Loco moco isn’t just the most fun Hawaiian dish to say; it’s also outrageously delicious and widely available. If you’re on one of the islands and you’re really, really hungry, this dish is hard to beat.
Loco moco, in its traditional form, is a plate of rice with a burger patty, a fried egg, and gravy on top. Popular meat variations may include kalua pork, Spam, teriyaki beef/chicken, mahi-mahi, shrimp, or other locally sourced meats. If, for some extraordinary reason, you need to know anything more than that: loco moco is interestingly much younger than other traditional Hawaiian dishes. In fact, we pretty much know exactly when it was invented, and who by. Hilo, in 1949, was home to the Lincoln Grill, owned by Nancy and Richard Inouye. The story goes that in order to satisfy the extortionate caloric demands of the young men frequently visiting from the nearby athletic club, the couple brilliantly invented loco moco; a hefty assault from which no appetite can survive.
Sadly, the Lincoln Grill is long gone; but Hilo is still full of places to get the iconic dish for which it served as the birthplace some 72 years ago. We’ll start there.
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The Island of Hawaii
The Big Island’s main east-side location is arguably still the epicenter of authentic loco moco.
Koji’s Bento Korner, located in Hilo just off the Hawai'i Belt Road and the Kamehameha Highway, is carrying on the legacy by serving some of the most ravingly reviewed...food on Earth, quite honestly. Seriously, read some of the Google reviews. This takeout-only, ultra-local, ultra-popular spot is giving people loco moco plates that leave them borderline deranged.
If this sounds like the kind of brain-state your stomach is asking you for, you can find it from 7 am to 2 pm every weekday and 9 am to 2 pm on Saturdays at 52 Ponahawai Street.
Loco moco is such incredibly serious business in Hawaii that elections are regularly held to determine the reigning champion of loco moco production. Thanks to Hawaii Magazine’s 2020 vote, we now know that popular consensus puts the state’s best loco moco in Honolulu.
The Liliha Bakery is nearly as old as loco moco itself, having first opened its original location at 515 North Kuakini St all the way back in 1950. Today, they have 4 locations - 3 in Honolulu and one that just opened in Waikiki at the International Marketplace.
This establishment is no joke. There are famous influencers and models with fewer Instagram followers and far less erotic content to browse. Mouthwatering loco moco plates are only the beginning of the immense menu, ranging from poi donuts to custom cakes to all kinds of tasty breakfast, lunch, and dinner options.
For hours and addresses, refer to the different locations on their website.
Like every island, loco moco can be found pretty much all over the island of Maui. If you’re intent on only the very best, we recommend Nalu’s South Shore Grill in the Azeka Shopping Center in Kihei.
Not only is this a prime spot to devour highly reviewed loco moco, it’s also a beautiful location and a great place to see live local music regularly performed. Nalu’s is open 7 days a week from 8 am to 9 pm. Happy hour runs every day for three hours, from 3 to 6. The Azeka Shopping Center is located at 1280 South Kihei Road.
On this smallest and typically more limited of the four main Hawaiian Islands, there seems to be something of a clear winner among general opinion.
Mark’s Place makes up for its uncreative title and currently down (but hopefully soon back up) website by serving what most seem to say is the best loco moco on the island. This is another very local, takeout-only spot on our list; you can find it in Lihue at 1610 Haleukana Street.
They also sell homemade cookies, an obvious upsell.
Here we generally try to encourage and coax out more of your brave side as a would-be traveler. As we’ve said before, the Hawaiian Islands can be as much about adventure and discovery as they are about poolside relaxation.
Dishes like poi can seem ambitious for newcomers. However, loco moco is frankly not like that. If you are a living human with a mouth, you will effortlessly shovel this stuff down like it’s your own grandmother’s home cooking.
The flipside of cultural exploration is of course finding how similar we also all are; for example, in sharing the same primal instincts about fat, protein, salt, and the sinful ways in which they can be blended (or really piled haphazardly) together.
The easy enjoyment of this classic Hawaiian comfort food is therefore a unifying worldly experience. We invite you to have it.