When I started putting together The Big List, there were quite a few instances where I wondered what was going on with places that were still around all these years later. I first posted on L&L in the College area back in May of 2005 and a second with the "Are You Loco" comparison that September. So I thought, ten years is a good long time....and even though L&L is not my first choice for Plate Lunch (let's not go into that Hawaiian BBQ versus Plate Lunch stuff....plate lunch came first....Hawaiian Barbecue is a branding/marketing strategy), I thought it was about time. Also for this one, I broke out the "Rubio Scale", created by James Rubio of Big Island Grinds, who measures each item on the loco moco and assigns an aggregate based on this....so no, this won't be like one of those ramen things on that "Four lettered site" that says, "the noodles were fantastic, but the soup was just okay so I give it one star...." Which will always lead to the question; "does that mean if the broth was fantastic and the noodles fantastic, the best this place could do is two stars on a four star scale?"
So, it's been over a decade. Can you imagine how many starving students this location of L&L has served? On the downside; can you imagine how many folks think that this is the best that Hawaii has to offer on a plate?
If my recent visit is any indication, they'll be serving many more classes of SDSU students.
The tables are a bit more sticky than I recalled and as to be expected, the folks here....both in the front and the kitchen can't really pronounce the dishes correctly....stuff like musubi and katsu sounds kind of odd...and to be honest, a bit painful.
But lets get down to the Loco Moco - which is now $8.99, over 9 bucks with tax. Yikes, that's over 40% more than what it used to be. It has now reached the level of, "this better be good".
And let's get it on with the Rubio scale shall we?
#1 - Burger:
Good lord, preformed and cooked to death. Lacking in seasoning. Like eating gritty bits of shoe leather....still, it was barely edible. Thank god for the gravy...well, maybe not.
Not a good sign.
This actually saved the loco as it was easy-over. I know, everyone is afraid of eating eggs out nowadays. But this one was right. There could have been crisp edges and some browning, but this was ok.
Seems like it was undercooked and sitting for a while. Average.
Good lord, we sent Old Betsy to the glue factory. The texture was not to my liking...too gooey/gluey, no beefy flavor, glue like texture. It was nothing without Tabasco.....
Of course we have to attend to the Mac Salad. This one was put together fine....all the minimum requirements and it was nice and cold. Lack of salt was an issue, but it was ok.
So we have a 10 out of 25....perhaps this is the state of Hawaiian Barbecue loco mocos these days. After all, I think they "jumped the shark" years ago.
Still, it had been quite a few years and I had to find out for myself.
A small part of me wonders how the location in Puente Hills Mall fares. It was the first location on the mainland and was just a couple of miles from where we lived way back when. It was pretty good...they brought in a bunch of cooks from HNL to get them started and the folks there were really nice.......maybe it's better that I not know.....
L&L's Hawaiian BBQ Campus Plaza 6083 El Cajon Boulevard, Suite 5B-1 San Diego, CA 92115
Man, they've really spruced up the place since I'd last been here. When I visited the place did mainly snacks and smoothies. Now it's a proper restaurant......
Let me first say that the folks here are wonderful. I had really nice Servers on all my visits, very friendly, efficient, just great kids.
An acquaintance of mine recommended the Kalua Pork, something I grew up eating, and of course I make a version for parties and friends. And so, I ordered it.
So let's start with the good....the rice was nice. The salad with the Maguro was a nice touch, even though it was "saku" fish and the whole salad was quite large, larger than the portion of pork. The dressing was way too mild.
I didn't care for the kalua pork prep. That teriyaki sauce was cloyingly sweet and just masked any flavor from the pork. I did taste the pork and felt it was under seasoned and a bit too greasy.
Still, the folks were so very nice that I decided to come back during happy hour.
Looking over the happy hour menu; one item was a no-brainer....the Spam Musubi, which was actually some kind of Spam Roll.
Much like the kalua pork, this was a bit too much. I would have been fine without the sauce which kind of blurred the entire dish. I thought the spam could have been seared a bit, which would have added that nice crisp texture. The rice was a bit too mushy for my tastes.
Sadly, the Chicken Karaage was even worse. Just look at the color!
The temp of the oil obviously wasn't hot enough; the batter was gummy and this wasn't very pleasant to eat. Unlike the other items I had, this was also very mild in flavor. Not good eats.
And yet, the service was so very nice....so I decided to give them another try. This time I ordered a favorite of mine; Chicken Katsu.
This came with some miso soup, which didn't have enough miso in it. It was quite weak and watery.
When the chicken katsu arrived, I noticed a problem right off. A pet peeve of mine....the breading was peeling off.
And while this can happen to the best of them, there really is no excuse for it. Also, I quickly noticed how thin the chicken had been pounded. Too bad because the breading was nice and crunchy, the Asian slaw went well with the dish, and the rice was cooked nicely.
So, what to say....I love the folks who work here, but the food? Well, call me picky, but each dish on my visits seemed to have one, or more issues. Too bad, because I really like the staff and the vibe of the place.
I had a chance to check them out recently. It's in one of the numerous strip malls on Midway. This used to be the location of Jin's Grill.
This place is a fairly good sized space; the menu is basically the same as well.
I went with what I'd normally order; the Korean Chicken and Katsu with Gravy. Back home, Katsu is with Katsu sauce and Chicken Cutlet is Katsu served with gravy. I'm pretty sure I would have gotten a blank look if I ordered a combo Korean Chicken - Chicken Cutlet.
The Korean Chicken flavor was a bit on the weak side and perhaps was not marinated long enough? The katsu and gravy was nice, notice no breading falling off? It was also moist and the gravy (plus a dash of Tabasco) added layers of texture and flavor. I had one spoon of the mac salad which tasted a bit off.....a bit sour, so I decided to 86 that.
The portion size looked smaller than the CV and LV locations, but was still more than enough food for me.
I'm glad HH is doing well. Unlike many of the local "Hawaiian Barbecue" places, this isn't just a money grab. I'll probably return once I recover from all that rice and fried food.
Homestyle Hawaiian 3445 Midway Dr San Diego, CA 92110 Hours: Tues - Sat 11am - 8pm
The place looked pretty much the same and I ordered the same thing I ordered on my last visit. The combination plate; Korean chicken - chicken katsu. I am a creature of habit I guess.
Was there ever a time when I could have actually finished all this food? Hard to believe. Instead of going "all rice", I'd never been a fan of Mo's mac salad, but today it was passable...more flavor than usual. The Korean chicken, with the teriyaki and mild spice, deep fried to add texture has always been a favorite. The katsu looked quite light in color, but was nice and crisp, and to be totally honest, I've been missing the ketchup based "local kine" katsu sauce too. I barely put a dent in the plate, taking most of it to go. I brought it home and the Missus whacked it. I guess She'd been missing this too.
I didn't see Mo. But I did see a sign announcing the opening of their third shop; on Midway. So I'll probably be getting another plate lunch fix in fairly short order.
Homestyle Hawaiian 1558 E H St Chula Vista, CA 91913
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