L&L Hawaiian Barbecue
I had barbecue on the brain this week, and stopped by a spot that nearly killed me on my first visit just from the sheer volume of food a ten-spot can buy. L&L Hawaiian Barbecue has been around in its current incarnation since 1976 -- a Big Island marvel that started off as a dairy retailer in the late '50s and was bought by caloric geniuses Eddie Flores Jr. and Kwock Yum Kam, who (according to the L&L legend) invented the modern "plate lunch" that made the place famous. Essentially, a plate lunch is a triple helping of starch (two scoops of Asian sushi rice and one more of American macaroni salad) served with a mix of entrees that leapfrog all over global cuisine. Chicken katsu, curried beef, fried shrimp, hamburger, short ribs, taro-wrapped pork, Spam -- you name it, and someone at L&L has already thought of slapping it down on a massive plate and practically giving it away for six or seven bucks. The notion of gigantic portions at low prices fueled an almost thirty-year run of franchise domination that resulted in better than ninety L&L locations scattered across Hawaii and a half-dozen mainland states, including Colorado, where the outpost is in Aurora. That's where I stopped recently for a taste of musubi -- a kind of Hawaiian sushi made with a block of rice and meat (either Spam, Portuguese sausage, chicken katsu or barbecue chicken), all wrapped in a ribbon of black seaweed sort of like Japanese tamago -- and a "barbecue mix" plate that brought me roughly seventeen pounds of barbecued chicken, beef and short ribs and clocked in at just under seven million calories. The chicken was a little dry but the ribs were excellent, and the twin mountains of sushi rice were the perfect accompaniment. I've never been crazy about L&L's macaroni salad, but then, I've never been crazy about macaroni salad in general. Maybe it was fantastic and I just don't know any better. Sadly, I missed the Spam ramen, but after the musubi and the barbecue plate (which I didn't come close to finishing), I don't think I'll be able to eat for a week.
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