Art of the Plate Lunch

October 1, 2012 | By Margie Jacinto

The infamous loco moco. Papercraft: Jeff Sanner

The ever-evolving meal is an island staple, to say the least.

The Hawaiian plate lunch much has come a long way from its humble beginnings. From a plantation worker’s simple meal comprising a carbohydrate-loaded plate of rice, macaroni salad and whatever meat was available on hand (leftover, canned or otherwise), modern-day plate lunch offerings now run the gamut with options containing beef, chicken, fish, shrimp or all of the above. And when it comes to sides, though two-scoops of rice and a scoop of mac salad remain to be plate-lunch essentials, other sides such as grilled veggies or mixed greens are certainly more recent and welcome additions.

According to Arnold Hiura, author of Kau Kau: Cuisine & Culture in the Hawaiian Islands, the popularity of the plate lunch here in Hawai‘i is incredibly apparent: “A plate lunch is tasty, filling and very affordable. Casual and flexible, plate lunches fit our lifestyle like shorts, T-shirts and rubber slippers. [Just] pile a bland, starchy staple (two scoops rice), a cool, fatty side dish (macaroni salad with mayonnaise) and a well-seasoned entree (or more) onto an unpretentious paper plate and (optional) top it off with gravy.” Now that sounds ono (delicious)!


Me’s BBQ
Me’s serves Korean-style plate lunches with kalbi (barbecued beef short-ribs) and barbecued chicken being two of its most popular offerings. Portions are generous so come in with a big appetite.
151 Uluniu Ave. [B:10 Waikiki Map]
(808) 926-9717

HI Steaks
Located inside local grocer Food Pantry, HI Steaks is known for its “Original Steak Plate.” With tender beef as its main meat offering, diners choose from a selection of sauces. Plates come with either brown or white rice and either spring mix salad or Asian potato salad.
2370 Kuhio Ave. [B:9 Waikiki Map]
(808) 922-8726

Kenny’s Express Hawaiian BBQ
Located in the Pa‘ina Lanai food court of the Royal Hawaiian Center. Kenny’s serves a sampling of plate lunches from Korean barbecue to hamburger steaks and more.
Royal Hawaiian Center
2201 Kalakaua Ave. [C:8 Waikiki Map]
(808) 922-3333

Rainbow Drive-In
A local institution, the Kapahulu establishment serves everything from barbecue chicken and teriyaki steak to mahi-mahi with tartar sauce. Each entree comes with two scoops of rice and a scoop of either mac salad or coleslaw.
3308 Kanaina Ave. [A:12 Waikiki Map]
(808) 737-0177

Blue Water Shrimp & Fish Market
As its name implies, the Waikiki walk-up offers delicious seafood plate lunches. Here, you’ll find a bevy of fish, clams, shrimp, oysters and lobster offerings rivaling the quality of a sit-down restaurant.
International Market Place Food Court
2330 Kalakaua Ave. [C:8 Waikiki Map]
(808) 923-2529

Ono Hawaiian Foods
Quaint and inviting, pay this eatery a visit for the genuine article. You’ll get a taste of some of Hawai‘i’s familial foods such as kalua pig, lomi lomi salmon, lau lau (pork and fish wrapped in taro leaf).
726 Kapahulu Ave. [A:12 Waikiki Map]
(808) 737-2275

Sam’s Kitchen
Using local produce whenever possible, Sam’s Kitchen garlic shrimp scampi is the specialty of the house. Sam’s is also known for its garlic steak, pesto chicken and bento meals.
333 Royal Hawaiian Ave. [B:7 Waikiki Map]
(808) 923-2244