By Nicole Monton
For more than two decades, Big City Diner has been entertaining guests with great local eats in a casual dining environment led by a superb staff that always puts the customer first. It’s a model that’s worked so well, that after opening its first location in Kaimuki back in 1998, restaurants in Kailua, Waipio, Pearlridge and Windward Mall followed in succession, and have quickly gained a steady fanbase among regulars for the stellar food and friendly service.
“It’s kind of like Cheers, like your home away from home,” said owner and president Lane Muraoka.
The staff — whether in the kitchen, doing dishes, serving food or tending bar — has an overwhelming sense of connectivity with guests, which is why many regulars have become like family.
“Over the course of 10, 15, 20 years, they nurture these relationships with customers,” Muraoka explained. “People come in, sit in the same seats or booths. We watch their families grow. We hear stories of their families. The kids come in with grandpa and grandma, and then they’re in high school and college, and then they come back with their own kids. It’s great to see that cycle of life and family.”
The restaurant has been serving up comfort food before it was in fashion, and many local faves are tailored for health-conscious eaters wanting something hearty and filling — gluten-free, heart-healthy and vegetarian meals — that are good for them, too.
“We say it’s like the food Grandma used to cook, but only better — sorry, Grandma,” Muraoka added.
Popular on the menu across all locations is “The Original Really Loco, Loco Moco” that comes with two fresh island eggs atop a hamburger patty and white or brown rice — smothered in brown gravy and caramelized onions. Want to eat it like the locals do? Upgrade the rice to “Grandma’s Incredible Kimchee Fried Rice.”
Now that it’s Lent, patrons can opt for dishes featuring fresh fish straight from the auction block.
“You can have it throughout the day, like fish and eggs, a fresh fish sandwich, have it on your salad, like a Caesar salad with fresh fish,” said Muraoka.
No matter what the table orders, though, expect it to be cooked and served with family-style aloha.
In fact, that’s one of the most important things Muraoka looks for in potential hires, whether they’re looking for a frontor back-of-house position.
“We can always teach skills,” he said. “We are in the hospitality business, and that smile makes people feel welcome. Even in the kitchen, you have to have that sense of pride in what you do.”
Indeed, across Big City Diner’s five locations, there are a core group of people who have been there since the beginning and continue to love what they do.
“It’s wonderful to see that bond they have at each of the restaurants. We appreciate their loyalty and service and teamwork,” Muraoka said. “They look out for one another and take care of each other, and that relationship between the team is key.”
Fans of Big City Diner’s ono eats can order takeout and delivery service from 10:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Saturday-Sunday at the Kaimuki, Kailua, Pearlridge and Waipio Center locations only. According to Muraoka, guests can place their orders by calling the restaurant nearest them or choosing their favorites online at bigcitydinerhawaii.com. Just call when you arrive for curbside order pickup — or, order through Bite Squad.