While Leilani's might be a bit more spiffed up from what I recall; it's still that tiny shop....truly a café. I'd attempted visiting one time before, but the place seems to be doing a nice amount of business. However, on this rainy weekend morning. One in which I sorely missed a loco, there was room for me....and my Hilo Loco:
For some reason; I think the Hilo Loco is better than I recalled. Perhaps time has made the heart grow fonder....but having time between these will make sure my heart doesn't stop mid-beat.
The rice was nice (how's that for a rhyme), nice pieces of Portuguese Sausage give it enough spice and mild heart, making it even more hearty. The gravy is by the book; no complaints here. The hamburger patty is still a bit overworked, too lean, and tough for me.
The eggs....well, while I'd have loved some crisp edges....I'm not going to complain when oozy yolk is staring me in the face.
Leilani has carved out a nice little niche for herself. She even has a shop next door to this cozy little cafe. It's good to know that the Hilo Loco....well...is still a Hilo Loco.
Leilani's Cafe 5109 Cass St San Diego, CA 92109 Open Daily 7am-3pm
The Missus and I have a pretty nice routine for our "easy" days when we visit "home".
Things start with breakfast. The Missus can never get enough papaya.......there's nothing even remotely close to this stuff on the mainland. And I love good pineapple. What do you expect from the grandchild/child of Maui Pine plantation workers?
We then head off to the Missus's favorite swim spot; of all places, Ala Moana Beach.
We head out right after the morning rush hour....it's a week day so it's all the old timers, students, and Japanese tourists taking wedding photos.
I've always been amazed at how they seem so easy going, wearing wedding gowns and tuxedos in humid, 85 degree weather. But after chatting with folks like Kat, I understand.
On this morning it wasn't one, but two sets of couples taking photos.
While the Missus swims, I usually do a complete lap of Ala Moana Park and sometimes even head off toward Ward Avenue. On days like this one, I can't help but think, "man, to believe that I used to take all of this for granted".
Once out and dry, the Missus and I will head off across the street to Honolulu Coffee Company for a Kona V60 pour over for the coffee snob.
And while it doesn't wow Her like it used to. It's still a good cup of coffee.
Honolulu Coffee Co (in Ala Moana Center) 1450 Ala Moana Blvd, Ste 3066 Honolulu, HI 96814
We then head off and do our various errands. On this day, we decided to head off to Kahala Mall; Whole Foods and the Apple Store were calling. I decided on stopping off at another of my old favorites, in my 'hood, Gina's Bar-B-Q, still going strong 23 years later.
You know, I remembered when this place first opened. It's typical Local style Korean, our version of a Meat and Three. You order your entrée(s) and get three of what we call "vegetables", basically panchan, and the proteins are cooked to order.
It's a very popular style, the most popular is probably a chain called Yummy Korean BBQ. Every one has their neighborhood favorites when it comes to the local kine Korean BBQ places. I used to like Kim Chi II, though I haven't been there in maybe 20 years. My mom liked Choi's Family Restaurant, many of my friends love Soon's in Salt Lake (Oahu, not Utah....).
I'm old enough to remember when Foodland, which is now on the other side of the parking lot used to be in this spot. My good friend's second job was with Foodland. I also remember when there was a very popular video game place here called....if I recall, "The Space"???? I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong. I remember once going to use the restroom and finding two huge bags of pakalolo right on the washbasin!
Anyway wanting to check out the state of the food at Gina's, I ordered a "special", still a bargain at eleven bucks or so. It comes with bulgogi, kalbi, and the item I used to really enjoy (second best - the spicy chicken was #1), the BBQ Chicken.
Anyway, we took it to go, got a small salad at WF in Kahala and proceeded to dig in. The bulgogi wasn't up to snuff, dry, bland, and tough. The kalbi was typical local style, nice flavor, but not the best. That chicken was still a winnah! Nice shoyu flavor, slight sweetness, chewy, but in a good way. There was of course, the equivalent of three scoops of rice under all of this, soaking up the juices and drippings. The "vegetables" were passable....I'd say, even better than what I get here at some of the rather pricey Korean places.
