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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 18, 2002

Big City Diner blends flavors of past, present

By Matthew Gray
Advertiser Restaurant Critic

Dawn Tsuha shows off big portions of pulehu steak at Big City Diner in Kaimuki. The 12-ounce New York cut is smothered in grilled onions and mushrooms.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

Big City Diner

3565 Wai'alae Ave.


Breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner

Full bar

Catering available

6:30 a.m.-1 a.m. Sundays-Thursdays

6:30 a.m.-2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays

Smoking allowed after 10 p.m.

Visa/Mastercard/American Express

1/2 Good

A certain taste for nostalgia is appropriate when going to a diner. Do you thirst for those innocent days gone by? At Big City Diner in Kaimuki, you will recognize the oldies songs playing while you enjoy food and drink in a bustling, atmospheric, friendly location.

An added benefit to your visit is the opportunity to learn a bit about Kaimuki, a fascinating part of Ho-nolulu. Some quick facts about the neighborhood: Did you know that the first air flight (a glider) from within Hawai'i took off from Kaimuki? Kaimuki was prized by Leahi Hospital as the healthiest spot west of the Rockies for tuberculosis and other pulmonary diseases. Kaimuki was also the first major subdivision in Hawai'i. Check out the fascinating 100-year-old photos of Kaimuki on the walls of the diner.

Leave it to a place like this to turn out super pupu such as the calamari tempura strips ($5.95), panko-coated and fried golden, served on a bed of shredded cabbage, with a spicy-garlic-wasabi-aioli sauce.

The boiled soybeans with Hawaiian spicy sauce ($4.95) were lots of fun and went well with the assorted imported and domestic beers available. The spicy garlic fries ($3.95) have become a phenomenal success, too; I saw a lot of tables with garlic fries on them. The aroma beckons you long before the taste does.

Other pupu treats include flame-broiled New York steak ($7.95) bites topped with green onion and sesame seeds, chilled tofu ($3.95), kim chee ($1.95), and what they call wings over Kaimuki ($5.95) — chicken wings with a zesty-sweet guava-barbecue sauce.

The staff lends a pleasant feeling to Big City, all seeming to have great smiles and happy dispositions as they sing along to many of the songs playing over the sound system. Attitude and energy have so much to do with a place like this, lifting the overall experience to higher levels than if one were considering just the food and drink.

We tried the paniolo chicken salad ($7.95) that features grilled lime-marinated chicken breast strips, mixed with sweet corn kernels, chopped tomato, cheddar cheese, cilantro, tri-colored corn chips and chunky homemade salsa on mixed greens, dressed with roasted ancho chile creamy vinaigrette.

A feature is the half-pound big burgers ($6.50-$8.95 with fries), which serves the charbroiled wonder with choices of cheddar, mushrooms, caramelized onions, bacon, avocado, etc. They even have a meatless burger (Garden of Eden Burger, $6.95) to soothe the sensibilities of your vegetarian friends.

Specialty sandwiches ($7.95-$9.75 with fries) offer some pretty tasty choices. There's a fresh citrus-grilled salmon sandwich ($9.75) piled high with charbroiled lemon-herb salmon, tomato, red onion and lettuce, on a fresh potato bun. Their ultimate grilled eggplant sandwich ($8.95) comes with roasted red peppers, caramelized onion, Jack cheese and roasted-garlic mayo, on a sourdough roll.

The entrees come with choice of rice and either soup or salad. There are choices from Uncle Danny's fried rice ($7.50), to a pulehu steak ($14.95, 12-oz. New York steak) with grilled onions and mushrooms, fresh catch ($13.95), mamasan's monster meatloaf ($9.95) served over sauteed spinach, topped with a roasted tomato sauce. Other choices include baby back ribs ($19.95 for big slab), panko-crusted calamari steak ($10.95), and more.

The knockout punch is the double-choco bread pudding ($4.95/$5.95 á la mode) that you must try. It's gooeyliciously moist and dark chocolate-inspired bread pudding, warmed and drizzled with caramel sauce, topped with whipped cream and garnished with chocolate chips.

After 10 p.m. (when most of the dinner crowd has departed) there is an opportunity to do the karaoke thing if that's your bag.

Big City has a "Treasure Chest" for kids to choose a gift from after they've eaten, which is a nice friendly touch. They are jam-packed for breakfast on the weekends, but during the week you can enjoy your early morning meal beginning at 6:30 a.m.

Reach Matthew Gray at mgray@honoluluadvertiser.com.