It’s been about a month since L&L Hawaiian Grill graced SA with its presence. The anticipation for the city’s first location of the big island franchise was palpable when we first reported the company’s intentions to open a branch in the Alamo Heights area in February. When the location finally debuted in the same center that houses a Shipley Do-Nuts and ACE Cash Express, throngs of hungry San Antonians lined up for a taste.
I stopped in during the first day of business to catch some of that madness, and sure enough, lines of curious eaters and L&L faithful filled the teeny storefront. And the company, which launched in 1976, later expanded into franchise territory in 1988 and finally made it onto the mainland in 1999, has plenty of fans.
Folks wearing Hawaii Harley Davidson tees and Kukui nut bead leis waited patiently for their meals during my first visit, while ukulele jams wafted from the Pandora station and tropical landscapes lined the back wall. To drive the island theme home, all female employees don orchids in their hair. Aloha, dammit.
To clarify, this is a fast food joint, through and through. They specialize in Asian, Pacific and American cuisine fusion, so you’ll find grilled meats, deep-fried shrimp and chicken katsu, and Spam as the main ingredients for rice bowls and ramen. And yes, there’s a ramen, or Saimin, burger (though the term Ramen Burger is trademarked by Keizo Shimamoto, who created the dish originally for Brooklyn’s Smorgasburg food market).
Perhaps the hordes endured the hour-long wait for that Saimin burger—a beef patty topped with green onions, a flurry of shredded iceberg lettuce and a teriyaki-like sauce sandwiched between two noodle patties, cooked just until al dente and then lightly pressed on the grill. It’s not the biggest burger, and it’s definitely not the best thing you’ll eat there, but it’s worth trying. At less than $8 with crinkle cut fries and a drink, the burger accommodates most budgets.
Unfortunately, you’ll want to skip the so-so ramen and head for the Spam or chicken katsu musubi ($2.95 each). Rectangular medium-grain rice patties serve as the vessel for a dollop of teriyaki sauce, a strip of grilled Spam or fresh-fried katsu that’s tied together with dried seaweed. It’s comforting, salty and sweet, but toss in a side salad if you want to add a few greens.
While the Saimin burger isn’t the most authentic of dishes, L&L does offer a few Big Island staples like the pulled “Kalua” pork, a Hawaiian plate with steamed pork chuck wrapped in a taro leaf (served only on weekends) and Loco Moco, which could replace menudo as a go-to hangover cure. Served with a scoop of the macaroni salad with bits of onion and carrots, the Loco Moco is a daunting plate of white rice, grilled-beef patties, fried egg and a pool of rich brown gravy. Hint: It’s even better the next day.
The initial crowds have waned and you can pop in and out for lunch within a 45-minute window. L & L might not transport you to Hawaii immediately, but I’ll take Spam musubi over sand-filled sandwiches any day.
1302 Austin Hwy
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