Even though it's more about a good value, the chicken is not bad.
I'm hoping to head back to Gina's for the spicy chicken next time. Hopefully, I won't have to wait another decade.
Gina’s Bar-B-Q 2919 Kapiolani Blvd Honolulu, HI 96826
The Missus was craving Jokbal Bossam and it had been a while since we've had it here, so the timing seemed perfect. I do wish they'd choose something other than napa cabbage, but other than that, this was porky goodness. In spite of the name, it's dishes like the jokbal bossam, heukyumso jungol, kimchi dolsot bi bim bap, and on good days the seolleongtang that works for us here.
The panchan on this day was good. I think folks have gotten used to the "quick kimchi" style panchan, and this sometimes is a bit too fermented or salty for its own good.
Grandma's Tofu & BBQ 4425 Convoy St. San Diego, CA 92111
Not much to say about this than I need a nap after eating this.
Homestyle Hawaiian Island Style Food 7524 Mesa College Drive San Diego, CA 92111
Santouka, that chain that originated in the coldest city in Japan, Asahikawa, has long been my go-to ramen spot. As with many places I eat at, there's one item I usually order. Here it's the shio ramen - toroniku style.
After going to all the major ramen shops in San Diego back in February 2013, Santouka still was my favorite. the rich, stick to your ribs broth, the nice firm noodles, and the pork which, when "on" has a wonderful, almost smooth texture with a nice pork flavor.
I know, it's really hot out....but on this, a cooler day, it hit the spot.
I guess it's strange that I go to a "food court" when I want my Tonkatsu fix.
But for under nine bucks, this tonkatsu is a favorite of mine in San Diego.......
Crisp, usually moist, love that mashed potato salad.
Kayaba 4240 Kearny Mesa Rd Ste 119 - In the Mitsuwa Marketplace San Diego, CA 92111
The High Dive:
So, the Missus has become a big fan of the Tap Hunter app. I guess She's now an offical Beer Geek. Anyway, there are places that are real good at keeping Tap Hunter up to date and places that are kind of blase'.....Common Theory, I'm looking at you. For all its short-comings, mainly food-related, The High Dive seems to do a good job keeping things updated. Recently, when the Missus was busy with work, She noticed that one of our favorite beers, La Fin du Monde was on tap. I was ordered to head on down and report back post-haste.
And of course, when I arrived, it was there, poised and ready. There's some flavors with "La Fin" that we enjoy, a mild fruit, with flavors that seem like clove and other spices, which make it fine match with spicy food for us. The flavors seem to go really well with anything I make with ghost peppers, strange as that may seem.
This draft version seemed a bit lighter without the spice notes. Maybe for the first time, I preferred the bottle to the tap....weird.
I Buffalo Wings were adequate and by the book. Nothing to make them stand out, but no complaints.
I thought it was a bit too heavy in the sour end and the wings were fried way past well done, but that would be nitpicking.
High Dive Bar and Grill 1801 Morena Blvd San Diego, CA 92110
Getting my "loco fix" at Island Style Cafe:
It was time for my bi-annual locomoco fix......well, strangely, it would be the first "loco" I had this year. I've got some catching up to do! Anyway, I went with the Kaloko Loco at Island Style Cafe. A rather unconventional Loco Moco; usually I'm not a fan of fried rice for my loco and this one even has a crepe, but it all seems to work out for me.
Like my good FOY CAB says, there's an interesting, yet complimentary interplay of sweet with savory going on that I enjoy. The eggs were overcooked for "over-easy" on this visit and I've kind of gotten used to jasmine rice so the calrose got my attention....I gotta head back home for an attitude adjustment soon! I think the burger here is still too tough and lean, but that's nit-picking as this is still my favorite loco moco in San Diego.
Island Style Cafe 5950 Santo Road San Diego, CA 92124
I enjoy the bright colors of the restaurant, simple furnishings, a bar area, looking a bit smaller from the interior than I thought. As bright as the colors of the restaurant was, the young lady who served me shone even brighter. I believe her name was Karen. She was just perfect for a place like this; friendly, casual, and laid-back, but still professional. As the name indicates, the food here is Guamanian/Chamorro influenced, but also with some updated items like the "Guam Bomb", Guahan's version of Fries topped with barbecue chicken, melted cheese, and spicy mayo and Poke Tacos.
