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Nine Things About Zippy’s, Hawaii’s Diner of Choice

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By Amos-Cola Staff

Zippy’s at Mililani Town Center. (Image: Amos-Cola, 2021)
  1. The first Zippy’s opened on 17 October, 1966 on King Street in Honolulu, Hawaii. It has grown to a franchise with 24 locations and is known for Hawaiian comfort food and diner/breakfast fare incorporating Hawaiian, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and American styles of cuisine.
Zippy’s, circa 1966. (Image: Zippy’s official website.)

2. Zippy’s is well-known for its chili. They sell more than 100 tons of it per month. That’s the equivalent weight of four humpback whales. (That’s, like, a lot.) When the franchise first began its growth spurt, Charles Higa (one of the two founders), would transport pots of chili from store to store in his station wagon, which is trés Gidget. Zippy’s chili is a little different from Mid-West American or Texan varieties of chili. One, it’s less hot (Scoville, not temperature). Two, it’s sweeter? Three, texture: not as soupy as mainland chilis but not chili con carne or coney sauce, either. But four, most importantly four, do not order this without a side of rice. For some reason (don’t quote us on this, we’re from the stupid mainland), it only works with rice and maybe a fried egg or two. (You’re also going to want to pepper it to hell, because of the inexplicable sweet component.) (See, you have to be careful with sweetness plus a tomato-type base. If you’re not careful, you come perilously close to ketchup. But we’re not a chef, so, take that with a grain of salt. Or something. But not sugar.)

Okay, so the chili is now available in no-bean, vegetarian, and original varieties. We recommend taking this, the Portuguese Bean Soup, instead of the chili. Any time, every time and without hesitation. (Iced tea optional. See below: Orange Bang!) (Image: Amos-Cola, 2021)

3. Rice? Rice! Speaking of rice, if you’re anywhere in Hawaii and you’re offered rice, take it. I don’t know what magic happens there when they cook it but it’s magic. Brown rice, white rice, fried rice. Just, always order the rice. And at Zippy’s, it’s the perfect side dish to anything there. (We’re partial to omelettes with rice! Who knew?) And frankly, ordering chili or breakfast or whatever, grab rice, a couple fried eggs, and brown gravy. It’s practically the Zippy’s holy trinity.

Zippy’s Omelette with Portuguese Sausage and Cheddar Cheese. And a side of brown rice. Highly recommend. (Better choice? Signature Omelette with Portuguese sausage, ham, celery, onion, tomato, and pepper. Order it with rice too. Possibly add brown gravy.)

4. Macaroni salad, Jello, and pudding. Second only to the eggs-brown gravy-rice Holy Trinity, these three items are also a weird sacred-ish trio at Zippy’s. We don’t know what it is with these three items, but trust us, it’s a thing.

5. Spam. It’s on the menu. And we love that.

6. Beginning in 1983, Zippy’s began adding bakeries to their restaurants. The bakeries are calledNapoleon’s. The most popular product seems to be something called a Napple, which not having tried, we can’t discuss. But we dearly love any restaurant with a bake case. (Perkins, Shoney’s, Baker’s Square. We can’t help ourselves.) The bakes are actually done each day at a primary plant in Waipio, but they’re delivered, also daily, freshly to each of the 24 locations.

Left: Orange Bang at Zippy’s. With straw. Still life. (Image: Amos-Cola, 2021). Right: Orange Bang machine (Image: whateverdeedeewants.com)

7. Orange Bang! Okay. So if you’re us, at Zippy’s, your husband is going to hammer on about an orange drink. You’re probably going to be like, it’s McDonald’s Orange Drink or it’s Fanta or it’s Sunkist or it’s Hi-C or whatever. Then he’s going to say ”It’s Orange Bang” and you’re gonna be all ”that’s a great name” (which it indisputably is). Well, it’s by no means ”Diet” or ”Lo-Cal” or ”Sugar-free” but TRY IT. It tastes like if Tang and Orange Julius (the good old Orange Julius back in the day) had a damn baby. And there’s a reason for all of that: it’s practically an honest-to-God Orange Julius. It (a) is whipped in one of those fountain-y dispensers sometimes, (b) has the following ingredients: orange juice, non-fat milk, and egg whites (it’s only missing the vanilla to make it a true Orange Julius). Remember how Orange Julius kinda sorta went out because of eggs and salmonella and the death of malls and such? Well, Orange Bang company still uses egg whites. And. My God. It’s whippy. It’s tangy. It’s orangey. It’s nostalgic and perfect. (But it’s not diet, goddamn it. And no free refills.)

8. We love the fact that Zippy’s has, historically, always been open for 24 hours. We love, adore, practically worship 24-hour diners (not that you asked). Unfortunately, following COVID and what some term the Great Resignation, as of 2022, hours now vary, depending on location. Let’s all hope that 24 hour Zippy’s (and diners, generally) comes back soon (with a living wage for all, by the way).

9. In 2020, Zippy’s announced that they were going to add a Las Vegas location. (The ”Soon— Las Vegas!” announcement is still up on their company website as of 2022.) Unfortunately, due to COVID, the project stalled. In December of 2020 two news articles (here and here) announced that Zippy’s was considering trying to restart the project. The Zippy’s Las Vegas Facebook page still exists, but seems to be inactive. For our part, Zippy’s seems like a ridiculously, almost-comically perfect fit for Vegas. We hope it ends up there, sorta. There’s also something great about it being Hawaii’s Diner. And only Hawaii’s Diner. But maybe that’s just us.

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