It's tucked into the corner of a strip mall next to Domino's Pizza, but there's nothing mass-produced about L&L Hawaiian Barbecue.
While Hawaii lovers across the valley celebrate the arrival of L&L's plate lunches in Provo, the rest of the population may not know what to expect from Hawaiian barbecue.
The answer, pure and simple, is to expect the unexpected. Where else are you going to find a Spam-and-egg sandwich or Portuguese sausage on a fast-food menu?
Speaking of fast food, I should mention that L&L's service isn't particularly fast, but it's for a good reason: everything is made fresh when you order it, and it shows. Also, if you're a woman or a not-very-hungry man, do not order the regular-size plate lunch. L&L thoughtfully offers a mini version that's plenty for me.
There's a laid-back vibe at L&L that evokes the islands without going over the top. The decor is all bright reds, oranges and yellows, with tropical art and comfortable seating. There's great music wafting over the room, too, everything from reggae to "Tiny Bubbles."
So what is a plate lunch? Basically, it's a uniquely Hawaiian concoction composed of an entree from one of the islands' many cultures, plus two scoops of rice (the sticky variety) and one of macaroni salad.
The best recommendation I can make for L&L is that Hawaiians eat there. I know, I checked out their Web sites. Plus, when I tried to visit L&L for the first time a month ago, eager customers were lined up out the door despite the fact that the credit card machine was down.
The second-best recommendation I can make is that my family and I really liked our food. Due to influences as diverse as native Hawaiian, Japanese, Brazilian, other Asian countries and the good old U.S. of A., there should be something on the menu for everyone.
To start, I just had to try the musubi, which look very much like sushi, right down to the sticky rice and seaweed wrapper. But this is sushi for people who don't like sushi, because the meats you can get are Portuguese sausage, barbecued chicken, Spam or chicken katsu (chicken breast pounded thin, breaded and fried). I tried and liked both the barbecued chicken and Spam versions.
For dinner, I had a plate lunch of katsu curry, which I've enjoyed at Japanese restaurants. L&L's version lacked the chunky stewlike potatoes, onions and carrots I'm used to, but the curry sauce was everything it should be, pungent with spices and generously ladled onto the mound of chicken katsu.
Of course, it came with two scoops of steaming rice and one scoop of cool, creamy macaroni salad with carrots. I just wish I'd asked for more curry sauce for the rice; the breading on the katsu tends to soak it up quickly.
My husband had the Hawaiian barbecue mix, a predictably huge portion of barbecued beef, chicken and short ribs. Hawaiian barbecue involves marinating the meats, so the sweet-tangy sauce is thoroughly soaked into everything, darkening the color and deepening the flavor.
Two of my daughters tried and liked the kids' chicken katsu, while the oldest, not the most culinarily adventurous of children, opted for a cheeseburger. Luckily for her, it was great, a thick hand-formed patty flawlessly grilled.
We couldn't have dessert when we visited; L&L plans to offer Hawaiian pastries called malasadas but hasn't started quite yet, and they were out of the coconut pudding called haupia the night we visited. Sounded really good, too; I'll have to try that next time.
And there will be a next time. I want to try the loco moco, one of those nice hamburger patties grilled and topped with eggs and brown gravy on rice, or maybe a bowl of saimin, Hawaiian noodle soup you can have plain or with a variety of meats.Plate lunches and combination plates $4.05-$7.50, saimin (noodle soup) $2.59-$4.10, burgers and sandwiches $1.50-$5.15, musubi (rolls) $1.95-$2, kids' meals $2.49-$2.69, sides and desserts 89 cents-$3.25
L&L Hawaiian Barbecue
Rating: ** 1/2
Where: 158 W. 1230 North, Provo
Hours: Monday-Thursday 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; Closed Sunday
Payment: No personal checks
Phone: 818-2888Web: www.hawaiianbarbecue.com
Stacey Kratz is a free-lance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret Morning News. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org