Photo By Thomas Obungen

Old-school diners we love

Wailana Coffee House may be closing, but Hawaii is still rich in nostalgic local comfort food
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Jason Chin and Gregg HoshidaFood is the cornerstone of Jason and Gregg’s friendship. Whether trying to top each other’s Instagram posts (Jason always wins) or trading tips, the topic is almost always cooking, eating or drinking. Music educator Jason’s taste is rooted in his travels and Japanese and Chinese heritage. Sushi, noodles and fried potatoes are his weaknesses. With a job in outside sales, Gregg sees himself as Hawaii’s answer to Japan's hit series “Kodoku no Gurume” and favors sushi, fried foods and izakaya bites. 

As longtime establishments like Wailana Coffee House fade into history, we reflect on favorite local diners where you can slide into your favorite booth and get delicious comfort food just about any time of the day or night. Tripe Stew for breakfast? Pancakes for dinner? Take heart, intrepid readers. Hawaii is still rich in old-school diners.

Liliha Bakery

Pancakes, Coco Puffs and the highly coveted counter seats have made Liliha Bakery’s Kuakini Street location legendary. One bite of one of their breakfast plates, old-fashioned burgers or diner entrees and youʻll know why there are few times there isn’t a wait at this 24-hour spot. People are usually cool about moving over to accommodate other diners. Donʻt skip the butter rolls and that magical neon-pink jelly. We recently ranked their classic loco moco No. 1 in Best loco mocos in Hawaii: Our Top 5.

Must try:  Loco moco, pancakes, butter rolls

515 N. Kuakini St. • Liliha • 531-1651 •

Liliha Bakery
- Photo by Mari Taketa

Tasty Crust

Blink and you’ll miss it. Tasty Crust is tucked away in a Wailuku neighborhood that’s equally industrial and residential, While famous for their pancakes, you’ll find a lot of old-school favorites such as chopped steak and beef tomato. This place is super local and no frills. "Where old friends meet," the menu reads. "Water served upon request. Credit cards not accepted." P.S. Their loco moco tied for No. 2 on our ranking.

Must try: Pancakes, loco moco

1770 Mill St. • Wailuku • 808-244-0845

Tasty Crust loco moco
- Photo by Jason Chin

Ken's House of Pancakes

Getting in late on the last flight to Hilo? Ken’s House of Pancakes, open 24 hours a day, has the comfort plates you crave before going to sleep serenaded by the Big Island’s ubiquitous coqui frogs. Those orange booths, the glass chandeliers, the huge windows that let in Hilo’s cloudy sunlight. Props for waitresses who leave the insulated coffee pot on your table so you don’t have to ask for refills.

Must try:  Omelets (various) and tripe stew

1730 Kamehameha Ave. • Hilo • 808-935-8711

Ken's House of Pancakes
- Photo from Ken's House of Pancakes website

Like Like Drive Inn

Even as big chain stores have popped up all around its home on the Keeaumoku corridor since 1953, Like Like Drive Inn’s iconic neon sign still draws you in for favorite classics. While weʻre seeing a resurgence of Harderʻs Green River at other spots, itʻs been on the menu at Like Like for what seems like forever.

Must try: Fried rice, hamburger, hot turkey sandwich

735 Keeaumoku St. • Ala Moana • 941-2515 •

Like Like Drive Inn
- Photo from Like Like Drive Inn Facebook page

Forty Niner Restaurant

Admit it, weʻve all driven past a thousand times on our way to Pearlridge without stopping to check it out. However, this place has a cult following worthy of their longevity in Aiea — 71 years and counting! They even have some of the original tables and chairs and some of the same original menu items, including the saimin. You’ll be rewarded if you just take that right turn at the light.

Must try: Saimin, hamburger

98-110 Honomanu St. • Aiea • 484-1940

Forty Niner Restaurant saimin
- Photo by Thomas Obungan

Anna Miller's Restaurant

We all wait happily each year for that Fresh Strawberry Pie sign to go up, and for good reason — it’s amazing. It’s also the stuff of childhood memories, since this Anna Miller’s has been around since the 1970s. The Japan-based chain might not have very many restaurants left, but the Hawaii location sure isnʻt hurting for business.

Must try: Fresh strawberry pie, chili, omelets

98-115 Kaonohi St. • Aiea • 487-2421

Anna Miller's pies
- Photo by Thomas Obungen

Kam Bowl Restaurant

We mourned the loss of Kennyʻs. We mourned the loss of Kam Bowl. It seems the powers-that-be brought us a healthy compromise between the owners of the two restaurants, and voila! The famous oxtail soup from the original Kapiolani Coffee Shop's original site where the convention center is now survives! Kam Bowl’s oxtail soup is still the gold standard. Walking in and seeing they havenʻt changed the look gives us all the feels.

Must try: Oxtail soup

Kamehameha Shopping Center • 1620 N. School St. • Kalihi • 841-0931 •

Kam Bowl oxtail soup
- Photo by Eric Baranda

Kuhio Grille

It may not be in historic Downtown Hilo overlooking Hilo Bay, but don't let Kuhio Grille's location in a shopping plaza south of the airport fool you. This unpretentious diner is busy creating its own culinary history with big portions, great local flavors and good value. Did someone say one-pound laulau? The award-winning signature dish is still wrapped and steamed in the kitchen, just the way Grandma Sueno Araki made it back when the family was still farming taro in Waipio Valley.

Must try: Laulau, fried rice, deep-fried chicken skin

Prince Kuhio Plaza • 111 E. Puainako St. • Hilo • 808-959-2336

Kuhio Grille menu
- Photo from Kuhio Grille's Facebook page

Dani's Restaurant

Dani’s is humble and cozy diner of the highest order. First-timers cannot help but feel at home here with an assortment of comfort foods like loco moco (there's even a bacon cheeseburger version), beef stew and laulau and an equally comfortable environment. The restaurant is named after the owners' son Danny, the cook, but spelled Dani's so people wouldn't confuse it with Denny's. Grab a table and enjoy the gentle vibe that's quintessentially Kauai.

Must try: Tripe stew, kamaboko omelet

4201 Rice St. • Lihue • 808-245-4991

Dani's Restaurant
- Photo from Dani's Restaurant Facebook page


Did we miss any of your favorite spots? Share them in the comments below!