On the surface, Jackie's Place looks like any other diner serving chicken-fried steak. The regulars sit on stools next to the cash register, the booths are well-worn and comfortable and the servers are efficient and generous with coffee refills.
Once you are seated, quirky touches are revealed. A whole wall is dedicated to photos of bodybuilders, the menu boasts ingredients flown in from Hawaii and diners greet each other like old friends, having eaten at Jackie's for decades.
Jackie's got its start in 1983, when the original owners, Steve and Jackie Miyasato, left Hawaii and opened Coco's on 36th Avenue and Spenard Road. It outgrew that space, moved to its current location and was reborn as Jackie's Place.
The Miyasotos incorporated the island flavors with which they were familiar into the menu. Portuguese sausage, chorizo, loco moco (hamburger and gravy over rice, $9.95) and guava juice ($2.50) became staples among otherwise standard fare. When the Miyasotos moved back to Hawaii in 1989, Judy Johnson took over. Her daughter, Janice Johnson, currently manages the restaurant, and her son, Jason Johnson, is in charge of the kitchen.
Dishes that made the diner popular so many years ago are still available, with Jackie's original recipe for chorizo scramble ($9.95) remaining a favorite. I experienced breakfast envy as I watched my husband dig into a melange of scrambled eggs, jalapenos, onions and flavorful chorizo. He reluctantly gave me a bite, and I savored the combination of spice and richness.
I ordered a classic Hawaiian breakfast of Spam, rice and eggs over easy ($8.50). People scoff at Spam, especially foodies, but I have to admit to a penchant for the canned product. It was salty and satisfying, a meaty alternative to bacon and a natural partner to rice and eggs.
Also on the menu is Hawaiian French toast ($9.50), slabs of airy, sweet Hawaiian bread dredged in egg and grilled. This was a nice departure from the usually saccharine concoction of heavy Texas toast.
For our next visit I tried to order a regular breakfast, which Jackie's has aplenty: eggs Benedict ($9.95), corned beef hash ($9.95), Western omelet ($9). Instead, I went for the Portuguese sausage ($9.75) with rice and eggs. My husband, who is a little lost on the concept of restaurant reviewing, ordered the chorizo scramble again.
My friend ordered the Franciscan sandwich ($9.25) from the lunch menu, and I was glad she did. The sourdough was soft but sturdy enough to hold the carved turkey breast slices, tomato, thick bacon strips and gooey cheese. And no artisanal cheese here, only good ol' melted American would keep this sandwich in one piece and make it taste like the comfort food it was meant to be.
The sausage on my plate, flown from Hawaii, was perfectly crisp and the egg yolks ran freely over the steaming rice. The only thing that would have improved it was a side of kimchi.
We ate until we were stuffed, but Jackie's is also a go-to restaurant for those far healthier than us.
When Steve and Jackie first opened the restaurant, gyms abounded (even more so than now), and a customer suggested that they start making egg-white omelets to cater to that crowd. Jackie's began sponsoring bodybuilders, feeding some of them daily up to three months before a show and posting pictures of their impressive physiques on the restaurant wall.
This will be the first year that Jackie's also sponsors a title -- the 2011 Jackie's Place NPC Midnight Sun Championships, held Aug. 20.
Jackie's is a great amalgamation of Outside influences, local community and family. A little imagination goes a long way with this menu, and its originality has persevered over the years. And after too many chorizo scrambles, there's always the wall of bodybuilders to inspire an egg-white omelet once in a while.
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By Riza Brown
Daily News correspondent