Country of origin: United States
Locations worldwide: Around 175 in American Samoa, Japan, New Zealand and the United States
NYC locations: One, in the Financial District
Yes, I'm fudging the international angle a bit for this inaugural 2011 post, but L&L Hawaiian Barbecue turned out to the most accessible on-point restaurant during the blizzard--and really, what's cheerier on a bitter, snowy workday than food from our most distant, tropical state? And New York City, their only East Coast outpost, isn't the strangest location--there are two L&L's in Anchorage.
Painted in warm yellows and oranges, the corner restaurant near the South Street Seaport has a small seating area, an abandoned sushi station and an L&L-logoed surfboard incongruously propped up next to a miniature Christmas tree ornamented with tiny Chinese take out boxes.
Much of the business comes midday for the classic plate lunch--a Hawaiian mash-up of the Southern meat-and-three and a Japanese bento--made up of an entrée, often meaty, served with a mound of macaroni salad and two scoops of white rice. Popular choices include kalua pork, similar to pulled pork, and chicken katsu.
But why settle for one item when you can have a trio? The mix bbq combo ($8.99) comes with a thin piece of steak, Korean-style short ribs and grilled chicken served atop a huge mound of rice that takes up half of the Styrofoam container. The beef probably isn't the most tender meat you've ever eaten, but the ribs are kind of fun to gnaw on at your desk--especially if your coworkers have all gone out of town. Barbecued chicken slicked with a sweet, garlicky soy glaze is definitely the star. Initially, I wasn't into the macaroni salad, but the mayonnaise was sparing and I started seeing the beauty of a creamy starch in addition to drier grains of rice. The pasta makes it feel like picnic food, and who doesn't love a picnic?
Loco moco (small, $5.99) also starts with a hefty foundation of rice and is covered with a well-done fast food hamburger patty and a runny-yolked egg covered with brown gravy, kind of like a whacked-out Salisbury steak. Like sweet frankfurter-studded Filipino spaghetti, this is a dish that could take some time to grow on you if you're not already a convert.
It was the Spam musubi (two for $3.29) that surprised me the most. I expected not to care for the slab of rice and slice of teriyaki-glazed Spam held together by a sheet of nori, but the saltiness was balanced out by the amount of rice and the crackly seaweed added a slight nutty flavor.
Canned Aloha Maid juices ($1.50) are nice antidote to soda and make sense with the plate lunches. They also aren't overly sweet and contain pulp and real cane sugar. Not that there's any way you could fool yourself into thinking this is health food.
After my meal, I felt exactly like a cartoon characters on one of their T-shirts for sale. Specifically, the tee showing a gentleman with a protruding gut napping inside of a Styrofoam serving tray on the beach.