Monday, October 13, 2014

L & L Hawaiian BBQ

How many times have you walked down Kearny Street near Union Square, right past L & L Hawaiian BBQ, without ever noticing?  I can't even count the times I have.  Why would I care about a Hawaiian BBQ place?  I don't like spam, pork, short ribs, chicken, or really anything on the menu.  And, quite honestly, from the outside, the store is not a looker.  Dingy, unattractive signage, and, plus, the burgers are $2.49.  Mahi mahi sandwiches are $3.49.  How is this even possible, given rent in downtown San Francisco alone?

Finally one day I noticed the place, and got curious, so I learned more.  The history is actually a bit fascinating.  They started in Hawaii as a single restaurant, the L&L Drive-Inn, and then franchised in 1988.  They became very successful in Hawaii for serving healthy lunches for low prices, apparently voted the #1 BBQ in Hawaii.  (Side note.  I don't buy the "healthy" claim.  For example, their number one seller, the chicken katsu plate is listed on the menu as 1,690 calories!  In what world is a 1,690 calorie dish a healthy lunch?)  Anyway, they expanded to California in 1999, and renamed themselves L & L Hawaiian Barbecue, to increase the appeal to the mainland market.  I guess it must have been successful, because now they exist not only in California, but in several others US states, New Zealand, and even Japan.

The menu is designed around a traditional Hawaiian plate of rice, macaroni salad, and a meat entree.  I don't like rice, and I am still way too scared of their ridiculously inexpensive meat, but I do love macaroni salad, and I was fascinated by the place.  So, I finally ventured in.

Service was fine, you order at a register, and my side dish was ready quickly.  There are a few tables and counter seating inside, but I just took it to go, as did many other patrons.
Single Scoop Macaroni Salad.  $1.10.
Now, I said I like macaroni salad, but, I honestly had no idea that macaroni salad is a Hawaiian thing.  In my head, I think I expected bits of pineapple in it or something to make it "Hawaiian".  Instead, it looked just like regular macaroni salad.  But, it was a bit different, once I tasted it.

The macaroni was decently cooked, although softer that I prefer.  I later learned that this is the Hawaiian way.  The only vegetable was shredded carrot.  The sauce was mayonnaise based.  And ... there was very little else to it.  It was highly unremarkable.  It didn't taste fresh.  I don't understand why Yelpers give it such positive reviews.  Sigh, Yelpers.

It made me really wish for the tasty version from Fountain Cafe again, or even the fairly boring version from Deli & ..., as that at least had veggies in and seemed freshly prepared.  I even preferred the mediocre version from The Sandwich Spot or the fairly generic one from A.G. Ferrari.

But, L & L does win on price.  A big container of macaroni salad for $1.10?  I still can't get over the price ... not that I'd go back to get it again.
See review on Urbanspoon
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