mixed plate of Huli Huli Chicken and Molokai Chicken
I don’t advise surfing into Hawaiian Bros uninformed like I did because, after opening up the admirably biodegradable divided clamshell of chow, my first thought was: What in Sam Hill is this? To fully appreciate Hawaiian Bros, you have to first appreciate the history behind the meal.
Hawaiian Bros serve up Hawaiian plate lunches, a traditional dish of two scoops of white rice, macaroni salad, and a meaty entree. The format traces back to 1880s pineapple and sugar plantations where the workers would bring bento boxes of rice and leftover protein from last night’s dinner for lunch. By the 1930s, lunch moved to food trucks and the bento boxes transitioned to divided plates. Because plantation workers came from all over the world, plate lunches reflected that diversity with two giant scoops of rice, a pan-Asian protein, and, somehow, a mayonnaise-based macaroni salad becoming traditional components of the meal. This dish of lots of carbs and little to no veggies became the signature Hawaiian meal, now served in brick-n-mortars across the islands, the chicken-fried-steak plate of Hawaii.
Hawaiian Bros keeps it traditional while offering alternatives and substitutions if carb-after-carb-after-carb is not your thing. My what-in-Sam-Hill moment came when I saw two giant balls of sticky rice and the unexpected bizarreness of a macaroni salad. And if two giant rice balls are not enough, there’s a bed of rice under the entree. The heft of an order is truly a weight to behold.
The rice is competent, and the macaroni salad is good, bringing back memories of picnics with grandma. But where the plates shine are with the entrees. We tried the Hawaiian Bros signature dish, the Huli Huli Chicken ($8.5), chicken overnight marinated in the Bros own huli huli recipe, a delicious concoction of teriyaki and, generally, pineapple juice, honey or brown sugar, sesame oil, ginger, and garlic (the original recipe for huli huli died with its Portuguese-American inventor in 2002). We split the entree with the spicy version of Molokai Chicken ($11.5), which was my favorite: a dark sweet-and-spicy dish that I had to set aside to prevent overgorging. The bride noted that Hawaiian Bros uses good quality chicken with no icky bits. I first winced at the additional rice under the entree: was this a ploy to make the entree look bigger than it was? But that rice is a treasure, soaking up the sauce and just waiting to make you smile.
The bride, always worrying about my vegetable intake (probably for good reason), ordered the seasoned vegetables version of the plate (zucchini, carrots, broccoli, onions, mushrooms, squash, and red bell peppers seasoned with a house spice blend; $7.5). At first glance, it doesn’t look impressive. Not a lot of veggies (much less than shown), and what veggies are there appear to be over-boiled by grandma. But the bride found them tasty and re-orderable. There’s still not a lot of them (there must be a traditionalist working in the kitchen…), but you can swap out a rice ball for extra-veggies. Other dishes include Luau Pig, Honolulu Chicken, and a couple of sandwiches. And if all that rice isn’t enough, they’ll pitch you two more balls of water seed for a buck fifty. Appropriately enough, you can also get a side of fresh-sliced pineapple (which we adorned with five-spice and chopped garden mint) and the newly available SPAM Musubi (Hawaiians love SPAM!).
Hawaiian Bros’ roots trace back to (1) a Hawaiian named Kekoa in Oregon, (2) a successful family chain in Oregon, and (3) the creation of Hawaiian Bros in the Kansas City area. Hawaiian Bros are also the first establishment to open in the Kitchen United Mix take-out/delivery space at 8023 Burnet (no in-house dining). The Kitchen United online format goofily doesn’t allow you read the full description of menu items (and you can only read the menu when a space is open for business), so head over to the website of the original Hawaiian Bros to read all about it (and perhaps see future menu items for the Austin location).
Opening a food-joint during a pandemic is generally not ideal, but with take-out and delivery the preferred mode these days, Hawaiian Bros’ timing is impeccable. Because of big-as-Kīlauea portions, we amply eeked three meals out of our order (and could have gained a fourth if we had been more organized).
June 13, 2020 update: They added Spam Musubi to the menu! Yay! It came tightly webbed in plastic wrap, but I (the bride won’t eat spam) was richly rewarded with savory flavor (and all mine!). The veggies this time around were better/fresher. The bride subbed the macaroni salad with the veggies and ordered the small plate, which was just enough for a meal.
web&where:interwebs (only viewable when open); 8023 burnet road; (512) 453-6464 what’s the deal? traditional Hawaiian plate lunches (and dinners); take out/delivery overall: ** (food**; drink*; atmosphere (n/a); service**; instagrammability**) cost: $ does it scramble? yes
our scale: – meh [think twice]
* OK [it’ll get the job done]
** good [solid neighborhood joint]
*** damn good [we’ll definitely be back]
**** yippity-yikes that was amazeballs [fantastic; one of the best]
***** holy sh!t [transcendental; best of the best]
each $ = $10; cost is based on a typical dinner entrée and appetizer (no drinks)