Hawaii's loco moco is the best and worst way to start your day. The classic comfort food offers an ultra-rich layering of white rice, a hamburger patty, fried eggs and gravy. In other words: pure gastronomical bliss at the expense of your entire morning.
Why? Because you're bound to doze off soon after downing the hefty meal. I ordered my first loco moco at the Tip Top Motel Café & Bakery in Kauai. The diner is a local favorite thanks to its straightforward, stick-to-your-ribs fare. Despite my instant love for the loco moco, a few years passed before I sought out the dish again.
Island Style Café is hidden inside a sprawling Tierrasanta shopping center (5950 Santo Road). It's easy to miss if you aren't on the lookout; the barely legible sign and beige exterior don't draw much attention. Inside, the café's décor gently alludes to Hawaii through pineapple light fixtures and framed snapshots of island plant life.
Family-owned and -operated, the one-room restaurant has been around since August 2008 and offers everything from breakfast crepes to chicken katsu to deep-fried spam musubi. It's a lot to take in, and you might find yourself weighing your options for a few good minutes. Although I knew from the get-go that I wanted the traditional loco moco, another menu item soon caught my attention.
Island Style's extra-indulgent spin on the loco moco is a four-tier, gravy-soaked mass called the Kaloko Moco. I first noticed it from across the room, being eaten by an eager diner. Then, our server slid a plate of the bulky meal in front of a neighboring patron. Observing it up close, I realized I couldn't not order it. Several minutes later, the Kaloko Moco appeared in front of me, looking sweet and salty and savory all at the same time.
Unlike with the standard loco moco, a lacy-edged crepe is involved here. It sits beneath a mound of fried rice, which forms the carby foundation for a half-pound patty and two over-easy eggs. Brown gravy envelops the toothsome tower, completing the XL-size breakfast.
The Kaloko Moco isn't just a big breakfast, though. It also packs in big flavor. The crepe—faintly sweet and chewy—complemented the saltiness of the beef patty and the pork-studded fried rice. The chargrilled meat was smoky and delicious and crispy-edged. I couldn't finish it all, especially after forking food from my grub buddies' plates.
Island Style's Korean Mix is another must-try: Perfectly grilled Kalbi ribs and Korean chicken join potatoes and macaroni salad. My No. 2 favorite was the barbecued-pork-stuffed Waikoloa omelet. Fluffy egg met tender pulled pork, and the whole concoction was drizzled with the restaurant's Island barbecue sauce.
The cakes at Island Style are pretty tasty, too. We didn't have an appetite for them over breakfast, though, so they were taken apart hours later in the car. Dense and moist, the red-velvet- and guava-cake slices were topped with a silky cream-cheese frosting. And as we hacked away at the last wedges in a drab parking lot, we couldn't help but anticipate our next Island getaway.