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Bright Lights, Big Appetites, Big City Diner
Cover Story

Bright Lights, Big Appetites, Big City Diner

Story By Alana Folen Photos By Lawrence Tabudlo
October 23 - 29, 2011

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Travel to any thriving metropolis such as New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco, and there you’ll find a multitude of ethnic dining options to satisfy your palate. Oahu, with a population of close to 1 million, also is renowned for its blissful array of cuisine that spans all continents, tastes and backgrounds — it’s really no surprise that the plethora of culinary masterpieces is endless. And as a culinary metropolis all its own, patrons can’t seem too get enough of Big City Diner, a hub for all things ranging from burgers to salads, local favorites and more that cater to each and every appetite.

  • The BIG Sundae ($7.99)
  • The Really Loco, Loco Moco ($9.99)
  • The BIG Burger ($11.99)
  • B.C.D. Famous Samurai Li Hing Mui Margarita ($6.95)
  • A wide variety of beers are available from dark to light.
  • Thai Beef Salad ($10 weekly special)
  • Malibu Chicken Sandwich ($10.99)
  • Fire-Roasted Portobello Mushroom Salad ($10.99)
  • (from left) President and owner Lane T. Muraoka, server Chris McDonald, manager Maria G. Esteban, manager Kit Nagelmann and server Rona Tam
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Dining Out recently paid a visit to Big City Diner’s Pearlridge location where we met with president and owner Lane Muraoka and his friendly B.C.D. ohana over gigantic portions of unrivaled cuisine. As we sat on the patio, escaping the afternoon rush that bombarded the dining room, Muraoka accounted the many highlights of this premier establishment since its founding in 1998.

DO: How did the idea for Big City Diner come about?

Muraoka: Basically, we were looking to see what was yet to be offered in Kaimuki at the time. We liked the convenient location, but we wanted to offer something different that wasn’t already being done at restaurants around the area. We wanted to open a family restaurant that had a bit of a sports bar feel. Our Kaimuki location is in close proximity to the University of Hawaii and Chaminade, and we wanted people to come in before or after the games to enjoy the camaraderie and the food. Diners also can watch the game on our many televisions.

We currently have five locations island-wide. We opened our first location in Kaimuki in 1998, and our Pearlridge eatery is our newest location that we opened in 2007. You’ll also find us in Kailua, Ward and Waipio.

DO: Today, you can find pretty much anything and everything your heart desires on the menu. Initially, what was the concept of Big City Diner? Was it primarily a burger joint?

Muraoka: Well, burgers were one aspect of it — we knew it was critical — but we also wanted a healthful aspect to the menu that offered salads, sandwiches and entrees, and, of course, breakfast.

DO: What would you recommend off the menu in terms of a salad?

Muraoka: I’d highly recommend the Fire-Roasted Portobello Mushroom Salad ($10.99) featuring savory, sliced Portobello mushrooms on a bed of organic greens, chopped romaine, diced Roma tomatoes and sweet red onions.

It’s then topped with croutons, imported Parmesan, red onion rings and fresh lemon, served with Ancho-Chili dressing. Also, you will find the Thai Beef Salad on the menu that is sometimes offered as a weekly special for $10.

DO: Delicious. Burger fanatics will be happy to know that burgers are a specialty here. Sandwiches as well, correct?

Muraoka: Yes. All of our burgers are 100 percent lean ground steak half-pound patties, cooked medium, and are served with skin-on fries, lettuce, tomato, onion, a dill pickle spear and mayo on a fresh potato bun. The BIG Burger ($11.99) is a classic, as it’s charbroiled with Cheddar cheese, caramelized onions, bacon and California avocado.

As for sandwiches, a top-pick is the Malibu Chicken Sandwich ($10.99) with tender, flavorful chicken, fresh sauteed mushrooms, Jack cheese, California avocado with roasted garlic mayo, served on a whole wheat bun.

DO: Rumor has it that Big City Diner has a loco moco that can’t be beat. Is this true?

Muraoka: Yes! The Really Loco, Loco Moco ($9.99) features hot rice (kim chee fried rice is available for an additional price), topped with a half-pound hamburger patty and a farm-fresh egg, smothered in brown gravy and caramelized onions. It’s very tasty!

DO: Most importantly, what about desserts?

Muraoka: We have a variety of desserts, but a popular option is The BIG Sundae ($7.99), presenting diners with three scoops of Bubbies famous vanilla bean ice cream topped with chocolate and caramel sauce, Oreo cookies, whipped cream, mac nuts and chocolate chips. You also can order a “Not So Big” single scoop sundae for $4.29.

