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Lili’s Restaurant & Bar proves to be a hidden gem

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Lili’s Restaurant & Bar isn’t new to the Reno food scene. New owners took over about six or seven years ago, keeping most of the menu but adding an island menu to its repertoire. So why I haven’t heard everyone I know raving about its good food hidden in Franktown Corners is beyond me. 

Missing Hawaii (and its cuisine) post-vacation, I sought Hawaiian fare in Reno and stumbled across Lili’s. I hadn’t heard much about it, honestly, but the reviews were good, so I decided to give it a try. It ended up being one of those places where you leave and can’t wait to return. You know, the place where you’re full but keep shoveling fried rice into your mouth anyway.

The food at Lili’s is exquisite. There is a huge menu of salads, sandwiches, burgers, etc., that I can’t (yet) speak to, but that’s because the island menu drew me in. And when I say it transported me back to island life, I’m not fooling you.

The island menu isn’t just a few trademarks; it’s more than 20 entrees and island specialties featuring everything from spam musubi to an ahi poke bowl. There are cheesesteaks and teriyaki sandwiches, pulehu steak with onions and plenty of gogi (a Korean meat known for its slightly sweet flavor).

I couldn’t pass up chances to try the restaurant’s signature dish, crack chicken, or the kalua pork — a personal favorite. Spoiler alert: neither disappointed, but that crack chicken will have me running back more often than I’d like to admit.

Hawaiian-stye dish with rice and meat.
Nora Tarte / THIS IS RENO

Made with Lili’s famous “crack” sauce, the chicken was not what I expected. Tender pieces of cornstarch-coated thigh meat glazed with this sweet concoction are served alongside a heaping spoonful of potato mac salad and your choice of starch (which includes many upgrade options — but more on that later).

The Kalua pork is also divine; it is thick and juicy Hawaiian-smoked pulled pork topped with green onions. While the garlic shrimp and chicken katsu are plates for another day, I find it hard to believe any of their meat won’t be full of flavor, extra tender and downright delicious. 

The Maui-style hot dogs were the other entree we couldn’t pass up tasting. This was perhaps the most surprising presentation, served as two hot dog links (no buns) over your choice of starch and two eggs of your choice (recommended over easy or medium) to top it off. For this plate, we opted for chow fun, which I’d only had once before. The Cantonese dish goes by traditional Chinese names beef ho fun, gōn cháau ngàuh hóor gānchǎo níuhé, which essentially translate to fried beef Shahe noodles. 

Instead of the traditional chow mein noodles, Chow Fun uses thick noodles as its base. Soaked in sesame oil and a blend of other herbs and spices, the final product is so delicious that I’m not sure I’ll ever pass it up on a menu.

Returning to those starch options, Hawaiian fried rice is another worthy upgrade to traditional white or brown rice. This version is packed with bacon, Portuguese sausage and spam. If you order it as an entree instead of a side, you’ll also get two fried eggs on top. There’s also an option for Kim Chi fried rice.

While French fries might not be the first item you think of when digging into plates of authentic Hawaiian cuisine, there are a couple of fry options on the menu. The Kalua pork fries, dubbed hurricane fries, use the same tender, smoked meat described earlier. They are shredded over a bed of French fries dressed with cheese sauce and green onions before being drizzled with hurricane sauce and loaded with jalapeño slices. This was probably my least favorite of the dishes because it felt like it needed more sauce to bring it all together (but that’s hardly saying much since the food was all so good). In addition to these hurricane fries, there are also gogi fries.

When I say this menu is truly expansive, I’m not exaggerating. There’s everything from surf and turf and teriyaki bowls, plus chicken cutlets and a traditional island breakfast. Keep in mind, this doesn’t even touch the traditional menu the restaurant mainly inherited from the previous owners, which offers a full breakfast menu as well as lunch (the establishment is open until 3 p.m.)

The upside to having both menus is you can dine with those not as wild about Hawaiian cuisine, and they won’t feel slighted. But if you’re even a little bit interested in island food, we suggest running (not walking — and then probably running again to burn off all those calories) to Lili’s. 

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Nora Tarte
Nora Tarte
Nora Heston Tarte is a long-time Reno resident living on the southside of town. In addition to food, her hobbies include wine, hiking, yoga and travel. She is also the managing editor of a regional, lifestyle publication and freelances for other publications most frequently in the travel space. Nora received her bachelor's in Journalism from California State University, Sacramento before graduating from University of Nebraska, Lincoln with a master’s in Professional Journalism. You can follow her travel adventures, and local exploits, on her Instagram account @wanderlust_n_wine.

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