Photograph by Jessica Boone
The recent explosion of Hawaiian barbecue takeout joints—with their sweet-salty mix of Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Polynesian tastes—now means we’e never more than a few traffic lights from a combo barbecue plate or a helping of kalua pork. Chains like L&L Hawaiian barbecue and Ono Hawaiian BBQ offer the usual suspects: marinated grilled meats with scoops of rice and macaroni salad on the side. But we love these smaller outposts where the recipes are handed-down family favorites and the sunny island flavors shine bright.
Maui Chicken | Rancho Palos Verdes
This comely spot, decked out in a muted palette of tropical colors, elevates the traditional Hawaiian lunch plate. Thick slabs of grilled sesame-splashed salmon, shrimp, or orange roughy and seared asparagus pad the more familiar menu, which includes the customary rice and macaroni salad (this version with hunks of potato). Want to splurge? Try the poke of cubed raw tuna glossed with roasted sesame oil, or sample the bacon-fried rice. » 29217 S. Western Ave., Rancho Palos Verdes, 310-732-1886. Also at 2100 Redondo Beach Blvd., Torrance, 310-715-6284.
Hawaiian Chicken | Chinatown
In the Hawaiian patois, huli huli means “turn turn.” For many the term is synonymous with the tangy rotisserie chicken cooked alfresco at church picnics, fund-raisers, and carnivals. For the last several years Eugene Hong and his family have carried out the huli huli tradition at farmers’ markets, roasting their birds over mesquite-like kiawe charcoal. At their new, more permanent digs in the former Chow Fun Café space, they have added fusion dishes such as grilled chicken in a guava-chili sauce. » 686 N. Spring St., Chinatown, 213-626-1678.
Pineapple Hawaiian BBQ | Long Beach
The menu here reads like Hawaii’s immigrant history, with Japanese chicken katsu, Korean ribs, and native favorites like kalua pork. Named for ka lua (“the pit”, the pig—wrapped in banana or ti leaves—traditionally smolders over hot rocks in an underground oven called an imu. The aboveground braising method at Pineapple makes for meat that’s smoky, fall-apart tender, and abnormally transfat free. » 3288 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach, 562-438-9595.
Ohana BBQ | Studio City
Korea’s influence on Hawaiian cooking comes through at this family-run spot. Wiki Wiki noodle stir-fry (aka Korean chap chae) comes loaded with meat and vegetables. Bibimbap—your choice of brown or white rice topped with barbecued pork, chicken, beef, or tofu and an array of veggies—is stirred with a sweet-hot chili sauce. The beef short ribs and spicy pork ribs are juicy, and the “Supah” salad topped with grilled chicken is absolutely ono (Hawaiian for “delicious”). For dessert, the shave ices are da kine (“the best”). » 11269 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, 818-508-3192.