I decided to go with the Guahan Special ($12.75), which features a meat of your choice, kelaguen, empanada, rice (I chose red rice of course), and one side.....potato salad for me. It was a good bit of food.....
Karen instantly endeared me to her by bringing out a nice bowl of that wonderfully salty-sour-tangy condiment called Finadene. I've made the claim that I could eat cardboard with finadene. I really liked the version here, it had a nice zip....I could probably do shoe leather with this one! She also asked if I wanted boonie peppers, the answer was of course an immediate "yes"!
The plate was pretty large and the variety was enough to keep me interested.
So, it's off to the races....the kelaguen, probably my favorite Chamorro dish as I've as I've mentioned before. This version was a bit bland without the finadene and the chilies.
Everytime I write about kelaguen, I harken back to the amazing version my friend;s mom made back in Hawaii or Santos's version, so I'll spare you this time around. This just needed a better flavor base, though the finadene saved it.
Loved the texture of the red rice, though it was very mild in flavor until......yeah, you've got it, I hit it with finadene.
The empanada was nice and crisp. The chicken filling was very moist and tasty....sort of pulled chicken if you will. A bit mushy in texture, but nice flavors.
The biggest and most pleasant surprise were the barbecue spareribs.
While these weren't the "pull the bone out cleanly" ribs, it was sufficiently tender. Nice fat, decent texture, the flavor was a nice salt and a touch of sour. Of course the finadene just made them that much better.
If I lived close by, I'd eat here every so often. I loved the service, there's a half dozen beers on tap....something which could probably be doubled with no problem. Karen told me her favorite dish is the marinated then fried ribs, which I'll definitely be back for. There's the Jahwaiian music that always keeps me happy. Life is good......
Guahan Grill 4259 Oceanside Blvd Suite 104 Oceanside, CA 92056 Hours: Tues - Thurs 11am - 9pm Fri - Sat 11am - 10pm Sunday 11am - 9pm
I recently saw the storefront for Kona Kakes in Linda Vista....I had wondered where they had gone to. What really got my attention was the new addition to the name....the "& Plates" part. So Kona Kakes was now serving plate lunches? This I had to check out.
So a few days later I stopped by......to check out the plates.
I've had the cakes from Kona Kakes a couple of times and it was quite good. So I really couldn't wait to check out the "plates" which I guess are served between 11am and 4pm Monday thru Saturday.
You know...every place makes "sliders" now and a riff on nachos. I decided to try something basic and perhaps not as easy as it sounds; the Teriyaki Beef Plate ($8). Plates some with two "sides" which can include rice, green salad, quinoa salad (??), and mac salad. Hard to guess what I chose, huh?
First the basics. The rice was perfect, though I'm not a big fan of the mac salad here....too loose and too sweet. The beef was quite tough; literally the two dollar steak. It really lacked flavor and was also cold, like it had been sitting in a pan somewhere and maybe put in the microwave for a (too) short time. It lacked color, which made it look less appetizing. The sauce totally reminded me of the teriyaki we used to make; when we couldn't get mirin....which was a good part of my childhood. It was too salty. Frankly, I don't care if you microwave your meat, but marinate it well, some color would be good, too. I've moved on from using thick cut low quality beef, you can still get decent thin cut beef which you can marinate appropriately and still have osmething tender. It wasn't horrible; just mediocre.
Still, I decided to try them one more time. This time I went with the Kalua Pork Plate, which was really cheap at $7.
