Hometown Hungers: Best Loco Moco Outside of Hawaii
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Loco moco might be the quintessential island-style comfort food. As the story goes, this hearty dish was invented at Lincoln Grill in Hilo in 1949 to satisfy some hungry teenagers. The classic version is a hamburger patty topped with a fried egg, smothered in brown gravy and served over a scoop or two of Asian short-grain rice. Variations include fried rice instead of steamed, different kinds of gravy and all kinds of meat. Similarly to other comfort food staples, such as meatloaf and mashed potatoes, this in-demand dish is both filling and soothing. It has proven to be a popular combination, as loco moco has found fans well beyond the 808 state. Read on to find out where to score the best riffs on the dish.
Photo courtesy of John Beck
Namu Gaji, San Francisco
Chef Dennis Lee has offered various riffs on the loco moco over the years at the popular spots he co-owns with his brothers Daniel and David: the street-food stand in the San Francisco Ferry Building and the Namu Gaji restaurant facing Dolores Park. One previous incarnation had a more Korean spin with kimchi fried rice. The current version on the menu is the most traditional. The classic burger patties are made with pasture-raised ground beef sourced from nearby Marin Sun Farms. They come topped with two sunny-side-up eggs, finished with dashi gravy and served over sticky koshihikari rice.
Go to: Namu Gaji
Hula Girl Bar & Grill, Arlington, Va.
Oahu native Mikala Brennan spent four years running a Hawaiian food truck before opening her brick-and-mortar location in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., so rest assured that her menu delivers authentic island flavors. Her spin on the loco moco is sumo-sized: Two eggs are heaped on two burger patties, then drenched in a brown mushroom-onion gravy. This hearty heap of meat and egg is served in the standard plate-lunch style of Hawaii, meaning the dish comes flanked by two scoops of rice and macaroni salad.
Go to: Hula Girl Bar and Grill
Super Six, Seattle
This spot is the latest culinary brainchild from the partners behind Marination, one of Seattle’s first food trucks to dish out Hawaiian delicacies. The restaurant’s name is a nod to the space’s former life as an auto body shop, as well as to an early 20th-century roadster called the Super Six, which was powerful and practical — not unlike the protein-packed loco moco dish itself. Super Six sticks close to the classic recipe, delivering a dish composed of a beef patty, gravy, rice and two eggs garnished with some pickled red onions. In addition to the loco moco, the menu features a slew of pan-Asian style Hawaiian favorites, including poke, katsu, kalbi, coconut cream pie and malasadas.
Photo courtesy of John Beck
Go to: Super Six
Ate-Oh-Ate, Portland, Ore.
Ate-Oh-Ate is a play on the area code for Hawaii, 808. The homage to the Aloha State goes well beyond a nod in the name, as the menu is rife with Hawaiian-style food that brings together typical tastes of the island (such as authentic Spam) with fresh vegetables, all-natural meats and other impeccable ingredients. The attention to detail is evident in dishes such as the loco moco, which features a natural beef patty that is ground fresh daily at sister restaurant Laurelhurst Market Butcher Shop. The patty comes perched on a bed of steamed rice, topped with two eggs over easy and blanketed in a shiitake mushroom brown gravy.
Go to: Ate-Oh-Ate
Suburbia, Redondo Beach, Calif.
Masterminded by the powerhouse partnership of Chef Tin Vuong and restaurateur Jed Sanford (who already have six restaurants crisscrossing Los Angeles County), Suburbia offers New American cuisine. Several island specialties are available, with poke alone securing its own section of the menu. Don’t overlook the loco moco, which is listed as a breakfast dish. It’s made with a grilled hamburger that’s doused in brown onion gravy, crowned with a fried egg and served over steamed rice.
Go to: Suburbia
Starbelly, San Francisco
Starbelly is easily one of the best restaurants in the Castro, with the crowds flocking to its covered patio to indulge in an impeccable menu of elevated comfort foods. And while diners may not be able to trade the sounds of the surrounding city for those of the surf, the loco moco is capable of transporting their taste buds to the islands. The dish brings together a thick Prather Ranch beef patty, steamed rice and sunny-side-up egg drizzled with sweet soy sauce. A flurry of green onions finishes the plate.
Go to: Starbelly
The Corner Office, Denver
This hip restaurant and martini bar located across from the Denver Performing Arts Complex dishes out a creative menu of sophisticated pub eats and a retro vibe to match. Highlights include poutine with duck gravy, a kale Waldorf salad and a loco moco that’s offered on the weekend brunch menu. This hearty dish can be ordered either classic style, which means the patty will come perched atop a bed of rice, or in the form of a burger. Both are served with huli-huli onions, a slab of Spam, gravy and a fried egg.
Go to: The Corner Office
Aloha Cafe, Los Angeles
Aloha Cafe has been delivering the flavors of Hawaii to the denizens of Los Angeles since 1996. The culinary team prides itself on dishing out authentic island eats, and the passion shows through in signature plates such as the loco moco. This menu mainstay is made in the traditional fashion, with a homemade hamburger patty crowned with two eggs any style, a heap of grilled onions and generous ladlefuls of brown gravy, all served on top of white rice. The kitchen uses high-quality ground beef, which is seasoned with a blend of secret spices. The mixture is molded into patties and cooked to order. In addition to its standard loco moco, the restaurant also serves a stepped-up version made with curry and chili.
Go to: Aloha Cafe
Bamboo Grove Hawaiian Grille, Portland, Ore.
From the surfboards on the wall to the live ukelele music in the Tiki Room every Friday night, Bamboo Grove is steeped in the spirit of the Aloha State. The requisite loco moco comes in three sizes, all of which are made with seasoned hamburger meat that’s hand-formed into patties, then topped with fried egg and smothered in the house brown gravy. The dish is served bento or plate-lunch style, meaning rice and macaroni salad come on the side. Opt for the hamburger steak variation and the egg will be switched out for sauteed onions instead.
Photo courtesy of Heather Murray Photography
Go to: Bamboo Grove Hawaiian Grille
Island Flavor, Las Vegas
So many transplants from the Hawaiian Islands reside in Las Vegas that it is sometimes referred to as “the 9th island.” And when they’re hungering for a taste of home, Island Flavor delivers. Run by a former Big Islander, this spot has been praised for its large portions, as well as the authenticity of the food. Here, island-style cuisine is what’s on the menu, including a traditional loco moco. A 10-ounce hamburger patty is broiled to order before being crowned with two eggs and drenched in homemade brown gravy. The whole lot sits on a three-scoop mound of Japanese Calrose rice, which is an Asian-style short-grain sticky rice.
Go to: Island Flavor
Good Enough to Eat, New York City
Diners crowd into Good Enough to Eat to cozy up to the American comfort food dishes that the Upper West Side restaurant has been turning out for more than 35 years. Chef Michele Weber makes a mean loco moco, which is offered as a special in the classic style — white rice, hamburger patty, fried egg and brown gravy. Weber’s inspiration came from her Hawaiian friend Lester, who was also an artist and a waiter at the restaurant for 20 years. His parents made and sold the dish out of a beachside food truck back in the 1950s.
Photo courtesy of Chef Michele Weber & Good Enough to Eat
Go to: Good Enough to Eat
Peg’s Glorified Ham & Eggs, Reno, Nev.
The popularity of this mom-and-pop restaurant has spawned various locations throughout Nevada, including three locations in Reno, which continue to be operated by the offspring of the original owners. The menu at this classic breakfast spot is crowded with American morning favorites; an entire section is devoted to Hawaiian-style dishes alone. Selections include fried Spam and eggs, chili and rice, and a combo plate with Portuguese sausage, fried Spam, two eggs and white rice. Don't sleep on the loco moco: A mound of white rice comes topped with ground chuck, brown gravy and two eggs. A side of macaroni salad is served on the side. Grilled onions and/or bell peppers are available upon request.
Go to: Peg’s Glorified Ham & Eggs
Taste of Aloha, Arbutus, Md.
Molokai-born Robert Alcain is on a mission: He’s bringing the Hawaiian experience to Maryland locals via his restaurant, Taste of Aloha, which he opened in 2013. Here, he churns out the Polynesian comfort foods he grew up eating, in a laid-back, low-key dining room, with Hawaiian music piped in to boot. Alcain offers five kinds of “mocos,” with ingredients as varied as pork tonkatsu and mahi mahi. But his loco moco follows the classic recipe. It’s an Angus burger cooked to order, which is smothered in a rich brown gravy and served with an over-easy egg and rice.
Go to: Taste of Aloha
Hukilau, San Jose, Calif.
Located in San Jose’s Japantown, Hukilau was founded by three guys who hail from three different Hawaiian islands — Kauai, Oahu and Hawai’i — and missed the food from their home state. So they opened up a neighborhood tiki-style bar with fruity cocktails and plenty of “island grindz,” including poke, pupus and traditional specialties such as hamburger steak, mahi mahi sandwiches, lau lau, lomi lomi salmon and kalua pork. Loco moco is offered several different ways — original "Mauna Kea” style or with chicken katsu, beef teriyaki, Spam or kalua pork. Whichever version you get, the meat comes layered on a bed of steamed rice, topped with two fried eggs and then blanketed in a beef-based brown gravy that’s made in-house.
Go to: Hukilau