What is good Hawaiian food?
There have been a slew of Hawaiian bbq places opening in SF. I liked Hawaiian plate lunch type food well enough in Hawaii as a novelty, but it is not something I seek out.
Maybe I don't know what to look for. Discussing a place with not so great food, one poster wrote ...
"In particular, the macaroni salad at Lukoki is simply too sweet. The chicken katsu, which I had my first time there, was generous but greasy. Kalua pork unremarkable, with a short sour flavor, some unrendered fat, and not much else."
So what is a description of remarkable food in this category. What should I look for?
I wish I could tell you RW, but I've never experienced it yet.
A few Hawaiin born Japanese cooks I know find L&L to be "ok", but as they'd say, it's nothing like it was in the islands.
From the places that were in Sacramento, that was about as good as it'd get. My stomach could only handle a few visits before detesting it though.
Hawaiian plate lunch food is what it is. You're probably not missing the point or anything. Most mainland places I've been to have a teriyaki type of "barbecue" which is pretty good, if you don't want the fried stuff. You can also look for places that have saimin (noodle soup that is usually good) and poke (marinated raw fish).
Like most joints, low-to-mid-range Hawaiian restaurants tend to do some dishes better than others. Examples:
Da Kitchen in Kihei (Maui) and Mountain View (California): superior island style chicken teriyaki - deeply marinated, served without too much sauce added. (Texture of the meat itself varies at different times of day, sometimes a bit moister, sometimes a bit drier.)
Punahele Island Grill (in SF, closed, possible relocated): addictive Mochiko fried chicken (dredged in mochi rice flour rather than ordinary batter/breading).
Tita's in San Francisco: upscale Loco Moco with shiitake mushroom gravy.
Whether it's their family recipe beef stew, ethereally light panko-crusted katsu, or tasty charbroiled fish, I think you really need leads from other diners -- or a sense of adventure -- when trying any Hawaiian place. (Excluding high end Pacific Regional Cuisine type places, of course.)
The search for perfect (kalua) pig is elusive. Traditional preparation (in an underground pit, hot rocks on the body cavity, ti leaves wrapped around) is rare, and some cooks do not have the right touch with the liquid smoke, or the salt, or leave a little too much fat in the meat. If anyone has found the perfect pig, please post about it!
As for macaroni salad, usually one taste is enough for me. I think I've only found one in my life that I wanted to eat.
Finally, I have found the SF, San Jose, and Palo Alto locations of Hukilau to be reasonably good, certainly I can't remember anything really bad in my meals there over the years.