For this price, I figured Oven Kalua Pork, which it was, I also kinda assumed Kalua Pork and Cabbage, which it also was, though I wish they made that clear on the menu....the "local" in me I guess. The flavor of the liquid smoke was decent, a mild "nose" and not an over-powering flavor, though it could have used more salt, and frankly more fat. The cabbage was still fairly crisp as well. The pork was on the dry side and this had the real feeling of something from a chafing dish. The onions were basically raw......which is great if it were sweet onions...which is one of my favorite things with a sprinkle of alaea, the mildly sweet sea salt tinged pink from red volcanic soil. Here it was basically pungent brown onions....too much for the plate raw. I did like the quinoa salad, though it was a bit under-dressed for my taste, it still was refreshing.
The folks here are very nice and friendly, but it seems that the plates are here to supplement the "kakes", and I wish it was more than that. Maybe I'm being too harsh because I grew up eating this stuff, but frankly, I think this isn't as good as L&L, and I'm not a big fan of the paint-by-numbers Hawaiian Barbecue. I really think they can do better and hope they do, especially since they have a potential goldmine by catering to Ballast Point next door, which has a beer pairing. I'm wondering, do they have a beer pairing for their cakes, which are really good?
Kona Kakes & Plates 5401 Linda Vista Road Suite 402 San Diego, CA 92110 Lunch Served 1100am - 4pm Monday - Saturday
Here's one that I heard about a while back, but just didn't have a chance to visit until recently.
The location can be a bit challenging; off of Mission Gorge Road, head east on Mission Gorge Place in sort of a business park area. Once you go down Mission Gorge Place a bit you can't miss the sign....unless it's not out. Then it just looks like one of hundreds of business strewn around the area.
The interior is interesting, though kind of cold, looking more like an Hawaiian themed bar serving food, than an actual restaurant. Here's where I noticed some interesting things. A decent beer selection, but nothing on tap.
The really nice gal told me to sit anywhere I wanted. Menus are simple take-out type pamphlets. Here's the next observation, I couldn't find anything fried on the menu, which might not be a bad thing, so I'm thinking this place doesn't have a fryer. Lot's of fusion-hip type of things like sliders, guava BBQ wings, "street" tacos, and nachos, along with tuna melts, BLTs, and smattering of plate lunch type items under "entrees".
I went straight for the artery and ordered the Loco Moco ($9.49), to add to my loco moco collection.
Though it doesn't look it, this was a good amount of food.
Let's start with the eggs, which were over-cooked....I do love my runny yolk. I fully understand how folks can be with runny yolks, but places who serve eggs that way will usually ask me how I want my eggs. Which is over easy, with a little char on the edges.
The burger looked real good, but noticing how it had been grilled, I could tell it was going to be pretty tough, which it was. The flavor was decent though.
I thought the gravy was kind of odd. First, it was runny and thin, almost like a bisque. Second, a flavoring, like French onion soup mix over-powered the whole thing and there was a bit of a metallic-sour finish to it.
The one saving grace and a big one at that was the mac salad. It was very simple, but mac salad should be simple. It wasn't over-dressed, the macaroni was cooked to perfection, there was just enough other flavors to keep me interested, and most importantly, it was seasoned well and nicely chilled. This might be my favorite mac salad in San Diego.
So the mac salad and the really nice young lady was enough to get me to return. I looked over the menu when I got home. There was another interesting item on the menu; Huli Huli Chicken. Huli-huli means to "turn-turn". Ernest Morgado, head of Pacific Poultry is credited with creating the "king of fundraisers", at least when I was growing up. You can read more about it in Mr Morgado's obit here. Let me just say, I loved this stuff when I was growing up.....so I was interested in what Chris' Ono Grinds Huli Huli Chicken ($9.49) was like:
Most Huli Huli Chicken recipes I've seen use a good amount of ketchup. Funny thing is; I don't recall it tasting strongly of it.
The sauce on this version was more like a barbecue, not as in "Hawaiian BBQ", but BBQ sauce. It was more of a sticky glaze than a nicely charred huli huli chicken grilled over Kiawe. That doesn't mean it wasn't good. This was pretty decent, perhaps a bit too fruity and sweet, but other than the piece of bone, in the supposedly boneless pile that nearly cracked my teeth, this was decent. The chicken was decently moist and fairly tender. Not bad.
The best thing was, the mac salad was the same as before.
