The New Liliha Bakery
The original Liliha Bakery serves about a dozen people at a time, the new one a hundred. So you can imagine the chaos at the new Nimitz location, which opened just a few days ago. I went to both in one morning, to take in the atmosphere at each. (Spoiler alert: if you think snagging a seat at the original will be easier now, you're not the only one. The original Liliha is as busy as ever. Possibly busier.)
The menu at the new Liliha is pretty much exactly the same as the old. It's basically the only thing that's the same—not only is the new Liliha bigger, but everything that made Liliha nostalgic, even for those who didn't grow up going there, is gone. Food arrives on the heavy square plates you usually find in more expensive restaurants; stemless wine glasses hold water; the green aprons the original Liliha ladies wear has given way to chef's coats. There's still the radioactive red jelly, though for a minute you don't realize it because it's masked in a black plastic ramekin.
Apparently, Peter Kim, who bought Liliha Bakery in 2008, has not gone the Highway Inn route. While the new Kakaako location of Highway Inn pays homage to its Waipahu roots with its red dirt ceiling and black-and-white photos of the original spot, the new Liliha foregoes sentimentality in favor of a bigger and fancier restaurant.
Which, judging from the excitement frenzy, is fine by everyone. Because everyone at the new Liliha—including me—is excited about having another place to get Liliha's incomparable waffles and pancakes, and oh, those butter rolls! Split and buttered and griddled on the flat top—I don't need a faux-retro decor to taste Liliha here. And yes, of course, there are coco puffs, in the extra-roomy bakery.
You may want to give it some time to settle in, though. The original Liliha Bakery's greatest asset was its staff of familiar cooks—aunties to anyone who's ever sat in front of them—who execute a decades-old menu with practiced efficiency. Whereas the fresh-faced cooks behind the counter at Nimitz are new to this—poking beef to see if it's cooked, peeking underneath a pancake to determine when to flip. I say don't go to the new Liliha Bakery now if you want the food you know—go for an appreciation of the years it took to get there.
The new Liliha Bakery, 580 N. Nimitz Hwy., 537-2488