Island-kine Grinds In Las Vegas

Susan Sunderland
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Wednesday - September 28, 2005

Matthew Pichay prepares char siu bao,
‘Hawaiian hot pockets,’ at ‘Ale’as Manapua

LAS VEGAS - “Welcome to the ninth Hawaiian Island,” the voice says as my flight arrives at McCarran Airport. “Over to the left you’ll see our state Capitol, the California Hotel.”

The planeload of Islanders chuckle and scurry out of the aisles to their favorite getaway, where “what happens here stays here.” We’re not so secretive because we’re here on a mission. We’re on the prowl for local kine grinds in Sin City. Buddy, can you share a Spam musubi?

Las Vegas observes its 100th birthday this year, and it’s a good time to thank it for the memories. The desert-turned-megatropolis is a tourism phenomenon for essentially transforming sand into an adult playground with every distraction known to man. It’s a living tribute man’s creativity and craziness.

Explorer John C. Fremont put Las Vegas on the map in 1844. He directed pioneers to oasis-like Las Vegas Valley as an important stop to the golden West. Las Vegas means “the meadows” in Spanish.

Aloha Kitchen patrons Lance Rivas from Aiea
(right) and Nevada Beverage Co. co-worker Dan Isaacs

Nevada was the first state to legalize casino-style gambling. Capitalizing on the opportunity, a building boom took place in the late1940s including construction of several hotel-casinos fronting a two-lane highway into Las Vegas from Los Angeles. The most celebrated of the early resorts was the Flamingo Hotel built by mobster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel.

Today, gambling is a sideshow to the vibrant kaleidoscope of attractions and entertainment that spell f-u-n and p-a-r-t-y ‘round the clock. The 1.9 million population - and growing daily - is comprised of 80,000 ex-pats who bring their aloha spirit and cosmopolitan tastes to the ninth Hawaiian island. Three-hundred thousand of us fly there annually.

Nothing counters homesickness like home cooking. In Vegas, ono kau-kau is just around the corner, and you can get everything from manapua to chicken katsu plate lunch with two-scoop rice and mac salad.

With saimin and mixed plates at Aloha Specialties are
(from left) David Gois, Jessica Thomlinson, Joji Corpuz
and boss ‘Mr. Hawaii’ Larry Yamagata

Join our Zigzag trek to roadside eateries in Vegas:

`Ale`as Manapua 3650 E. Flamingo Road “Da Hawaiian hot pocket” a sign advertises outside this shop. Inside, former Pearl City resident Matthew Pichay makes manapua while his mother Marilynn Gonzalez of Waipahu tends to customers.

Steamed barbecued pork and teriyaki chicken buns ($1.25) as well as pork hash (65 cents) are favorites here. Buy two dozen manapua, and you get a dozen pork hash free. Mini ($3.95) or massive ($4.95) meals also are popular, including homemade chili-franks, kalua pig, Borinque Chicken in Puerto Rican marinade, and mixed plate. Sweet treats are custard pie; Bula Boy tart of guava, mango and custard filling; Goodie Goodie ice cream and empanadas (beef and Portuguese sausage turnovers).

`Ale`as is between Pecos and Sandhill roads, a few minutes from Roy’s Hawaiian fusion cuisine restaurant. Here today, Pichay says he plans his next manapua venture on Maui.

Aloha Kitchen crew (from left) Joseph Hataishi,
Charmaine Reyes, MaryJo Nakao and Grant Arakagi

Aloha Kitchen 4745 S. Maryland Parkway There are three Aloha Kitchens in Las Vegas. The one at Maryland Parkway caters to local neighbors and students attending UNLV. Its bird of paradise logo beckons diners who enjoy meals reminiscent of Zippy’s, L&L, and Rainbow Drive In back home.

A Banzai Pipeline surf scene dominates the dining room, as patrons enjoy combination plates, bowl meals and daily specials. Adobo fried rice omlette ($6.49), beef stew ($6.49), and pork laulau ($6.99) are among the choices. Local Plate ($6.99) offers teriyaki chicken, beef and two Spam musubi. A student special ($3.99) is a delicious teriyaki chicken bowl meal with soda.

Lumpia Shanghai ($2.49) is an appetizer favorite. Mini egg rolls are filled ground pork, chopped onions and carrots, served with sweet chili sauce. Forget potato chips and popcorn for Monday Night Football. Score with Aloha Kitchen lumpia.

Michele Teanro prepares taro leaves for
‘bes kine’ laulau at Hawaiian Hale

Aloha Specialties California Hotel, 12 E. Ogden Ave.

