L&L Hawaiian Barbecue (Ocean View, Hawaii)

On our second to last day on the Big Island, we got up early and drove out to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park to see Kilaulea and hike along the shore.
The road back to Kailua-Kona from Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is a long drive (it’s over 90 miles, putting the ‘Big’ into ‘Big Island’), and we wanted to make sure we didn’t miss dinner. There’s actually not that many places to stop along the route, but the mainstay of local Hawaiian Cuisine was there for us: a location of L&L Hawaiian Barbecue in Ocean View.

With over 50 locations, L&L Hawaiian Barbecue (often referred to by locals as “L&L Drive-In”, their original name) is one of Hawaii’s largest restaurant chains (Starbucks, Subway, and McDonald’s out-pace it). Founded in the early 1970s in Oahu and quickly spreading through the islands (and then in ’99, the mainland as well), L&L focuses on a food item from Hawaii’s agricultural labor past: the Plate Lunch. As we touched on in our reviews of Zippy’s and Mike’s, the plate lunch was conceived as an enticement for agricultural labor, the Plate Lunch consists of two scoops of rice, macaroni salad, and a meat entree (usually Japanese or Hawaiian in style, such as teriyaki chicken or huli-huli chicken). L&L has an extensive menu of plate lunch and dinner combos, along with most of the other mainstays of “local Hawaiian” cuisine, like Spam musubi, saimin, burgers, and lumpia. And everything is pretty much available as both a “plate” and a “small plate” (same dish, but with half the rice). It really makes for a very impressive menu board of options.

If there’s any other dish competing with the plate lunch as being iconic of local Hawaiian cuisine, it’s Spam musubi. A mish-mash of Japanese omusubi traditions combined with the mid-century ubiquity of imported Spam as one of the more reliable protein sources in the Islands, you can expect to find Musubi at all sorts of fast food and convenience stores. My generally favorite in Hawaii remains 7-Eleven, but the version at L&L is quite good, tasty, and affordable.

For the main course, I went for the cornerstone of Hawaiian Cuisine: the Plate Lunch. In this case, a Plate Combo, with “Hamburger Steak” (really a bit closer to “Salisbury Steak” with gravy, a pretty common item in local Hawaiian food), Teriyaki-style BBQ Beef, and Japanese-style Beef Curry. And the obligatory macaroni salad and two scoops of rice (underneath everything else). This was truly a feast (I’m not sure I want to know the total calorie count here), but everything was quite tasty: the beef a nice and flavorful well-seared teriyaki, the hamburger steak nicely cooked with a tasty gravy, and the Japanese curry being a very splendid, boldly spiced stew with large chunks of meat. Yeah, I wouldn’t want to eat this every day, but it was a very welcome meal after a long day of hiking and skipping lunch.

Carol, meanwhile, went for the Lau Lau Pork plate. Fatty pork and salted butterfish wrapped in lu’au leaves and ti leaves, this was served up with scoops of rice and macaroni salad as well. This was also an enjoyable dish, with much of the flavor coming from the various aromatics leaching into the pork and fish from the ti leaves.

Overall, we loved L&L, and their Ocean View location serves as a much-needed oasis of fast-service but quality food on the long drive along Hawaiʻi Belt Road. It’s definitely worth checking them out wherever you encounter them. And the good news? As a chain that’s spread from Hawaii to the mainland, if you are really craving Hawaiian food, L&L is available not only across Hawaii, but in 14 other states as well.

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