Since we’re much concerned with barbecue this issue, we shouldn’t neglect a certain All-American offshoot: Hawaiian barbecue. This Arrowhead-area dining spot specializes in the 5-0 State’s traditional “plate lunch” – that is, a selection of grilled meats atop rice, boiled cabbage and macaroni salad. The chicken katsu ($7.59), strips of poultry wrapped in batter and served with katsu sauce – sort of an Asian take on A-1 or Worcestershire – is a strength, and so are the various combinations of fish and shrimp, available fried, grilled or in curry. Try the Seafood Mix ($8.89), which has chicken thrown in. Not so great: the fatty, flavorless short ribs ($9.59).
Must try: Spam musubi is like sushi, with a grilled slice of the canned meat product, beloved by Hawaiians, wrapped with rice in seaweed. Let’s say you don’t like Spam. As a Monty Python fan I disapprove, but Leo’s Island has you covered, with a BBQ chicken musubi ($3.49) alternative.
7665 W. Bell Rd., Ste. 103, Peoria, 623-878-1128, leosislandbbq.com
Two east Valley locations of this family-owned diner, one in Mesa and one in Chandler, boast a large, varied menu of plate lunch standards – similar in look and feel to Leo’s Island BBQ, but more capable with the red meats. The BBQ Mix ($10.98) is perhaps the best bet here for a novice, with lovely little kalbi short ribs, tender beef and juicy chicken. Health food it isn’t, but make a few bites of the soggy cabbage your penance, and your nod to nutrition.
Must try: Said to be a favorite of our president, Spam musubi gets the royal treatment at Golden Hawaiian, which does a version ($3.78) tasty enough to make the motorcade pull over.
OK, strictly speaking, this isn’t barbecue. Strictly speaking, it isn’t even cooked. The exclusive specialty of this newly-hatched enterprise in Scottsdale (there’s a California location as well) is poke, the Hawaiian delicacy of marinated raw fish over rice and/or vegetables in a bowl. Your choice of tuna, spicy tuna, albacore, salmon, octopus, shrimp, scallops or, for an extra buck, yellowtail, are combined with your choice of various sauces, then topped with veggies ranging from jicama to seaweed. I opted for spicy tuna and octopus ($8.95) over brown rice with the snappy sweet citrus sauce, plus avocado for an extra buck, and wasn’t disappointed.
Must try: No Spam here. There’s not much to the menu beyond your poke choices, but there is a nice, sweet Thai-style iced tea ($2.99) to wash them down.
2805 N. Scottsdale Rd., Ste. 103, Scottsdale, 480-219-9310, ahipokibowl.com
“Aloha Served Daily!” says a hand-lettered sign over the counter. Well, daily except for Sundays, anyway, when this homey North Valley hideaway is closed. Presumably this refers to “Aloha” in the sense of “love,” and the loco moco ($6.99) – a hamburger patty over rice and under gravy with a whisper of sweetness at the finish, all topped with an egg – seemed loaded with comforting, nap-spawning Aloha to me. A lighter appetite is well-served by the stir-fried chicken in spicy sauce ($6.95). Among the breakfasts served from 10-11:30 a.m. is one which reflects Hawaii’s Portuguese heritage: two eggs, four slices of Portuguese sausage… and, of course, two slices of Spam ($6.50).
Must try: The tiramisu and cheesecake are shipped in, but the haupia ($2.75) – coconut pudding – is homemade. Call ahead to see if you’re in luck.
2040 W. Deer Valley Rd., Phoenix, 602-904-6356,
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