Broke da mout (pidgin, aka hawai’ian slang) – Delicious.
This past weekend was a blur. Meeting family member after family member, it’s a wonder I was able to get out and get a taste of local flavor before heading back to LA. Thanks to my younger cousin tho, I managed to slip out and sample one thing that is definitely Hawai’ian. Kalua pork.
So driving around, enjoying my few hours of freedom, I tell my cousin I wanna try this local flavor. She takes me to this one local joint called Kuhio Grille. Walking in, it doesnt seem like anything special. Pretty typical hawai’ian local eatery, complete with fairly minimal decoration and a few tables with large locals chowing down on their food.
We sit down and get the menu, and I immediately see this section.
Kanakatak it is. Just the name of it makes it sound like that plate will attack and destroy hunger! So my cousin orders her keiki min (child’s portion of saimin, or hawai’ian style ramen. Keiki is hawai’ian for “child”). Yea. I know. She, like the my all my other cousins (who happen to be women), doesn’t eat much. All of my uncles eat like monsters tho, which explains a LOT.
Being a local restaurant and because of the location, I didnt expect much. I mean cmon, where the heck are they going to keep an underground oven large enough for a whole pig in the area? When the plate came out, I still didn’t know what to expect so I tried to keep my expectations low. Better to be pleasantly surprised than thoroughly disappointed, ya?
One Pound Lau Lau - The Kanakatak!
Keiki min. Hawai'ian twist on ramen. Notice the spam?
Yea. That’s spam in the keiki min. I might add, Spam is CHEAP in Hawai’i. At the local walmart, the regular going price of spam was $1.67. On my plate above (in clockwise order), Poi (a starchy paste made from a relative of the taro root), shredded beef, rice, kalua pork, onions, lomi salmon (salsa-ish mix, with chunks of salmon), and in the middle, haupia (a coconut based dessert with the consistency of jello).
Kalua Pork, up close and absolutely broke da mout!
I was very pleasantly surprised by every aspect of this plate with one exception. The poi (the purple stuff) takes some getting used to, and I wasn’t used to it. But I tried it anyway as my cousin showed me, by taking an onion and dipping it into the poi. Interesting combination, interesting mix of flavors, but not for me. At least, not yet. The shredded beef was a little salty, but still good. But the highlight of the plate was indeed the pork. I’m drooling thinking about it as I type. Maybe I’ll go hit up this one hawai’ian joint in Monterey Park and try the pork there.
Afterwards, we had to get some dessert. My cousin blurted out “Shaved ice!” I was asking myself “shaved ice? wth kind of dessert is just some ice in a cone with syrup?”
We go to this part of Hilo that’s just a string of shops with tourist-friendly stores. Among which, we walk in here.
I walk out with
If you’ve had shaved ice in LA, you’ll know that it’s smaller than what I’m holding and that the ice sort of globs up into chunks of ice that you sort of have to chew through. Not so with this place. Every bite is like eating a piece of cloud, with every bit of soft ice melting completely to leave nothing but flavor on your tongue. No chunks! And if you get the deluxe cone, there’s a scoop of vanilla ice cream at the bottom that you an enjoy mixed in w/ whatever flavors you might’ve gotten. I got the strawberry and sour apple. Also, this was the SMALL cone.
With my cousin having left for Honolulu that morning, I was left to fend for myself in exploring this strange area. So I took my uncle’s car, fired up Google maps and yelp mobile, and took off in search of another local eat. I ended up in the same area, and at this place called Hilo Cafe. Most reviews on yelp were pretty favorable, and walking in, the decor was pretty chiq, with a decent bar and layout that reminded me of some of the more lower-upscale joints around LA.
The menu was drastically different than Kuhio Grille’s. Plate combinations reminded me of trends that could be seen in LA. For example, here’s the plate I ended up choosing.
Kalua Pork with Side Salad
There are a couple things wrong w/ this picture though not all evident at first glance. First problem was with the pork. Traditional kalua pork should be roasted/smoked in an oven. NOT grilled. The immediate problem with this was that while chewing through some of the pork, I ended up biting into an entire section of raw pork. Now, I shouldn’t need to go into detail about what’s wrong with that. But at $17 for this plate, TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE. The salad, with it’s bacon bits and blue cheese and green asian dressing, was actually the highlight of this meal. I left the place in a hurry leaving the raw pork in the middle of the plate. I wanted to leave a negative tip if possible. And not to mention, service was mediocre at best. Yelp, you’ve failed me yet again, and Hilo Cafe, so have you.
To make up for the disaster at Hilo Cafe, I walked over to the 7-11 near my grandma’s pad in Hilo and picked up a katsu spam musubi. These are pretty clutch when you need a snack.
Unfortunately, that’s all I got to try of the local flavors during my trip. Besides the above, I was mostly fed typical korean food at my aunt and uncle’s place. And at the wedding, typical catered food, so nothing new.
Knowing I have relatives in Honolulu I can stay with on trips, there’ll definitely be more island editions (hopefully sooner than later).
If you’re ever in Hilo, I would definitely recommend Kuhio Grille and you definitely need to try the deluxe shaved ice at Wilsons by The Bay.
111 E Puainako St
Hilo, HI 96720
Wilsons By The Bay
224 Kamehameha Ave
Hilo, HI 96720
Eat well, Live Well