Big Island Kona Mixed Plate

Food: () Entrees have a simple Hawaiian appeal, in best cases enhanced by homemade sauces

Service: () Fast, friendly and casual, with counter orders delivered rapidly to tables

Atmosphere: () Pleasant island-style decor, from surfboards to ukuleles

More Info

Location: 680 SW Powerhouse Drive, Suite 104 (Old Mill), Bend

Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: Hawaiian-American

Price range: Sandwiches $5.75 to $11.25, entree plates $10.75 to $15, combination plates $10.25 to $17.50, soups and sides $2.50 to $9.75

Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa

Kids’ menu: By request

Vegetarian and gluten-free menu: Tofu and tempura plates

Alcoholic beverages: Beer and wine

Outdoor seating: Limited sidewalk area.

Reservations: No

Contact: konamixplate.com, 541-633-7378

For more area restaurant reviews, visit www.bend bulletin.com/restaurants

A nyone who has spent as many as a few weeks in Hawaii knows the “two scoop rice” drill. Offered with plate lunches served from food trucks or casual surf shacks, the ubiquitous side dish — a nod to the islands’ Asian heritage — is far more common than french fries.

Although I was raised in a meat-and-potatoes culture, years of young adulthood in Honolulu turned me into a rice lover. And there are few cafes in Central Oregon where I am as reminded of that time of my life as the Big Island Kona Mix Plate, next to the Regal Cinemas in the Old Mill District.

Surfboards, some inscribed by Gerry Lopez, hang on the walls, near autographed photos of Kailua-Kona surf champion Shane Dorian. Ukuleles and outrigger canoe paddles, flip-flops and kukui-nut leis, photos of hula dancers and paintings of marine life, adorn other walls. The music channel is tuned to contemporary Hawaiian musicians, including Henry Ka’aihue, Amy Hanaiali’i and Israel “Bruddah Iz” Kamakawiwo’ole.

Even the restrooms are labeled “Kane” (men) and “Wahine” (women).

Service is all in the “ohana” (family), as owners Ricky and Sheri Kim employ many of their kin. Counter orders are taken with “aloha spirit” — I would expect nothing less — and delivered to tables, which seat about 35. A few tables are on the sidewalk beside theater lines, but takeout orders are more common.

Kona Mix Plate originated on the Kona Coast of Hawaii’s Big Island. In the 1970s, the Kim family began serving traditional plate lunches portraying the rich ethnic mix of the Pacific state, featuring such dishes as Korean bulgogi (sliced beef), Japanese teriyaki, Hawaiian kalua pork and mahi-mahi, and American grilled-cheese sandwiches.

Soon after Ricky and Sheri Kim moved to Bend in 2006, they opened Kona Mix, relocating in 2010 from South Third Street to the Old Mill. In each location, they maintained the popular and diverse menu and the island decor.

Plate lunches

I’m not going to tell you that everything generated by the Kona Mix kitchen is as “ono” (delicious) as what I once ate on Oahu. In fact, the saimin, a traditional noodle soup akin to Japanese ramen, fell well short of the mark, and was grossly overpriced at $6.50 for a small bowl.

In fact, since Kona Mix Plate moved to the Old Mill, its menu prices have increased across the board between 35 and 55 percent. Overheads and food costs are no doubt partly responsible, but that’s a hefty spike that has lifted the cafe out of the true “budget” category.

In Hawaii, saimin noodles are steeped in a fish stock called dashi, garnished with green onions and kamaboko (processed fish cake), and served with char siu (barbecued pork) or Spam and soy sauce. I suspect that chicken broth was used in the Kona Mix version, as the only added meats were slices of chicken breast, offered with a small sprinkle of green onions. In future, I will go elsewhere for soup.

But the plate lunches returned a smile to my face. In particular, I found the beef, pork and fish selections to be excellent. In all, there are about 30 entree choices, also including chicken and vegetarian, as well as a dozen sandwiches.

Two-item ($12.25) and three-item ($17.50) “mix plates” are the best options, including entrees, sides and (of course!) two scoops of white rice. (If you’re a brown rice person, you’ll get one scoop.) Other sides include fries, tossed green salad and steamed broccoli. I’m a fan of Grandma’s potato-mac salad, macaroni noodles blended in light mayonnaise with potatoes, peas, carrots and celery.

Kalua and teriyaki

Kalua pig is a longtime Hawaiian favorite. Here, of course, the animal isn’t slow-cooked in an “imu,” or underground oven, but the Kona Mix recipe retains a similar smoky flavor. The savory pork is shredded and cooked with cabbage. And a barbecued kalua-pork sandwich, topped with homemade coleslaw, has been a hit among diners.

I also liked the cafe’s beef, which I sampled two different ways — as teriyaki and as Korean bulgogi. In particular, I liked the sweet, house-made teriyaki sauce in which the broiled and sliced steak was tossed. The bulgogi marinade was billed as a homemade garlic sauce, but it was very mild in flavor.

Not so the sauce spread on the spicy chicken, seemingly as an afterthought. Slices of overcooked breast and thigh meat had a chile-based sauce that reminded me of Korean kimchi, even though that condiment did not appear on the menu. I probably would have liked the chicken better in teriyaki.

But the fish was excellent. At least, the market-fresh mahi-mahi was perfectly grilled. Two thick slices were served with tartar sauce and a lemon wedge. It was offered in several forms, including fried and panko-breaded, along with shrimp, scallops and calamari.

Tempura-breaded vegetables were flash-fried in the light, crispy batter that makes them so tempting. Carrot, zucchini, onions, green beans and broccoli spears were all beautifully done.

It’s rare that I’ll like everything served at any one restaurant. But Big Island Kona Mix Plate does enough right that I’ll return whenever I need to rekindle my island spirit.

— John Gottberg Anderson can be reached at janderson@bendbulletin.com.

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