DO: Big portions are a guarantee at Big City Diner.

Muraoka: Of course! We don’t want anyone to leave hungry and we want to make sure people get their money’s worth. However, even though our portions are large, we do have a very healthful aspect to our menu — we can cater to vegetarians as well as those just opting to be healthy. For example, you can order a garden burger and ask for a poached egg or egg whites versus a fried egg. We do offer brown rice, and a lot of customers take advantage of that.

DO: It’s evident that there’s something for everyone here. Yes?

Muraoka: Most definitely. Our goal is to please our customers, and in fact a lot of our menu options have evolved from requests or suggestions from diners here or our employees. If you have a party of 12 and you have everyone from grandma and grandpa to a little 2-year-old, everyone at that table will be able to find something that they want to eat. We really pride ourselves on the keiki menu.

DO: When people think of Big City Diner, what is the first thing you want to come to mind?

Muraoka: When people think of us, I want them to think warm, welcoming and comfortable. Customers can come in straight from the beach or straight from work. If you were to look at our spread of customers, we have senior citizens having breakfast and coffee, who may be sitting next to politicians discussing things happening in the state, and then we may have tourists from California who just finished a morning surf session at the beach.

DO: Promotions and specials are going on all the time here. Does this draw in a big crowd?

Muraoka: Oh, definitely! We have a Go Bows promotion. It’s a joint venture with the University of Hawaii’s athletic department to get more fans in the stands. If they go to the game, they can bring their ticket stub within 30 days of the date to be redeemed after 9 p.m. nightly. If you buy one entree you get 50 percent off the second entree with the purchase of two beverages. Regarding specials throughout the restaurant, we have Big Game Mondays, Twitter Tuesday and Military Appreciation ‘Thank a Trooper’ Thursday, to name a few.

DO: Big City Diner is very active in social media. Tell us about your experience with Facebook and Twitter when it comes to promoting your eatery.

Muraoka: Through social media (such as Facebook and Twitter) we’re able to post different specials, and I think it’s definitely extended our relationships with our customers. Twitter and Facebook target a whole new community of people, especially with Twitter Tuesdays. People can follow us on Twitter @BCDLane and @BigCityDiner. They also can find Big City Diner on Facebook.

DO: What can people expect from the extensive bar?

Muraoka: Our smaller restaurants (Kailua, Kaimuki and Ward) have five to six taps. The newer locations (Pearlridge and Waipio) have 12. From there we offer 10 varieties of beer and 10 varieties of wine, and 25-ounce tiny beers. Our bar is open from 7 a.m. And when it comes to our drinks, the B.C.D. Famous Samurai Li Hing Margarita ($6.95) is a signature item made with Jose Cuervo Gold Especial. The locals love it!

DO: Big City Diner provides catering services as well, correct?

Muraoka: Yes, we do islandwide catering based out of our Pearlridge location, and we can provide our customers with anything from hundreds of little bentos to a full-on spread complete with a bartender, full-service waiters and waitresses, and we’ve even cooked at people’s homes. We’ve catered weddings, birthday parties — practically everything from A to Z. We also do home deliveries.

DO: The restaurant has garnered much success over the years. You must be proud.

Muraoka: Yes. Our employees, management and customers are wonderful to work with and have really contributed to our success, especially Rob Nitta, managing partner of the Kaimuki and Ward locations. It’s really like a family here. During Christmas time, our regular customers bring presents and treats for our employees. We love to see our customers come in as children and years later bring children of their own to dine here. We even had one couple bring their newborn baby to the restaurant, straight from the hospital! It’s amazing that we have that connection with our customers.

DO: Where do you see your establishment headed in the near future?

Muraoka: We’re looking at opening more locations, so people can be on the lookout for that.

Big City Diner

  • Where
    • Kaimuki
    • 3565 Waialae Avenue
    •  
    • Kailua
    • 108 Hekili Street
    •  
    • Ward
    • 1060 Auahi Street
    •  
    • Waipio
    • 94-800 Ukee Street
    •  
    • Pearlridge
    • 98-211 Pali Momi Street
  • Call
    • (808) 738-8845 (Kaimuki)
    • (808) 263-8880 (Kailua)
    • (808) 591-8891 (Ward)
    • (808) 678-8868 (Waipio)
    • (808) 487-8188 (Pearlridge)
  • Hours
    • 7 a.m. – 10 p.m.
    • Sunday – Thursday
    • 7 a.m. – midnight
    • Friday – Saturday
  • Website