Summer is road-trip season, so we're taking a culinary tour of America. But because Portland is a city of immigrants from other states, we don't have to leave town to do it. We're traveling to 50 Portland restaurants to try one distinctive food from each state. Our50 Plates tour continues with a kalua pork plate lunch from Hawai'i, which joined the union on August 21, 1959.
The state: Hawai'i (official spelling according to the State Constitution: Hawaii) is both the U.S.'s most muddled mixing pot of pan-Asiatic-Island everybody—Filipino, Japanese, Polynesian, Korean, Samoan, you name it—and the state that most strongly shows its native roots, with Hawaiian enshrined in the constitution as a second official language beside English. It's pretty much all coastline, and all temperate, and full of people from somewhere else who like both of those things. And everybody always wants something from paradise. The Japanese have been visiting for hundreds of years, first on canoes, later with fighter planes, and still later on corporate jets. European visitors' first official acts were to steal temple idols and then hold the king for ransom, and eventually overthrow the island leadership. (President Clinton said he was sorry in 1993.) Oh, and there's surfing. People like surfing. And Jack Johnson, on whom the jury is still officially out.
The food: The plate lunch, with kalua pork, is not the most authentic Hawaiian (Polynesian) dish—you're looking there at raw ahi or dried aku, luau leaf and poi. Mostly poi. Other aspects of Hawaiian cuisine borrow very heavily from Japanese or Korean foods. But the plate lunch is everywhere in Hawai'i, and it's what you'd pick up streetside after heading to the beach. There’s white rice and/or mac salad with meat, usually pork, teriyaki beef or chicken, or katsu. We're rolling with kalua pork, which is traditionally cooked with lava rocks on the island but is not cooked with those in Portland.
Other foods considered and rejected: Oh, man. So many things. Poke salad, poi, lau lau, saimin, spam musubi, spam and everything, loco moco, chicken long rice, malasada (oh, yeah), squid lu'au. This list could continue.
I’d lost my faith in kalua pig by the time I walked into this L&L in a strip mall. It only took one bite of the kalua pig plate ($8.75) to bring my entire Hawaiian childhood back to me. It’s tender and juicy, but also firm, with clumps of sinew and pockets of fat. L&L has restaurants in every neighborhood on O‘ahu. It was voted best plate lunch on the island in 2008 by The Honolulu Advertiser. There really is no reason to get plate lunch anywhere else in Portland.
Click on the map to see each state's distinctive food and where to get it in Portland.