A Funky, Casual Old-time Diner
Friday - April 21, 2006
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Gigi Kim serves up lunch at
This isn’t one for the ladies who lunch. It’s probably not for you either, if the thought of an onion omelet with natto makes you go slightly green. But for all who love fresh fish and for those who seek out the kind of mom-and-pop places that are fast disappearing beneath giant corporate chain restaurants, then Tropics Diner is for you.
At the Ala Moana Farmers Market on Auahi Street, Tropics has been something of an institution for, oh, who knows how long? I tried asking the owners when the diner first opened, and they told me it’s been here “a long time.” And I chatted with some regular customers who all nodded their heads in agreement, “yeah, been here since way back.”
Owned by Glenn Tanoue, the diner is an extension of his family-run Tropics Fish and Vegetable - a grocery store come gourmet poke stop right next door. Tanoue is also responsible for making sure that the freshest fish in Hawaii gets from the morning auction to the tables of Hawaii’s best restaurants, and the grocery and poke store next door.
Go to Tropics for breakfast if you want to get your day off to a filling start. The menu is full of fresh, reasonably priced hearty plates and local favorites. Breakfast meats include corned beef, lup chong, Portuguese sausage, Spam and Vienna sausage, all served with two eggs, white or wheat toast, steamed rice, fried rice or chunky fried potatoes. By far the most popular breakfast at Tropics is the Sashimi Breakfast Plate. For $8.95 enjoy grilled shoyu ahi, Spam, a green onion omelet with a portion of sashimi, steamed rice, miso soup and tsukemono. If you want to show out-of-town guests what breakfast in Hawaii is - bring them here. They’ll love it. Be prepared for the funky décor, though. I’m never sure if they painted the walls a creamy yellow color 30 years ago, or if the white walls have been yellowed by tobacco. Oh, and don’t think about trying to lift one of the bright orange-covered chairs. They may have been made in the ‘50s, but they’re so solid you’d think they were nailed to the floor. There are a few booths along the wall you can slide into if you’d like a little privacy, but the rest of the time just sit down and enjoy. It’s rare you’ll be at this very friendly diner for more than five minutes without someone striking up a conversation.
So, breakfast is great. It’s a real food find, and as long as you can stand the funky décor and the super-casual ambience, then you’re in for a treat. At lunchtime there are a number of specials worth trying. The fish is an obvious choice. I had pan-seared ahi the other day that was as fresh as fish gets. Served simply with white rice and a slice of lemon, it was missing only homemade tartar sauce to make it perfect. Sandwiches, soups, corned beef and cabbage, beef stew, garlic ahi and a host of plate lunches are staples at this uniquely local eatery. Park your car within a glimpse of the multitude of new stores, Mainland chains and movie theaters taking over Victoria Ward Centers, and take a step back in time into Tropics.
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