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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 15, 2010

Patti's Chinese will be missed

By David Shapiro

Landmark local businesses are falling at an alarming rate in this biting recession, and I was especially sorry to hear that Patti's Chinese Kitchen is closing its last local eatery at Pearlridge at the end of the month.

Patti's flagship restaurant at Ala Moana Center closed two years ago, and outlets at Windward Mall and Kahala Mall are also long gone.

The first Patti's was opened by Calvin Chun in 1967 in the Diamond Head wing of Ala Moana Center around where Ritz Camera is now. When the food court was built where the old Foodland used to be, Patti's moved in as one of the anchor tenants.

The restaurant was among the first to serve cafeteria-style Chinese plate lunches that offered fast service at reasonable prices; plates started at 69 cents when Patti's first opened, and the manapua were filling and cheap.

The food was fresh, tasty and relatively light on the grease that made many Chinese fast-food places difficult to stomach.

Patti's was unlike anything we had in Hilo, and whenever we visited Honolulu as poor college students, it was a must-stop along with Lyn's Delicatessen and Shakey's Pizza — which, it turns out, will soon be returning to Hawai'i after a decadeslong absence.

When we moved here to finish school at Mänoa, we'd eat at Patti's a couple of times a week just to get some decent vegetables in our low-budget diets. It became a serious comfort food in our family over the years.

Many of my neighbors have the same sense of nostalgia about reports that the Don Quijote in Kailua will soon give up its space to the retailing giant Target, but I'm not feeling the loss on that switchover.

Don Quijote only took over the spot a few years ago from Daiei, which I was still calling Holiday Mart out of habit.

The Don Quijote brand just doesn't have Patti's longstanding roots in the community, or its hold on the local psyche. Numerous other Chinese fast-food stands have opened since 1967 built on the Patti's model, but many lack the good vibes and consistent quality of the original.

In recent years, local tastes seem to have shifted more to the Northern Chinese cuisine served up by franchises like Panda Express over the mostly Cantonese-style offerings of Patti's.

There's no question you can get a good vegetable fix at Panda, but Patti's was a local institution and an old friend that will be missed. Beef broccoli just won't be the same.