I may not been chasing down this place like I did fund raisers back in the old days, but I think Chris's Ono Grinds has some potential and will probably return one of these days. Mainly because I used to make Guava BBQ Chicken (Hawaiian style BBQ) and he has chicken wings with Guava BBQ sauce.
Even though the feel of the place (and some of the menu) is rather "Mainland - local themed", don't want to use the "H" word, it looks like they are trying to make good food here. This is not another shibai Hawaiian BBQ money grab. That and the nice folks here are enough for another visit.
Chris' Ono Grinds Island Grill 4651 Mission Gorge Place San Diego, CA 92120 Hours: Mon - Sat 11am - 9pm
I'd heard about this place a while ago, but took my sweet old time getting there. The little shop is located on Pearl, right past La Jolla Boulevard. I've never been a big fan of getting there and the parking situation, but I gotta say, on the days I visited this little corner it was pretty quiet.
Though the other side of the shop fronts the busier side, I like this area by the one parking stall.
The interior is quite larger than what this little storefront would make you think.
The breeze really goes through the dining area.....so it's probably great during the late spring/summer, but kind of chilly on the days I visited.
On my first visit, the yong lady manning the counter seemed like perhaps the owner's daughter? She was very nice, even though there were probably a thousand other things she could have been doing. I ordered the loco moco and much like much of Honolulu, Ohama Cafe offers brown rice and even coconut rice for an upcharge. You know me........unless the Missus is breathing down my neck, it white rice all the way. By the way, you won't forget that this is La Jolla, as this is what you get for $8.50.
Still, we're all trying to exercise some portion control nowadays, right? As a loco moco, this wasn't bad, the egg was nice and runny, with some crisp edges, the gravy a little short on flavor, and a bit of "powderyness" to it, and was just barely ok. The rice was cooked well, but I really didn't take to the burger. It was crumbly and it tastes like they add something to the meat made it taste like onion soup mix.
Perhaps I should call this a "petite loco".......but I guess "small crazy" sounds kind of strange, as if loco moco didn't sound weird enough already. The woman who came out of the kitchen was very nice, telling me hello and dropping off some brownie samples.
So I thought that I should return. This time around I ordered the "mix and match" with Kalua Pork and Teri Chicken.
This time the rice was on the dry and hard side. It was by-the-book oven kalua pork, something I make a couple of times a year. The pork was on the dry side and could have had more flavor. The chicken was decent, not too dry, but on the bland side. The drizzle of over-reduced, again by-the-book teriyaki sauce could have been a spitting image of Kealani's.
The mac salad was plain, but nice made, he macaroni was done perfectly, and the seasoning and he amount of mayo was good as well.
I really like the folks here, they are really a nice group. But it takes a bit more than a shade better than L&L level food with petite portions and La Jolla pricing/parking to get me to return. Though the breakfast menu (Sat/Sun) looks decent, so maybe.......
Ohana Cafe 456 Pearl St San Diego, CA 92037 Hours: Mon - Fri 11am - 8pm Sat - Sun 9am - 8pm
For this post, I decided to put my biased choices to the side and actually try another plate lunch here. After all, it is plate lunch week. Good thing it's not loco moco week....I might not survive that one!
Island Style Cafe had renovated since my last visit; nice booths giving the place a warmer feel.
I ordered the Korean Mix ($10.95), a combo with the Kalbi and Korean Chicken. I quickly noticed that the portion sizes seemed to have gotten a bit larger than I recalled.
Having not ordered a plate lunch here in ages, I'd forgotten about the mac salad. They put tuna in this; not my favorite version, but at least it was nicely chilled.
The kalbi is sliced very thin, which made it quite crisp, and perhaps a bit too charred. Still the flavor wasn't bad and the crisp char makes you forgot about how tough this can be.
The flavor for the Korean Chicken, which is pretty close to Dak-Galbi, is nice.
The chicken was cooked perfectly, personally, I'd prefer something with a bit more of an interesting texture to it. There's a component of many version of Dak Galbi that creates a bit of a mushy texture, which was also the case here. Still, this was not bad.
