I recently wrote about Pacific Diner, one of my favorite diners in the area. It’s the quintessential American restaurant where hard-working locals hunker down at the worn counter to chew the fat — both literally and figuratively. But there’s another version of the American restaurant that I’ve only recently discovered. It’s similar to a diner; anyone is welcome and everything is affordable and comforting. The difference is in where the food itself originates.
Hawaii is incredibly diverse. Eastern Asian countries have a strong influence along with other countries as well as the islands’ own natives. Likewise, the food is quite a mix of cultural staples. For a time, there was strong demand for immigrant laborers to work the sugarcane fields. This introduced even more diversity and, more importantly, the traditional cooking styles that can turn any ingredients into hearty comfort food. Of course, that’s not strictly an American way of cooking, but it’s a cornerstone of the classic American diner experience. The food at Rutt’s exemplifies this.
A well-worn coffee cup is no less glorious to the weary breakfast patron.
Ah, Spam — the maligned yet cherished lunch meat. This pork product quickly spread to many parts of the world thanks in no small part to World War II. Troops stationed in Hawaii popularized it among the locals where Japanese Americans used it to create Spam musubi. It’s a simple and fantastic snack of salty, processed meat, starchy rice, and a thin wrapper of nori (seaweed). It’s such a basic thing that has surprisingly complex texture and flavor profiles.
Yes, more Spam! It’s so great as a breakfast protein because it blends wonderfully with everything else. Then we have char siu, something decidedly less processed. Char siu is a Cantonese preparation of pork. It is glazed and roasted to form a sweet and savory slab of meat that melts in your mouth. The contrast between this and the Spam foodstuff is a great example of how different cultures can come together to create a unique and delicious meal.
Here’s yet another super simple dish: shredded pork with melted cheese wrapped up in some fluffy egg. Done and done.
This is the kalua pork, and it’s fabulous. Kalua is a traditional Hawaiian cooking method where the pork is prepared by slow-cooking a pig in an underground oven. While I doubt Rutt’s goes to such lengths, their pork is tender and rich. It’s a bit smokey and just envelopes your taste buds in happiness.
So you know how McDonald’s has a sausage, egg, and cheese? Well this is that but not so bland. It’s got the processed meat and American cheese, but the taste is so much more vivid. There is actual egg flavor, and the cheese is sticky and pronounced. The sweetness of the bun also adds a lot when combined with the salty Spam.
I love this thing. It seems like it has a lot of components, but it’s actually pretty basic. It’s a mix of rice, egg, onion, bean sprouts, and meat. This particular Royale comes with Portuguese sausage and char siu. And that’s it! It’s like fried rice but more breakfast-y. It’s like an Asian Denny’s scramble. It’s the product of centuries of cultural mixing and the perpetual human desire for a stick-to-your-bones, no-nonsense meal that tastes great and will power you through a hard day’s work.
Yes, it’s as good as it looks. I suspect it makes a great hangover breakfast as well.
This isn’t a menu item; I just had the idea of making a sandwich out of my Royale. It was kinda difficult but totally worth it. The server who witnessed me playing with my food informed me that they also have sliders, and I’m eager to try those next time. (Beef on a sweet bun? That’s a can’t miss!)
It’s dense and not aggressively pineapple and not too sweet and kinda great. The ice cream on top is amazing.
Rutt’s is fun because it really shows off the beautiful results of a culinary melting pot. Hawaii goes beyond its basic geopolitical status as one of the United States; it embraces the essence of simple and comforting home cooking, and it does so with ingredients from all over the world. Rutt’s serves it up in a community-oriented restaurant with friendly servers and local charm, and as the sign says, all are welcome.