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Much Aloha at Kealani's

David Boylan

The Kalua Pig plate lunch with Hawaiian Sun Iced Tea. Photo David Boylan
The Kalua Pig plate lunch with Hawaiian Sun Iced Tea. Photo David Boylan

With the burgeoning restaurant scene in Encinitas, it’s nice to take a step back and take a look at one that has been around for a while. Kealani's on D Street is one of those places that has quietly built a solid business with both locals craving their Hawaiian style plate lunch fix and beach goers from out-of-town stumbling on it coming up hungry from D Street or Moonlight Beach. It really is a nice location situated right in the heart of old Encinitas near the corner of D Street and Coast Highway 101. I was a regular when my office was down the street as it was tough to walk by and not be sucked in by the succulent aroma of grilled meat, poultry and fish wafting through the air. Since I’m not working in the neighborhood any more my trips are not as frequent but I still get frequent cravings for their Hawaiian goodness.

First off a brief description of the plate lunch that is such a quintessential part of the cuisine of Hawaii that is similar to the Southern U.S. meat-and-threes plate. That translates into a meat and three side dishes, usually from a big selection of sides. That said, the inclusion of Asian ingredients makes the plate lunch unique to Hawaii. Standard plate lunches consist of two scoops of white rice, a scoop of macaroni salad and a main entrée. A plate lunch with more than one entrée is often called a mixed plate. Many plate lunch outlets also sell "mini-plates" which come with the same entrées in smaller portions…as does Kealani's. Some say the plate lunch likely grew out of the Japanese bento and it goes back to the 1880s when plantation workers were in high demand by the fruit and sugar companies in Hawaii. Laborers were brought from around the world, including from China, Japan, Portugal, and the Philippines, who would eat leftover rice and a lot of things like canned or cold meat, teriyaki or whatever else was available. The mayonnaise on macaroni and gravy for the meat were later additions. As the days of the plantations came to an end, the plate lunches started being served by lunch wagons to construction workers and day laborers. Later, local hole-in-the-wall and other stand-alone plate lunch restaurants began popping up on the Hawaiian Islands. Eventually plate lunch franchises made their way to the mainland in the U.S. beginning with California as did Kealani's which opened in 1998.

I’d be happy with any of the plate lunch selections at Kealani's but my favorites are the Kalua Pig, Sweet ‘n’ Sour Spareribs, Teriyaki Chicken, Mahi Mahi and the Loco Moco. The Loco Moco includes ground beef patties and grilled onions smothered with gravy and 2 sunny side eggs on top. I should mention that the plate lunches come with either 1 or 2 scoops of macaroni and rice depending on if you get the mini or regular. Mini is usually good enough for me unless I have the day planned perfectly with a surf session or some other exercise before, and a nap lined up after.

There is a nice selection of sandwiches with most of the above mentioned coming in sandwich form and served with fries. It’s also fun to just order a bunch of sides that include the Pilipino inspired lumpias, ahi poke, Portuguese sausage, lomi salmon, and several versions of Musubi including Spam! Yes, Spam has become a mainstay of Hawaiian cuisine since World War II, when GIs were served the salty luncheon meat because it didn't require refrigeration and had a long shelf life. Hawaii now consumes more Spam than any state, over 7 million cans a year!

The beverage of choice at Kealani's is Hawaiian Sun which has been made in Hawaii since 1952. Yes, they have “mainland soda” as they call it, but you are not ordering a glass of wine at Stone Brewing Co. right?

Several dessert options are available including shave ice and haupia. Haupia is a traditional coconut-based Hawaiian dessert often found at luaus.

Besides all the good stuff from Kealani's kitchen, they have a very robust selection of Hawaiian packaged food, coffee, and gifts. I can never get out of there without picking up some Hawaiian barbeque or soy sauce, salad dressings, or strawberry guava jam. So next time you want a taste of the islands but can’t quite swing a trip there, stop by Kealani's at 137 W. D Street, Encinitas. (760) 942-5642

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