Tag: loco moco

Do the Loco Moco

Thursday, June 19th, 2008 | All Things, Eats, Travel

Hawaiian cuisine is a reflection of the various ethnic groups that have immigrated to the islands over the past couple of centuries: strongly Asian-influenced — Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Korean — and with an emphasis on local ingredients. (See: poi… though I only ever actually saw the well-known Hawaiian dish on the menu at the two lua’aus we attended.)

Given the easy access to fresh seafood and fruits, I was somewhat surprised by how starchy and heavy most of the local dishes were. Though this does explain why a staggering 39 percent of the native Hawaiian population is obese.

Case in point: Cafe 100, which we visited on our one day in Hilo.

After dropping off the kayaks just after dawn, we raced two and a half hours to the other side of the Big Island for my much anticipated helicopter tour over the active volcanoes. Alas, however, the heavy cloud cover that morning resulted in my ride being canceled at the last minute. Instead, we settled for an early lunch at this Hilo institution.

The Miyashiro family opened Café 100 six decades ago. According to our guidebook, the restaurant, now in its third incarnation, survived destruction by tsunamis in 1946 and 1960. It was named for the original owner’s World War II comrades in the famed 100th Battalion — a Honolulu-based unit comprised predominantly of Japanese Americans.

Café 100 is really more of a fast food stop than a café: open air tables and a simple counter where the staff still take down the orders with pen and paper and end every transaction with a cheery “Mahalo.”

Besides its tasty, cheap eats, the place is most notable for its role in popularizing the Islands specialty “Loco Moco”: a local dish comprised of a mountain of white rice topped with a hamburger patty, brown gravy and an egg or two. Loco Moco was invented in Hilo, though whether by Richard Miyashiro of Café 100 (as I’d read) or by Richard and Nancy Inouye of Lincoln Grill is a matter of some debate.

Other dishes on the menu include the ubiquitous “potato mac salad” — yes, exactly what it sounds like — daily “mixed plate” lunch specials and more standard mainland fare such as cheeseburgers and fried chicken.  Not refined fare, by any means, but all fast, fresh and good.  And did I mention cheap?

Café 100’s Loco Moco is offered in many variations (14, at my count), substituting the beef patty for Spam (of course), “smokie” [sic] Portuguese sausage, hot dog, kalua pig, or fish — here, the mahi mahi. Or was that the ahi?

And below, a photo of our Loco Moco from Kailua-Kona’s Big Island Grill the day before. We hadn’t packed a defibrillator for this trip, so after these two hearty samples, we called a moratorium on the Loco Moco for the remainder of the vacation.

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