Go ‘Big’ at Local-style DinerCover Story
February 18, 2018
Story By: Caroline Wright | Photos by: Anthony Consillio
It’s been almost exactly 20 years since Lane Muraoka first saw the Kaimuki structure that would become his flagship Big City Diner.
The space had housed a Mongolian barbecue eatery for a while, and still had most of its fixtures — including the booths, which were a cheerful shade of red.
“I walked in and saw these red booths,” remembers Muraoka. “I thought, ‘What does this neighborhood need? A family restaurant with a bar, so people can have a nice glass of wine or beer with dinner, without it costing an arm and a leg!'”
That’s the concept behind Big City Diner, the small chain known for delicious local-style American comfort food. Don’t let the name mislead you — it’s a kamaaina company, born right here on Oahu. “Some people think we’re from the Mainland till they come in and see kimchee fried rice, poke, edamame … We have burgers and shakes, of course, but we’re local boys!” says Muraoka, who was raised in Kailua.
Under the direction of corporate executive chef Dennis Franks, Big City Diner’s small kitchens produce a variety of flavors designed to please everybody in the family. The extensive, thoughtfully designed menu includes many dishes made to be rather healthier than standard diner fare. Two of Big City’s locations — Kailua and Windward Mall — have been certified by Blue Zone, a national organization that encourages community well-being, but all six locations offer affiliated healthy menu items.
“For 20 years people have asked if there are chicken nuggets on our menu,” Muraoka says. “We have real chicken breast and chicken wings, so parents have healthier choices for their kids.”
That’s true for grown-ups who dine here, too. Big City was one of the first restaurants in Hawaii to offer egg-white omelets, and at $14.49, its Ultimate Tofu-Veggie Omelet — with ingredients like fresh mushrooms and spinach, broccoli and local tomatoes — is a delicious example of its commitment to healthy choices.
The Fire-Roasted Portabello Mushroom Salad ($12.99), with organic greens, diced Roma tomatoes and ancho-chile dressing, is also a perennial crowd-pleaser. Though not quite traditional, Big City Cobb Salad ($14.99) is delectably complex with smoked turkey, ham, red onions, black olives, roasted corn and avocado.
The restaurant also has just the thing for those who have thrown calorie concerns to the wind: the Mac & Cheese Burger ($15.99). “It’s an all-American cheese-burger, and mac and cheese speaks comfort,” says Muraoka. “We put the two together, and added bacon, and oh, man! It’s like heaven.”
Speaking of heaven: Baby Back Ribs with Big City’s Famous Guava-Barbecue Sauce ($19.99 “not so big slab,” $24.99 “big slab”) are roasted for five hours, until the meat is mouthwateringly tender. “We make the sauce from scratch with a guava base, plus real bacon, onions, red wine vinegar, brown sugar … It takes hours to reduce,” says Muraoka.
By the way, that delicious sauce is now available for purchase at all six locations.
Take some home and add a little Big City to your own favorite recipes!
Make Your Calendar
No diner does it finer! Here’s a listing of Big City Diner’s amazing daily special offers:
Movie Mondays: Enjoy 20 percent off food purchase with a movie stub from any theatre.
Big Game Mondays: Get 50 percent off dine-in pupus from the start of the game till 6 p.m.*
Wine & Canvas Tuesdays: Pearlridge only; call 487-8188 for information.
Twitter Tuesdays: Receive 15 percent off dine-in items with Twitter password.*
Wine & Dine Wednesdays: Receive 50 percent off all bottles and glasses of wine.
Thank-a-Trooper Thursdays: Active-duty military get a 15 percent discount*; $4 Samuel Adams pints.
Kids Eat Free Thursdays: For keiki ages 10 and under
Live Music Fridays: Kailua and Waipio only; great live bluegrass and Hawaiian music
Pau Hana Happy Hour: Monday-Friday, 3-6 p.m. — discounted drinks and patio pupus*
Late Night Happy Hour: Sunday-Thursday, 9 p.m. till closing; Friday-Saturday, 10 p.m. till closing — discounted drinks and patio pupus*
* Additional restrictions apply.