As Texans, we have a very specific archetype in mind when we hear the word "barbecue," and it typically involves fatty smoked brisket, perhaps some smoked sausage, slices of plain white bread, and maybe some coleslaw and/or potato salad. In the palm tree-studded fiftieth state of Hawaii, however, barbecue means something entirely different.
According to the New York Times, the history of the cuisine stretches back to the late 1800s, when Hawaiian plantation workers would subsist on rice paired with whatever leftover meat they could find. Over time, it evolved into the plate lunch that's now served at roadside stands and hole-in-the-wall restaurants all over the state; think of it like an island-influenced version of the traditional Southern meat-and-three plates.
The Hawaiian plate lunch has since been brought to the mainland, and right here in Dallas you can find it at Aloha Hawaiian BBQ on Lemmon Avenue.
If you have yet to experience the wonder that is the plate lunch, here's why you should try it:
1. It's delicious.
Haute cuisine this is not, but the crowd-pleasing nature of the Hawaiian plate lunch cannot be denied. Take for instance, loco moco: two burger patties smothered in grilled onions and brown gravy and crowned with two fried eggs. Then there's the ever-popular chicken katsu, a panko-crusted fried chicken cutlet sliced into strips and served with a sweet and tangy dipping sauce.
2. It's dirt cheap.
A plate lunch with chicken katsu is a mere $6.99, and your styrofoam container — no fancy plates or flatware here, sorry — will come out stuffed to the brim. Throw in an order of lumpia (fried pork-stuffed spring rolls) or the bizarre-yet-tasty spam musubi, and you've got plenty of food for two very hungry adults for around $12. Upgrade your plate lunch protein to shredded kalua pork or loco moco for another buck.
3. It's filling.
Every plate lunch at Aloha comes with two generous scoops of steamed rice and a small mountain of garlicky macaroni salad. Starch overload? Sure, but this is precisely the type of meal you'd refer to as "rib-sticking." (The low-carb set can spring for the $8.99 "Protein Plate," which foregoes all the starchy sides in favor of barbecue ribs, beef, and chicken with two fried eggs.)
4. Your hypothetical BFF Anthony Bourdain is into it.
On a recent Hawaii-focused episode of his wildly popular CNN series Parts Unknown, the globe-trotting chef sang the praises of the traditional plate lunch. Okay, so there's admittedly nothing healthy about a Hawaiian plate lunch — but you can always skip lunch in favor of a green juice tomorrow.
5. Face it: It's probably the closest you'll get to a Hawaiian vacation this year.
The average price of a round-trip fare from Dallas to Honolulu clocks in at around $1,000, or approximately 143 chicken katsu plates at Aloha Hawaiian BBQ. Enough said.