kruizing with kikukat

Monday, October 24, 2011

Restaurant Chatter: Miyo's

entry way with kissing fish
Work sucks.  Anyone else feel the same way?  Maybe the problem for us is that we actually care about doing a good job.  We care what others think.  We get frustrated when others make the shittiest, bone-headed decisions.  Thats why I'm very grateful for my weekends.  Weekends give me the break I need to recharge and be strong enough for the bullshit of the week.  Weekends are also the time to go out for leisurely meals.  One of my favorite places in Hilo which has withstood the test of time is Miyo's.

The Hilo I know has a reputation as a business deathbed.  With the exception of anchors Macy's and Sears, the stores in Prince Kuhio Plaza change often.   Restaurants, both locally owned and national restaurant chains, have often met the same sad fate.  But one local restaurant, in spite of a bucket load of odds against it, has managed to survive while others have failed.  Miyo's Restaurant, located in the Waiakea Villas complex, just five minutes away from General Lyman Field (Hilo Airport), seems to have cheated death in Hilo.  So how did this hole-in-the-wall manage to brave tough times in such a hick little town?

For starters, lets look at why Miyo's should not have survived.  The location, while seemingly convenient, has had a history of economic failure.  What began as a Sheraton property has deterioriated to something resembling tenement housing.  It is on the edge of this complex that Miyo's took up shop on the second floor of a dark, dimly lit building without handicap access.  Bathrooms are located downstairs, which means diners will need to descend a steep staircase and go further into the bowels of the building.  Local talk is that the bathrooms are haunted by spirits, no doubt casualties from the tsunamis which have inundated the area.  Miyo's is also understaffed and hopelessly crowded.  On a Friday evening, be prepared to be bumped by other diners making their way to their tables.  And if you are like me and have a major gecko phobia, going to Miyo's at night is out of the question.

tonkatsu & tempura
In spite of all this stacked against them, Miyo's has thrived for at least 15 years.  Perhaps Miyo's hit upon a timeless formula for staying afloat:  know your clientele.  Hilo is as "old school" as it gets.  Hilo people love consistency.  They like going to places where they know the menu will not change drastically, both in offerings and in prices.  The menu at Miyo's has expanded over the past two decades, however the same items on the menu in 1995 are still on the menu today.  While the prices are different, Miyo's has raised prices gradually over the course of time, masking any price gouging.

When Miyo's opened, the signature dish was sesame chicken.  Its still on the menu, and it is impossible to recreate at home, as the ingredients in the sesame sauce are indistinguishable.  I ate it all the time, until I decided to try other things.  I like the fried oysters, sauteed salmon, broiled saba, tonkatsu and sauteed eggplant.  Most of the plates come with a mound of fresh veggies, and if you request it, you can get the mayonnaise-based sesame dressing (on my to-do list of things to try and recreate at home).  Kids eat the same thing all the time:  miso soup (wakame only) and rice and tempura udon. 
Every diner receives a dish of pickled vegetables.
Salads at Miyo's are beautiful and have a variety of vegetables.
vegetable curry
sauteed salmon & vegetable tempura
sauteed eggplant
a happy diner
Recently, there have been rumours about Miyo's closing and relocating.  While those rumours may actually have been true at one time, a source close to the restaurant tells me they have decided to stay put, until they actually have somewhere to move. Whew!

And a final word of warning to those who are like me (gecko-phobic):  add Miyo's to your list of places to avoid at night (yup, add it right next to Seaside).  There are fricking disgusting lizards everywhere!  So if you find yourself ono for Miyo's on a Friday or Saturday night and don't have any reservations, consider yourself lucky and don't despair.  Miyo's will happily do take-out.  No having to wait (even if you have a reservations), no having to wind your way through a maze of chairs and tables, no having to share your table with diners you don't even know, and best of all, no lizards running over your foot or across your arm!

January 2013 Update:  Miyo's has reopened in a different location.  They are no longer gecko-infested, but going there requires much patience on the part of diners.  The new restaurant is much larger than the previous location, although diners are still cramped in there like sardines.

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