton dumplings with the noodles, and includes a hard-cooked egg and barbecued pork. The noodles are cooked to the soft stage as Hawaiians like it.

Wonton min

On the menu are lots of Hawaiian faves, including pork lau laukalua pigHawaiian-style beef stew, Spam and Portuguese sausage as ingredients for a number of dishes, Hawaiian sweet bread. It will be tough for me to stay away from the katsu loco though. Fortunately, my daughter lives close by so sampling these other dishes is but a short drive away.

Kona Kitchen
8501 Fifth Ave NE
Seattle, WA
206-517-5662

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Ken’s House of Pancakes (Hilo, HI)


My wife and I wound up eating three times at Ken’s House of Pancakes, near Arnott’s Lodge where we were staying during our time in Hilo. It came up as a local favorite in a couple of sources. Our Mauna Kea tour guide also said it was his favorite place to get saimin.

The fact that Ken’s has been around for over 35 years says a lot about its popularity—“jammin’ since 1971,” as Ken’s is fond of publicizing. It’s one of those places that you sense immediately that locals come here often, even if the corner parking lot can inconveniently be entered only from Highway 19 driving eastbound.

ken's house of pancakes

The breakfast menu is impressive. The first item listed is pancakes, which comes in different sizes and combinations, including island-popular coconut and macadamia versions. And what would any respectable diner be without its signature huge portion-sized concoction? Try their Kilauea, Our King of Stacks: three huge buttermilk pancakes layered with bacon, slab of smoked ham, and topped with two eggs. I can’t end this paragraph without mentioning Ken’s three house-made pancake syrups: coconut (my favorite), lilikoi and guava. They are intensely flavored and just sweet enough, justifiably famous. Other carbofoods include French toast and waffles.

Eggs ’n’ Things include two eggs, rice/hash browns, and pancakes with a choice of standard breakfast meats, but also different kinds of sausages (Portuguese, blood, Vienna, Scottish bangers) or mahi mahi, Spam, ground beef patty, or steak. There are many house specialties too numerous to mention, including snow crab or lop cheung omelets.

For our first breakfast, we split Portuguese sausage Eggs ’n’ Things (☆☆☆), which the kitchen was nice enough to divide for us. A good breakfast, but the fried rice was too soft. The choice for a side of fruit was either canned peaches or fresh papaya. Duh. The ripe papaya was served with a slice of a local lime, which was gigantic.

Portuguese sausage eggs 'n' things with fried egg, buttermilk pancake and fried rice

Portuguese sausage eggs ‘n’ things with fried egg, buttermilk pancake and fried rice

Lilikoi, guava and coconut syrups (left to right)

Lilikoi, guava and coconut syrups (left to right)

We returned for dinner later in the day after spending the day at the Hilo Farmers Market, Queen Lili’uokalani Birthday Celebration, Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, Akaka Falls and Mr. Ed’s Bakery. A customer favorite is Ken’s ox tail stew. Tonight was an opportunity to try the saimin, too.

I don’t know if it’s an island thing, but my preference is for a thinner stew, one that’s not thickened with gobs of flour. Ken’s was very thick and flavored with herbs that were overpowering. All the vegetables—carrots, bell peppers, celery, onions—were cut too large, about 3″, also distracting. Meat from ox tails are always a challenge to free up from bone, and they were no exception tonight. This normally is not an issue with me, but combined with the other annoyances, it was. The stew may be a customer favorite, but it wasn’t mine (☆☆).

Oxtail stew

Oxtail stew

Hawaiians like their saimin noodles soft. Such was the case tonight, as were the wrappers around the wonton. The flavor of the shrimp-flavored broth was quite good, much better than Zippy’s, but the chashu had the off-flavor of having been refrigerated for too long. Overall, not a bad saimin (☆☆½).

Our last breakfast in Hilo was spent at Ken’s because it was close to the airport. One of the specials was a kalua pork hash loco moco served over rice and topped with fried eggs. A great attribute of hash is its crispiness, our preference being the crispier, the better. This quality is not compromised much by corned beef since it doesn’t exude much moisture. Thus, it should’ve occurred to me that kalua pork, which is inherently very juicy, and gravy poured over loco moco are recipes for sogginess. If I didn’t think of it as hash, the dish was still tasty (☆☆½).

Kalua hash loco moco

Kalua hash loco moco

While there was nothing extraordinary we had there, Ken’s is a solid restaurant with a broad menu and good breakfast options. And it has a neighborhood vibe, even at the crossroads of two highways.

Ken’s House of Pancakes
1730 Kamehameha Ave
Hilo, HI 96720
(808) 935-8711

The Loco at Koji’s Bento Korner (Hilo, HI)


Koji’s Bento Korner doesn’t look like much from the outside, has nowhere to sit down inside; it’s take-out only. It kind of reminds me of a country store, not out-of-character for Hilo. Inside, there’s enough room for just a few people to order. Despite all that, locals come here for the Koji loco special: two hamburger patties, three Portuguese sausage slices, fried rice, one fried egg, mac salad and kimchi. My wife and I stopped here for breakfast before heading out to Waipio Valley.

After picking up our order, we had to figure out where we were going to sit. One possible place was across the street at Wailoa River State Park, but the better one was around the corner, a spot graciously offered to us by Paul’s Place Cafe where my wife bought coffee. (Would you believe they even gave us glasses of water while we ate our breakfast?)

Loco moco, or the idea of it (patties covered in gravy over rice), has never appealed to me very much, not helped by the thought of dried out ground beef so common in burgers nowadays. I made an exception today because of its status among Koji’s customers. I’ll be the first to admit his loco moco was quite good. The gravy had teriyaki flavor. More importantly, the ground beef was tender, likely a combination of not being too lean and overly handled. The sausages were of high quality, nicely browned, and not too salty or chewy (like Hawaiian Style Cafe’s). The macaroni salad was one of the better ones I’ve had in Hawaii, the fried rice rather ordinary. The kimchi was typically Hawaiian-style. In short, Koji loco was a winnah (☆☆☆).

Koji’s Bento Korner
52 Ponahawai St.
Hilo, HI  96720
(808) 935-1417

Breakfast at Rainbow Drive-In (Honolulu, HI)


One of the island’s favorite foods is loco moco, a fried ground beef patty served over two scoops of rice, all smothered in brown gravy and topped with two fried eggs. Personally, I find very little to get excited about basically a hamburger without the bun, even with gravy and rice. But, we were standing in front of Rainbow Drive-In which fans say serves a legendary loco moco. Speaking of legends, President Obama was supposed to have frequented Rainbow in his youth. Not one to let food prejudices get in the way of possible enlightenment—once in a while anyway—I ordered a first-time-ever loco moco plate. A single bite was enough to confirm that I was still underwhelmed. Let’s just say it’s a dish that doesn’t appeal to me, regardless of how well it might be made.

Loco moco plate

Loco moco plate

On the other hand, my wife’s fried rice was pretty good, studded with bits of Portuguese sausage and green onions. Some of the rice was nicely crusted from a hot pan—what Japanese call koge—adding to the appeal.

Fried rice with eggs

Fried rice with eggs

We topped off breakfast by walking up a few blocks to Leonard’s to have their heavenly haupia malasadas.

Rainbow Drive-In
3308 Kanaina Ave
Honolulu, HI
808.737.0177 ‎