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Revisit Hawai‘i’s Culinary Past with Alan Wong’s Impressive Vintage Menu Collection

The chef has been collecting menus from local restaurants for more than four decades.


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For more than four decades, chef Alan Wong has been collecting restaurant menus. Many are stored in boxes in his office at his flagship restaurant on King Street.

 

He may not browse through his collection of menus very often, but these relics are important to him because they tell the story of Hawai‘i’s culinary history.

 

“If you think about what I teach here, my definition of Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine, the style of cooking I’ve been doing for over 30 years now, I look at the past for inspiration,” says Wong, 61, who has an even bigger collection of old cookbooks. “José Andrés (Spanish-American chef) said, ‘To understand the present you must look to the past.’ And I think that’s true.”

 

His collection runs the gamut from fine dining to casual eateries to grand hotel restaurants. He’s got Don the Beachcomber, The Black Orchid, Bob’s Big Boy, old bi-fold Zippy’s menus back when Zip Min cost $2.10, and one from Flamingo Restaurant with daily specials printed on a mimeograph machine in that nostalgic purple type. He’s even got the menu from The Veranda, where he worked as a dishwasher in 1974.

 

Back then, many of the hotel restaurants were helmed by European chefs. It was common to see such dishes as duck à l’orange, steak Diane and carved rack of lamb Provençale—dishes more familiar to visitors than locals. More ethnic restaurants opened and, by the ’80s, more local chefs were taking over kitchens around the Islands. Wong, who opened The Canoe House Restaurant at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows in 1989, started meeting farmers in Waimea and sourcing directly from them. He got a mesclun mix and strawberries from the Muratas, tomatoes from the Nakanos, lamb from Kahua Ranch and grass-fed beef from a guy he called Cowboy. He was part of a new way of cooking and sourcing ingredients locally.

 

“Back then, if you wanted hearts of palm because you saw it on a menu on the Mainland, they were only available in cans,” he says. “Slowly, though, it started to get better, one ingredient at a time, one farmer at a time.”

 

There is one menu he’ll never get his hands on: Kūhīo Grill’s, where the old Varsity Theater used to be. “Never have menu,” he says, laughing. “You would just sit down and drink and they would bring pūpū to you and not charge you. You paid for it in tips. I wish that place was still open.”

 

Bob’s Big Boy

Bobs Big Boy menu

Click on the photo to enlarge the menu.
Photos: David Croxford


Bob’s Big Boy, a restaurant chain that started in Southern California, first opened in Māpunapuna in 1975, with its famous double-decker burgers that cost $1.10. A fire forced the O‘ahu’s restaurant’s shutdown in 2009, but it was recently reborn as Bob’s Big Bear Restaurant in Kalihi, with a similar double-decker burger that now costs $7.95.

 

Zippy’s

Zippy's menu

CLICK ON THE PHOTO TO ENLARGE THE MENU.


Everyone’s got a favorite Zippy’s memory. This bi-fold menu from the ’70s features the prime burger ($1.30, now $4.70), spaghetti with its famous chili ($2.05, now $8.20) and the Zip Min ($2.10, now $7), with wonton, sweet pork and shrimp.

 

Café Flamingo

Cafe Flamingo menu

CLICK ON THE PHOTO TO ENLARGE THE MENU.


The Nagamine family first opened Café Flamingo in 1950 near Ala Moana before opening several more, including the popular Kapi‘olani location, which closed in 2008. The specials from 1974, printed via mimeograph, fried calf’s liver, stewed prunes and a broiled lobster tail—with fried rice!—for $8.45.

 

Maiko

Maiko menu


Genghis Khan steak was a real thing. (The ruthless Mongol is also credited for inventing the hamburger back in the 13th century.) The steak marinates in a salty, sometimes spicy shoyu-garlic sauce before grilling. This was a popular style of barbecue in northern Japan.

 

Like Like Drive Inn

Likelike Drive Inn

Click on the photo to enlarge the menu.


Good luck finding lobster tail—or any meal for $6.05—on the menu these days at this 64-year-old, family-run restaurant on Ke‘eaumoku Street. Likelike’s famous chiffon pie (then 65 cents, now $4.30 a slice) is still on the menu today.

 

The Black Orchid

Black Orchid menu

CLICK ON THE PHOTO TO ENLARGE THE MENU.


When Restaurant Row opened in 1988, the buzz was all about The Black Orchid, an upscale restaurant once jointly owned by actors Tom Selleck and Larry Manetti and Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen. It was the place to impress your date, famous for its black and blue ‘ahi that broke the wallet at $12.95. (That’s $27.29 in 2017 dollars.) The restaurant was sold in 1992.

 

The Canoe House

Canoe House menu

CLICK ON THE PHOTO TO ENLARGE THE MENU.


Wong opened The Canoe House Restaurant on the Big Island in 1989 and, before it was trendy, he started to source locally. Even then, he identified where he got his ingredients, from the Puna goat cheese to the oranges from Ka‘ū. His efforts helped lead to the creation of the Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine movement and the rest is cuilnary history.

 

Roy’s Nicolina

Roys Nicolina menu

Click on the photo to enlarge the menu.


This anniversary menu for the now-defunct Roy’s Nicolina in Lahaina was, Wong says, the start to the Hawai‘i Food & Wine Festival, now in its seventh year. Roy Yamaguchi, one of the festival’s co-founders, would invite guest chefs to cook at his anniversary dinners at his restaurant. It’s similar to what the festival does now. 

 

READ MORE STORIES BY CATHERINE TOTH FOX

 

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