Eating Adventures

Aloha, Denver! Nine Must-Try Hawaiian Dishes

Poke is one of many Hawaiian dishes available in Denver.
Poke is one of many Hawaiian dishes available in Denver. Linnea Covington
The Mile High City doesn't feel particularly tropical, even with September's heat wave, but that doesn’t mean we lack a good selection of Hawaiian foods. You don't have to host a backyard luau or bury a pig in a fire pit to get a taste of the islands. You can find all sorts of goodies, from malasadas to musubi to pork-filled lau lau — and even Spam, that staple of Hawaiian plate lunches. Here are nine treat dishes, including some with Spam, that you can track down at Denver eateries.
click to enlarge Adrift Tiki Bar fries piping-hot malasadas for dessert. - LINNEA COVINGTON
Adrift Tiki Bar fries piping-hot malasadas for dessert.
Linnea Covington
Malasadas at Adrift Tiki Bar
218 South Broadway
303-778-8454

Nearly every culture has its own take on doughnuts, something that proves true in Hawaii too, where the local doughnut is called a malasada. While these fried beauties pop up all over, they are actually a Portuguese specialty that made a splash on the islands in the late 1800s, when laborers from Madeira and Azores came to Hawaii to work on plantations. Today you can find these sugar-coated, fried dough balls flavored with all sorts of sweet stuff, such as the lilikoi (or passion fruit) caramel that sweetens the brioche doughnut holes at this Broadway tiki bar and restaurant. The malasadas here also get a dose of coconut sugar and macerated strawberries. Pair them with one of many classic tiki drinks, another beach specialty not to be missed.

click to enlarge Thornton isn't quite as far from Denver as Hawaii is. - WESTWORD
Thornton isn't quite as far from Denver as Hawaii is.
Westword
Manapua at Aloha Hawaiian Barbecue
8623 Washington Street, Thornton
303-227-6800

This Thornton joint has plenty of meaty choices, but one of the more unusual Hawaiian offerings is the manapua, a toothsome white pork bun that speaks to the Chinese influence on the islands. A manapua is similar to a char siu bao, the steamed barbecue pork bun you might see on a dim sum cart. When the snack first came to Hawaii, it was peddled by the manapua men, the nineteenth-century version of today's food trucks. The name manapua loosely translates to "delicious pork thing," something you can't deny with each bite.

click to enlarge The Chocolate Haupia Pie being served during the Corner Office's Hawaii-themed month. - THE CORNER OFFICE
The Chocolate Haupia Pie being served during the Corner Office's Hawaii-themed month.
The Corner Office
Chocolate Haupia Pie at The Corner Office
1401 Curtis Street
303-825-6500

Each month this downtown restaurant offers a “Where in the World Is Chef” theme, and for September it's all about Hawaii. While you can fill up on pork belly pani popo, sesame wahoo with ginger cashew shrimp, sweet potato and ham hash and tiki drinks, it's the chocolate haupia pie that has us salivating for dessert. Traditional haupia is kind of like flan or a French blancmange, only it's made out of coconut milk and served during luaus. This dish takes the dessert one step further and adds chocolate and a macadamia-nut shortbread for the crust, creating a Pacific Rim take on Boston cream or French silk pie.

click to enlarge Loco moco, a Hawaiian-inspired dish at Troy Guard's Hashtag. - TAG RESTAURANT GROUP
Loco moco, a Hawaiian-inspired dish at Troy Guard's Hashtag.
TAG Restaurant Group
Loco Moco at Hashtag
10195 East 29th Drive
303-996-9985

Sometimes teenagers do really great things, like coming up with the killer combination of hamburger, rice, gravy and eggs, which in Hawaii is lovingly referred to as "loco moco." As the story goes, the dish came to be in 1949, when Richard and Nancy Inouye, who owned the Lincoln Grill in Hilo, were asked by a group of teens for a new and different platter; over time it became a staple on the islands. At chef Troy Guard's new brunch and breakfast spot in Stapleton, slices of TAG's signature meatloaf are placed on top of kimchi fried rice. Then the dish gets a ladle full of rich mushroom gravy and is crowned with two fried eggs.


click to enlarge L & L serves lau lau in true Hawaiian style. - WESTWORD
L & L serves lau lau in true Hawaiian style.
Westword
Lau Lau at L & L Hawaiian Barbecue
14221 East Cedar Avenue, Aurora
303-340-8824

Traditionally lau lau consists of roasted pork wrapped in a luau leaf, also known as taro or kalo, that native Hawaiians harvest and use in cooking. The big green leaves really make this particular dish; like banana-leaf-wrapped foods in other tropical regions, the luau leaf helps keep moisture and flavor in the bundle, and in this case makes for some succulent, aromatic pork. L&L Hawaiian BBQ is a mini-chain that started in Honolulu and has since branched out to the mainland and more than a decade ago came to Aurora. Here you can get a simple version of the dish à la carte as a side or part of the kalua pork combination platter (as pictured above).

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Linnea Covington moved back to Denver after spending thirteen years in New York City and couldn't be happier to be home, exploring the Mile High and eating as much as possible, especially when it involves pizza or ice cream.
Contact: Linnea Covington