It was the fish and chips in the 1970s, then the fried chicken, and now it’s the fried noodles pulling people through the door of Mililani Restaurant.
The “small restaurant tucked away in a small strip mall” serves nothing out of the ordinary, but the owners know what their customers are hungry for, said Michael Chan, son of the original owners. “People have come to like the taste of our product. It baffles my mind how much of the stuff we sell! It’s just comfort food.”
Consistency of quality is key, Chan said, and it doesn’t hurt to give massive portions.
These days, the restaurant in the Mililani Shopping Center goes through about 1,000 pounds of saimin every week to make fried noodles. The noodles have been made from scratch for about 20 years, since the Chans purchased their former supplier, AJA Noodles. “That’s why they taste so good,” he said.
“Over the years it became one of those things, customers have grown to love it. It grew into a tradition, like on any holiday, on any special occasion, we have a line out the door.”
Billy and Mary Chan opened their first restaurant in 1974, just a little hole in the wall in Waipahu called Bill’s Fish and Chips.
Partners Alice and Henry Palola have worked with the Chans since those Waipahu days, becoming co-owners when the elder Chans retired some 15 years ago. Michael Chan and his brother Eddie still manage the operation.
The original restaurant did well enough to relocate to the growing Mililani community in 1979, and was renamed Mililani Restaurant. The “Fish and Chips” name no longer fit because his parents had added fried chicken, and it developed a following.
The restaurant hasn’t sold fried chicken in 10 or 15 years, swapping it with chicken katsu, which is easier to make, Chan said. (The fish and chips are still a really good seller, however.)
Over the years, other local favorites were added, then the fried noodles became the starring attraction. The business evolved from a food stand to a dine-in restaurant four times the size of its original Mililani spot, in addition to adding a thriving catering business.
The restaurant employs 35 people, many of whom have worked there for more than 25 years, a factor in the restaurant’s consistency. Even the newer staff averages 10 years of service, Chan said.
The famed noodles are garnished with diced ham, egg and green onions, for $8.99. Add a choice of crispy chicken wonton, eggplant tempura, chicken katsu or teriyaki chicken or beef for $3.50.
The Chans’ noodles retain a firm texture even after being boiled and fried in a wok, so they have the right amount of chew and crispness, Chan said, whereas other types could get soggy after boiling. “You can’t just use any noodles.”
They produce only enough of the noodles for their own use, he said. “It gives us a competititve advantage to make our own.”
Also popular are chicken katsu, teriyaki meatballs, shoyu chicken, and fish and chips, offered as plate lunches with rice and macaroni salad at $10.50 to $13.
The restaurant also sells huge quantities of two kinds of fried rice (Portuguese sausage and char siu) accompanied by two eggs for $10.50. For about the same price, tofu or pork and eggplant plates are also winners, he said.
Recently, the menu was cut by about 20 percent to phase out some Chinese dishes that weren’t selling well, Chan said, because “it’s hard to keep up a big menu.”
He credits much of his restaurant’s longevity to longtime employees who help maintain a consistent level of quality, noting that it’s difficult for small family businesses. “There’s not too many of us around anymore. We have a great community and customer base — we know what our customers like.”
Mililani Shopping Center, 95-221 Kipapa Drive
>> Call: 625-2000
>> Hours: 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays