Monday, October 02, 2006

Aloha Hawaiian BBQ - Costa Mesa

I've not yet been to our 50th state, but through the recent rampant proliferation of Hawaiian eateries in O.C. and education from fellow bloggers Kirk, Reid, and Kathy, I'm already in love with one island staple: the plate lunch.

This is a meal borne out of the cultural mish-mash that is modern Hawaii. In a plate lunch, you'll find the flavors of Polynesia, China, Japan, Korea, Portugal, The Philippines, and Hormel. All designed to feed and fill. This is the kind of food that will stick-to-your-ribs and stay there as belly fat.

It begins innocently with two scoops of sticky rice and a scoop of macaroni salad. But then comes the limitless varieties and quantities of protein -- like grilled short ribs and breaded chicken thighs -- heaped on in portions suited for a Sumo wrestler.

Which leads me to this question: Why aren't there more fat hula dancers in Hawaii?

Knowing how large the portions usually are at these places, when I followed up on fellow Chowhound JB's tip on Aloha Hawaiian BBQ in Costa Mesa, I opted for a Chicken Katsu Mini Meal ($4.59).

It ticks a few bucks below the cost of their full blown plates. But any hope of eating light was immediately lost when I opened the styrofoam package back at the office.

This was not the Mini Me of Mini Meals. Instead, it would satisfy Fat Bastard himself.

There was enough chicken to easily make three super-sized sandwiches, although there was only one scoop of rice, not two.

The slabs of dark meat chicken were simply rolled in egg and breadcrumbs, fried to a golden brown, and chopped into strips. Unfortunately, the travel time and the steam from the hot rice dampened and dulled what probably began as a crackling coat of crunchy breaded crust.

It needed a good dunk in Aloha's katsu sauce to bring it back to life. The warm elixir did the job with an assertive vinegary tang and a subtle chili bite that could wake the dead.

On a second visit, I decided to eat in-store, ordering the Kalua Pork Mini Meal ($4.59). Being new to Kalua Pork, I didn't know what to expect, but the smell that snaked up from my container was familiar. It was an aroma that could only be pork.

Piled on top of steamed cabbage, the mound of shredded meat tasted like soggy carnitas or pulled pork after a soak in salty broth. The moist strands spread the unadulterated flavor of pork around my mouth like a mop.

After finishing each of these so-called Mini Meals, I was in for a "major" food coma.

Aloha Hawaiian BBQ
3001 Bristol St. Suite E
Costa Mesa, CA 92626


At 10:15 PM, Blogger Professor Salt said...

Thanks for the heads up on the mini, uh, trough of food. This is the place on the corner of Baker, across from the Wahoo's? I pass by it all the time, but never been.

I hope they can last in that cursed location. There's been at least three taco joints there in as many years that have failed.

At 10:56 PM, Blogger Chubbypanda said...

Lol. Welcome to Hawaiian eating. As I've said before elsewhere, I'm surprised that they all don't end up looking like Sam Choy.

You left out a vital part about kalua pork. It smells like smoked pork. It also smells like tinned cat food. Only time cat food seems appetizing to me. Go figure.

- CP

At 9:22 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


That's exactly where it's located. Right next to the Subway, across from Wahoo's. The katsu wasn't as buttery as the one I've had in Waikiki Hawaiian Grill in Tustin, but it was serviceable and closer to me.

As I recall, the last joint that was at that location was a Sushi/Bento place. But judging by the line that went out the door of Aloha yesterday at noon, this place will do least until everyone who eats those gigantic portions dies of heart disease!


It kinda *DOES* smell like tinned cat food. It's a heady, steamed, pork smell...I've got to go to Hawaii to see what the kalua pig tastes like out of the underground pit they roast it in.

Funny side note: the Word Verification I'm seeing below for this reply is RELUAU!!!

At 9:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm happy that Aloha Hawaiian BBQ seems to have earned a spot on your "every so often" lunch rotation! Any place that offers Panko-breaded chicken and tasty, eye-opening katsu sauce should certainly help prop-up anyone's lunch repertoire!

Tip: if Aloha's dining room is jammed and it's a nice day, walk the Chicken Katsu over to the neighboring Camp and find an empty boulder (or ledge) to sit on. And savor the Panko crunch!!

And thank you for spotlighting the kalua pork! Am curious, which sauce (teriyaki? katsu?) or other topping (if any) did you choose?

At 10:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Every time I pass by, the restaurant is closed. Then again, every time I pass by, it's late or early. One question: do they serve anything besides the tried-and-true? Maybe some lumpia or linguiça?

At 11:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the OC reviews, my wife and I tried Tropika and enjoyed it.

If you're ever in Gardena, try Bruddah's (on Gardena Blvd, between Normandie and Vermont?); its the best.

In Oahu, Ono Hawaiian Foods or Helena's Hawaiian Foods will give you authentic Hawaiian.

At 11:56 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Funny you should ask! I actually tried both the katsu sauce and the BBQ sauce on the kalua pig. But what worked best was Sriracha!


Most of it is the tried-and-true Kalbi, Fried or Grilled Mahi-mahi, Saimin, Spam Musubi. All which remains untried by me. But no linguica or lumpia that I can recall. I did see one thing I haven't seen before in a Hawaiian joint. Garlic Shrimp! I've heard so much about Garlic Shrimp trucks there on the islands. I'm going to have a go at it when I make my next trip.


Thanks for the comment! Glad you liked Tropika. I'm going to have to try Bruddahs, and your other recs too (if I ever get to Oahu).

At 1:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think I would have doused Sriracha on it too...would have added a more contrasting zing, not to mention color!

The menu is more or less strictly Hawaiian...I'd zero in on anything with the word 'katsu' or 'kalua' in the description, and save my lumpia cravings for the nearest dive turo-turo joint. Also, Pineapple Chicken might be worth a look...the description promises that fresh pineapple is included, and plus, they allegedly use white meat (vs. the dark meat of Chicken Katsu).

I thought Aloha was good -- reliable enough to satisfy future Hawaiian cravings, nothing more. And, small world, on my only trip to Oahu, I ate at Ono Hawaiian Foods, and had the kalua plate! Pork was very good there, they seem to deserve the reputation.

At 2:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

actually, kalua pork conjures cured pulled pork, as sort of described by elmoMonster

At 3:35 PM, Blogger Deb said...

My man is Japanese and grew up in Hi., our fav place you should check out is Nalu's in the Quail Hill Shoppping Center (405 and Sand Canyon). There's also an awesome wine bar next door. Tell me how you like it!

At 5:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always order the full size plate lunches at hawaiin bbq places. I figure that I can eat half now and then have extra for later. Although the chicken katsu isn't so tasty when reheated in the microwave, so I to finish as much of that as I can.

At 7:42 PM, Blogger Juliet said...

I don't believe we have any Hawaiin restaurants around here. Damn midwest! heh
But if I ever do eat at Aloha, I think I would need 2-3 dining buddies to share. My appetite is pretty small, especially when it comes to the meaty stuff. Now my husband, on the other hand, would have no problem polishing a meal off himself. Which makes me wonder why there are so many thin Chinese people. His whole family eats like it's going out of style, but you would never know it.

At 12:15 AM, Blogger Kathy YL Chan said...

Aloha Elmo!
hehe. eh, they gypped you on the rice man! We live off the big mounds of starchy goodness in Hawaii. But that is a deal - sooo much meeeeat!
Our fat hula dancers burn it all off with that intense hip wiggling - wigglewiggle wigglewiggle...maybe I should take up the sport!
Wait! What if we had katsu with com tam? Just an idea...would we add nuoc nam or katsu sauce? Holy moly, another random craving coming on :)

At 9:40 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Yup, every forkful I hit with Sriracha. But then, if there's a bottle next to me, I'll put Sriracha on anything.

The Bill and anonymous,

A canned meat it closely resembles is Corned Beef Hash, although not as fatty.


I keep forgetting about Nalu's. I guess it's an out-of-sight-out-of-mind thing. I'll have to go out to Quail Hill and check it out. I've also heard about that wine bar (too bad I'm not much of a oneophile).


Concur. For a while I was ordering the full meals at my regular haunt, Waikiki Hawaiian in Tustin. It is definitely most cost effective!


Oh man, when you do come back to California to visit you'll be surprised how many there are now! It's almost counter-intuitive since Californians are supposed "healthy eaters". But then, there are a lot of Asians here, and just like your husband's family, most seem to be able to pack it in without packing it on.


Writing and eating for this blog is also making my waistline a little more ample. But you're right, most of these mini franchises and mom-n-pop Hawaiian joints are worlds better than L&L. They just seem to put a lot more care into the cooking. The simplest foods are the easiest to screw up.


Com Tam with Katsu and Nuoc Cham! Now that's a combo I can stand behind. You know it would've happened if there was only a large influx of Vietnamese to the islands!

At 11:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, Kirk has lauded the merits of the plate lunch, and has inspired me too! I guess the more we eat these plate lunches, the more hula exercise we'll have to do to burn off the meaty, calorie-laden (but super-delicious) lunches. My motto for the macaroni salad is, "The more mayonnaise, the better!" Yum... Meat and mayonnaise... I like.

At 7:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, it's no cheese crisp, but I do enjoy a HI plate lunch. We have a big corporate "Ono Grill" here in Phoenix which sucks. But the independent ones are really good and certainly kill any hunger pains.

Of course, I made the mistake of asking for brown rice once and you would have thought I spit on someone's grave.


Thanks for a great review, Elmo.

At 12:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm just sad because there aren't any Hawaïen plate lunch places in Paris...this looks so interesting and I would like to try one.

At 9:30 PM, Blogger shi said...

1. I'm so there.
2. Because of you, my friends and I have been to Maki-Zushi 4 times since you posted about it. :) We're addicted to the scallop and lobster rolls.
3. Also because of you, I dropped $175 at Mastro's the other day. Worth every penny.

4. On my point about Dong Khanh, the things I like there are:

Canh Chua <- vietnamese sour soup, somewhat like the philipino Sinigang [My favorite flavor is catfish] [8 dollars for a bowl enough for 2 people]

Ca Kho To [thom] <- Catfish that comes sizzling in one of those black oven bowl thingies. The kind with "Thom" has pineapple in it. Delish.
(There's also a pork version.. Not sure of the name, maybe Thit Heo Kho?) [about 8 bucks, also serves 2]

Ga Ro Ti & Com Chien - An entire cornish hen and tomato fried rice [7 something, serves 1 huge person or 2 little people]


If you go there for lunch, they have a lunch special menu where everything on the lunch menu is 3.99. If you go for lunch, I suggest "Mi Dong Khanh" which is the normal viet/chinese egg noodles & whole bunch of delicious crap like shrimp and stuff... Or the Bo Luc Lac meal. :)

Wow, Um, yeah, I had a lot to say.

I like food.

Thank you.

At 11:46 PM, Blogger shi said...

Oh yeah, and make sure you eat the Canh Chua [if you get it] with rice. :)

At 11:46 PM, Blogger shi said...

Maybe I should just take you.

At 7:11 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Funny thing is, I wasn't crazy about macaroni salad before I discovered plate lunches. Now I can't imagine having a Hawaiian meal without it!


Yeah, and the independent ones seem to be owned by Koreans, which is doubly great because the kalbi (the Korean BBQ short ribs) tastes just that much better because of it!


I've been salivating at those long crispy French sandwiches you have been having. At least in Paris, you are immune to this Hawaiian eating frenzy called the plate lunch.


LOL! Maybe you should! But that's awesome! $3.99 for lunch at Dong Khanh!? Notice how zeroed in to that part?! Yes, I'm a cheapskate tightwad. Which is why we keep going to Maki-Zushi too. I too love those BSCCR and Maki-Zushi (baked lobster rolls)...tasty! Filling! Glad you like Mastro's. It's one place I can guarantee that anyone who likes red meat will stuff themselves silly and be happy they had to shell out more money that they would spend in a week for food. As for Aloha, it's just a lunch place, good but not a destination you want to go out of the way for. I like it because it's super close to work! If you're in Tustin, you've got to try Waikiki Hawaiian Grill.

At 10:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How come all hawaiian bbq fast-food type places have the same food? hmm.. the same crispy chicken shrimp, bbq ribs, mac and chese, cole slaw, etc. hmm..

At 7:55 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


I guess it's a case of what the consumer expects - the tried and true as Gustavo Arellano said above. Although I'm still looking for a place in OC that also does Hawaiian Shaved Ice.

At 8:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anyone know if the place in Orange by the same name is in any way related tho this one in FV?

At 12:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

SouthOCHound, the Aloha Hawaiian BBQ in Costa Mesa patronized by me & Elmo actually appears to be #4 in the family....

the one in Orange on Chapman Ave. is a sibling, and allegedly there are other locations in HB (on Brookhurst, south of Garfield) and in Studio City on Ventura.

At 1:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've eaten at Aloha twice in the last week or so. The first time I had the Katsu mini-meal and the second time the kalua pork mini-meal. The only other Hawaiian eatery I have tried is L and L and I prefer Aloha much more. Thanks for the review Elmo.

At 10:41 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Glad you liked it Jenna. Pretty good food at a convenient place (if you work or live in the area, that is). I heard that the shrimp is quite good as well.

At 1:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love Aloha!!! The one on Brookhurst has a drive through and is right on my way home. I just call in my order from the freeway and grab it. They are open until 9:00 p.m. for those late days.


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