Back in the 1970s and ‘80s, I lived in Hawaii for about five years. My stand-by meal, for dinner as well as lunch, was a so-called “plate lunch.” It was typically served with two scoops of rice from mobile lunch wagons parked beside beaches, tourist attractions and the university campus.
It was about that same time that the Kim family opened its first restaurant on the Kona Coast of Hawaii’s Big Island. In keeping with the islands’ rich ethnic mix, the family offered Pacific-influenced dishes such as Korean bulgogi, Japanese yakitori and Hawaiian kalua pork, as well as good old American grilled cheese sandwiches and a New York steak.
Today, Kona Mix Plate is still going strong in the town of Kailua. But it’s under new ownership because the Kim family sold it in 2006 and moved to Bend, where they opened Big Island Kona Mix Plate last year.
Ricky and Sheri Kim are the owners; their daughter, Shinobu Kuga, and Ricky’s mother, Keun Soo Kim, are also actively involved.
For Central Oregonians with Hawaii ties (and transplanted islanders are numerous), Kona Mix is a blessing. For those without island connections, this is a great place to start for Hawaiian food. Located in the former China Wok building in Reed Lane Plaza on Bend’s south side, it is heavy with surfing decor, from boards to autographed posters. Hawaiian music plays in the background, and even the restrooms are labeled “kane” (men) and “wahine” (women).
Kona Mix is a casual place with true island style. Shorts and flip-flops are standard summer wear here. Diners park in the spacious lot, stroll in the door and order at the counter, where they are greeted with a cheery “Aloha!” (You’ll also hear a “Mahalo!” — that’s Hawaiian for “Thank you!” — when you depart.)
You have a choice of nearly three dozen entrees — beef, chicken, pork, seafood and veggie — as well as soups, sandwiches and side dishes. Sit down with a soft drink or a bottle of beer; within a few minutes your order will be delivered to your table.
Every dish is served with two side dishes: rice (two scoops, of course), french fries, a tossed green salad or Grandma Kim’s potato-mac salad. The latter has more macaroni than potato; it’s tossed in light mayonnaise along with bits of celery and carrot.
If you’re hungry, you’ll want to consider a “Mix-It-Up!” combination plate of two or three items. The two-entree combo, at $8.75, is a better value than the three-item mix, at $12.50.
Tender and tasty
One of my favorite items on the menu at Kona Mix is bulgogi, a Korean-style beef dish. The tender meat is sliced thinly and marinated in a garlic teriyaki sauce. Then it’s broiled in the marinade and served on a bed of dry slaw.
Similar is the spicy pork. The flavor reminded me of kimchi, a traditional Korean cabbage dish made with a very spicy chile-garlic sauce. It was sprinkled with sesame seeds and green onion, and was tender and tasty, though I would not recommend it to a person who doesn’t like spicy food.
Those with less adventuresome palates might prefer the kalua pork, although I found this somewhat disappointing. Pork tenderloin was smoked and shredded, then slow-cooked with cabbage. But the flavor was bland: More herbs and spices might have been used in the cooking.
Two chicken plates that I tried were both excellent and the meat very tender. The chicken teriyaki was thinly sliced and broiled, presented on a bed of slaw with a sweet teriyaki sauce. The lemon herb chicken was lightly breaded and sauteed, then sliced into a few large pieces. Portions were more than ample.
Among the seafood dishes, I wish Kona Mix offered more that were not deep-fried. Apart from mahi-mahi, which can be ordered broiled or sauteed, and a vegetable stir fry of broccoli, carrots, onions, zucchini and shiitake mushrooms with bay shrimp, the bill of fare is strictly breaded in a panko crust and thrust in a deep fryer.
Such was the case with the calamari, which came as tender steaks rather than tiny rings and tentacles. They were served with a lemon wedge and a peppery homemade tartar sauce. The breaded shrimp were accompanied by tempura sweet potato and zucchini, but I found the batter somewhat heavy and greasy. It wasn’t my favorite.
Although there’s plenty of sushi in Hawaii, there’s none at Kona Mix. But the restaurant comes close with its ahi poke, which I pledge to try in the future. Raw tuna is chopped and served in a savory marinade that can be mild, medium or spicy.
I also have yet to try the restaurant’s saimin. A hearty soup bowl of noodles in a fish broth, it’s as popular in Hawaii as hamburgers. And, yes, Kona Mix also has burgers.
One dish that I did not order — I never ordered it in Hawaii, either, despite its breakfast-time popularity among big island eaters — is the loco moco. Start with a hamburger patty atop two scoops of rice, cloak it in a thick mushroom gravy and top it with an egg, fried over easy. It’s the least expensive entree on the menu, at $6.75.
Chow (A-): Although dinners are no longer served (except for special events), Chow’s breakfasts and lunches demonstrate chef-owner David Touvell’s flair for creative preparations with the freshest of ingredients. Don’t miss the Dungeness crab cakes with fennel-apple slaw and dill aioli. Service is reliable. Open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day. 1110 N.W. Newport Ave., Bend; 728-0256, www.chowbend.com.
Parrilla Grill (B+): Like a rustic beach hut on a tropical shore, the Parrilla isn’t much on decor, but it serves original gourmet wraps that burst with flavor. Blackened salmon, barbecued chicken and shrimp jambalaya are but three, and the menu also features killer fish tacos. Best of all, nothing is priced higher than two gallons of gas. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day. 635 N.W. 14th St., Bend; 617-9600.
Hunan Chinese Restaurant (B): Although food quality is inconsistent, this clean, bright and spacious restaurant offers a variety of regional Chinese dishes along with friendly, no-nonsense service. Try the lemon chicken or the seafood sizzling platter. Open 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day. 16 N.E. A St., at Highway 97 North, Madras; 475-6559.
Giuseppe’s Ristorante (A-): A short-lived experiment as Bistro Pow behind it, one of downtown Bend’s longest-established restaurants has returned to what it does best: traditional Italian cuisine. Lasagna and chicken marsala have been mainstays of the menu since 1985; crab cakes with a red-pepper cream sauce and Sambuca prawns are house favorites. Open 5 p.m. to close every day. 932 N.W. Bond St., Bend; 389-8899, www.giuseppesofbend.com.