Larry Yamagata is “Mr. Hawaii” in Las Vegas. Island entrepreneurs regard Yamagata as the trail blazer of island-kine eateries in Vegas. He started Aloha Specialties at the California Hotel in 1985 after retiring as executive chef with Sheraton in Hawaii. But true retirement was not in the cards for Yamagata, who celebrates 20 years of feeding hungry gamblers and nightlife patrons in downtown Las Vegas.

A steaming bowl of saimin, Spam musubi, and ono plate lunches are standard fare at Aloha Specialties. The Farrington High School grad says 300 bowls of saimin are prepared daily, and 3,500 pieces of Spam musubi are sold weekly.

Regular patron Kay Miyano with Island Style
restaurateurs Gina and Dave Heo

Things have not changed much over the two decades, Yamagata says. “We still have coffee for 50 cents, and our plate-lunch prices hardly change.” Try the tripe stew ($6.85) or chicken tofu saimin ($4.75) for a special treat.

Diamond Head Teriyaki Grill 4440 S. Maryland Parkway Directly across from the UNLV campus is a favorite Islander gathering spot and take-out place. Diamond Head Teriyaki Grill was started by former Oahuan Clifford Uyehara, who has ties to the old Liberty Grill and C&G Luncheon operations in downtown Honolulu. This location also has the first and only organic kava bar in Vegas.

A perennial favorite here is the Aloha Bowl ($4.66) filled with teriyaki chicken, fried rice, macaroni salad, and served with a 12-ounce drink. Other bowl meals (from $2.50) include hamburger steak, chicken curry and mahi-mahi.

Saimin ($3.50) goes well with a side order ($1.50) of teriyaki chicken, beef, or chicken katsu. You’ll also find oxtail soup ($7.50) and fried saimin ($4.50). If you can see Diamond Head, call us.

Hawaiian Hale 2439 S. Valley View Blvd. On the day we visited, proprietors John and Michele Teanro were preparing luau leaves for laulau. A weekly shipment from Kauai makes their delicious, juicy laulau among the best you’ll find in Vegas.

Pork and chicken laulau tops the Kanaka Specials (from $6.75) that includes chopped steak plate, loco moco, and a Hawaiian Luau ($17.50) of kalua pig, laulau, lomi salmon, poke, and chicken long rice. An extensive eat-in or take-out menu is featured with Oriental selections, “Manong Preference” such as pork adobo, and “Haole Favorites” such as grilled pork chop.

Proprietor Clifford Uyehara offers ono grinds
at Diamond Head Teriyaki Grill

Familiar fare offers Hale Min like Zippy’s zipmin and veal cutlet like Diners. Ahi, mahi and poke are available and market-priced. But don’t expect food displayed on a counter (okazuya style). Nevada law prohibits this, and all meals are cooked or prepared to order. Next door to Hawaiian Hale is Hawaii Store, a retail shop with hula gear, fresh lei, and souvenirs.

Island Style 3909 W. Sahara Ask former islanders Derek and Kay Miyano where to find local grinds, and they turn immediately to Island Style restaurant on Sahara

Avenue, not far from their Century 21 real estate office. Local delicacies and Korean specialties attract kamaaina here like a magnet.

Owners Gina and David Heo tend to hungry appetites, offering delicious kal bi short ribs, Korean cold noodles, and homemade kim chee and mandoo. Kay salivates at the thought of their tofu soup, and I discovered an outstanding hot rock bi bim bop with charred rice, minced meat, and vegetables.

Masters of chicken katsu at L&L Mission Center
(from left) Kenny Weng, Yong Guo,
Hua He and Yan Ling

Island-style meals are reasonably priced (starting at $5.75) with generous servings. Try the combination plate for variety, and Spam foo young for kicks. Korean patrons eat here, so you know the Korean food is excellent. But pidgin is also heard in these parts.

L&L Hawaiian Barbecue 4030 S. Maryland Parkway

There are five L&L locations in Vegas, and probably more on its way if Eddie Flores has anything to do with it. Hawaiian barbecue is sweeping the Mainland fast food fanciers. This franchise at Mission Center on Maryland Parkway is a typical L&L, with familiar menu and cheerful island-kine ambiance.

Its award-winning menu offers plate lunches and Asian fare such as saimin and kim chee. Naturally, chicken katsu is king and you can get it a la carte, in a combination plate with beef or short ribs, and Atkins style with no starches.

Everything comes with white rice, of course. But we were amused at the special promotion when we dropped in. It was “French Fries” week. Wat dat?

For a comprehensive list of Las Vegas restaurants with local-style food, go to

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