Island Comforts Made With Aloha

Cover Story Features

September 13, 2015

Story By: Ali Resich |

For nearly 40 years, L&L Hawaiian Barbecue has been spreading aloha through its classic and widely adored local comfort foods, which have remained simple and true to Hawaii’s roots since the very first eatery opened on Liliha Street in 1976. These days, the island-based franchise can still be found putting plate lunch on the map for an international spectrum of patrons, while also reminding kamaaina right here at home just what it means to “eat aloha.”

For generations now, diners haven’t stopped reaching for L&L’s affordable local food, such as the quintessential Barbecue Mix plate of teri steak, barbecue chicken and pork chop or short rib, which wouldn’t be complete without two scoops rice and a creamy mass of mac salad. And then there are those golden, crispy pieces of chicken katsu that taste even better when dipped into L&L’s made-from-scratch katsu sauce.

“The classics are the most popular,” says CFO Elisia Flores. “We try to introduce new items every once in a while, but it’s the classics that are always our biggest sellers.”

There are, of course, exceptions to any rule, and the moment L&L debuted its on-trend Ramen Burger in February 2014 — featuring savory meats sandwiched between perfectly soft yet crisp “buns” made from ramen — it became an instant hit.

With such a large following, it’s no surprise that L&L has garnered widespread critical acclaim. Locally, the company has won so many Ilima Awards over the years that it is considered a Star Circle perpetual awardee. To thank all of its supportive and longstanding patrons, the dining chain invites any and all fans to enter L&L’s Ilima Awards Contest, in which two winners will go to the 20th annual Ilima Awards, a Diamond Head Theatre (DHT) benefit presented by Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

Flores, who is a board member at DHT, says winners will get to meet L&L’s leadership team at the Oct. 12 event, including executive chef Raymond Cheng. They’ll also be among the first to sample the chain’s brand-new dish, which will be revealed at the grand occasion. The public may enter to win until the end of September by visiting hawaiianbarbecue.com/LLilima or L&L’s Facebook page.

Throughout its journey, L&L always has strived to diversify its patronage and boasts more than 200 locations worldwide — many of which are sprinkled along the Mainland’s West Coast. On Sept. 8, the chain’s first Philippines branch opened in Manila, while back in the states, diners in Nashville, Tennessee, are the latest to enjoy a taste of the Islands. Even here on Oahu, L&L continues to expand, as the company soaks in rave reviews for its newest Hawaii locale at the Magic Island concession stand, and has plans for yet more 808 outposts.

According to COO Bryan Andaya, the overseas eateries often become a hub of island culture. “That’s really cool to see. You have all the halaus coming, and then people get to know each other. We help build a community of islanders away from the Islands,” he says.

“We even have the Star-Advertiser that we mail out to all our Mainland locations so people can read the local newspaper in the restaurant,” adds Flores.

These aren’t the only personal touches L&L is known for. When it comes to its comfort foods, L&L is committed to a no-fuss approach to fresh, satisfying and delicious island flavors. With so many branches, patrons might assume L&L has a central kitchen with pre-cooked items that travel miles before they end up on a plate, but Andaya confirms this couldn’t be further from the truth. Customers can rest assured that menu items are freshly made at each location, with customized menus — making each L&L feel more like a family restaurant than a chain destination.

In recent years, the business has added healthier menu options with smaller portions to the menu, in an effort to show that ever-popular plate lunches don’t have to be bad for you. “We’re trying to unbundle the plate lunch — it doesn’t have to be two scoops rice and mac salad all the time,” says Andaya. Diners may try a Healthier Garlic Shrimp plate (at select locations), served on a bed of salad with brown rice, or the reasonably portioned L&L Bowls, filled with steamed vegetables, white or brown rice and a choice of protein.

L&L Hawaiian Barbecue

710 Keeaumoku St. No. 100, Honolulu
Located within Walmart
(and many other locations)
Monday-Friday, 7-1 a.m.
Saturday-Sunday, 8-1 a.m.
Hours and prices vary by location

Honolulu, HI 96814

Hawaii's Best
Hawaii's Best