Personally, I think the food is getting better, as is the decor. Still, this won't make me forget about ordering the Kaloko Moco next time..........which, according to my arteries is quickly approaching.
According to the signs, the menus have been revamped a bit, so if you haven't checked them out in a while, you may want to see if there's anything you'd find interesting.
Island Style Cafe 5950 Santo Road San Diego, CA 92124
Talk about a long time between visits. With Kealani's it's been almost seven years! So I made it a point to truck on up (when was the last time you heard that?) to Encinitas to check out Kealani's.
It seems that the place hasn't changed much in the last seven years.
Since the place seemed stuck in time, I decided to order two of the items I did last time. They call the mix plate Mt Ka'ala here. For you trivia fans; if I recall Mount Ka'ala is the highest spot on Oahu, part of the Waianae Range. I guess just saying "mix plate" is too boring. So my two protein combo ($8.50) consisted of the teri chicken and sweet sour spareribs.
Even though it doesn't quite look like it, there's more than enough food here. There's another scoop of rice and a good portion of pork under the two pieces of chicken.
I recall thinking the sweet and sour spareribs, even though it looks like pork butt, and is more sweet-salty, than sour to be not bad. The flavor is heading more toward rafute than sweet-sour spareribs, which isn't a bad thing. Unfortunately, this was super dry....I mean really dry.
I know they serve up what we call "dipped chicken" here. The trick is to not make it seem like precooked chicken that is reheated and dipped in sauce.
This didn't. The flavor was decent, not too sweet or salty, but like the pork, it was quite dry and tough. That teriyaki sauce on the side had been reduced too far and had a bit of bitterness to it.
Personally, I'd still take Kealani's over most of the L&L's.....probably over all of the L&Ls on the mainland.
I thought I'd get back to my roots this week and do just "local kine grindz". One of the main reasons for starting the blog back in 2005 was to list all the places you could get local "stuffs" and food. Of course, soon enough L&L tried to take over the world, often with a very low quality product, and the intent seemed more of a money grab then anything else. Gladly, time has weeded out many of these places. I recall Eddie Flores Jr, the founder of L&L once stated in a interview that:
“In five to 10 years, we won’t call it plate lunch but Hawaiian barbecue,” he says. “Only old-timers will remember the plate lunch.”
Not so fast charlie......
Sadly, the last time I did a plate lunch week was almost 6 years ago! And all of those places have closed! Of course, Mo's has moved and become Homestyle Hawaiian. Still, six years since my last plate lunch week? I think much of it is due to, well, age. I just can't put it away like I used to, nor do I really want to eat that much food anyway.
The real impetus for this week occurred when I did drop by Homestyle Hawaiian and saw this sign on the register:
I recall slinking away with my Chicken Katsu plate in hand thinking, "my coconut wireless sure don't work like it used to!"
I even did some catering with Mo and he didn't say anything to me? What's up with that?
Anyway, I jotted down the address and I finally had some time to get down there this past weekend.
I guess this used to be a hot dog joint? When I arrived the place was already busy. Mo was happy to see me and told me it's been crazy busy since opening. He's training an all new staff....though he's got some pros with him. His two daughter's were there to help out. I remember when they were in diapers! I've been doing this blogging thing for too long now. Anyway, Mo mentioned that they've been selling out of everything daily and he's trying to get a handle on things....
The place was chaotic, but I got my order in and things settled down soon enough. Mo's little one had no problem with taking my order, a combination Korean Chicken and a Chicken Katsu with Gravy (aka chicken cutlet in local terms).
I saw Mo make my plate so I knew it was going to be what I was used to getting at the other location.
As I closed my plate, taking a good half of it home for dinner, Mo asked me what I thought. I told him from what I understand of the demographic in this location, "if you can keep up, you'll do great!" Hopefully he'll be able to do that.
Homestyle Hawaiian 1558 E H St Chula Vista, CA 91913 Hours: Monday 11am - 330pm Tues - Fri 11am - 7pm Saturday 11am - 330pm
A handy hint. Mo is a slow starter and takes a bit of time to warm up. I'd recommend getting there at about 1130, especially since he's training all new staff.