Oct. 31 2014 05:07 PM

Say Aloha' to classic Hawaiian dishes in an idyllic setting

Leilani’s bagel sandwich
Photo by Mina Riazi

Every reasonable person knows that breakfast is best enjoyed in the afternoon. Eggy, syrupy and speckled with salt, breakfast foods belong to the warm and languid afternoon hours. Still, we too often inhale our first meal in the half-darkness of early morning, sometimes hunched over the kitchen sink.

A glorious, two-day wellspring, the weekend offers a brief break from the week's tired patterns. Sunday brunch—the next-door neighbor to Monday's hurried, half-assed meal of whatever-you-can-grab nourishment—is the weekend's greatest asset. 

Leilani's Café gets this. The Pacific Beach joint (5109 Cass St.) serves brunch until 3 p.m., offering an expansive menu of Hawaiian classics like Loco Moco and Spam Musubi alongside densely layered bagel sandwiches, omelets and French toast. 

The menu at Leilani's reflects Hawaii's cross-cultural cuisine, shaped by the immigrant groups that began arriving in the late 19th century. Portuguese sausage, teriyaki chicken, yakisoba and manapua—similar to the Chinese steamed pork bun char siu bao—are only some of the many dishes borrowing from different cultures and cuisines. 

While visiting Kauai a few summers ago, I noticed the ubiquity of the plate lunch. Often served in a takeaway box—perhaps to encourage beachside noshing—the plate lunch consists of macaroni salad, white rice and a meat entrée. Later, I learned that the carby meal originated on the plantation fields, providing workers with much-needed energy during their lunch breaks.

Leilani's plate lunch options include a Kalua-pork-laden offering served with teriyaki beef, rice and mac salad. Kalua means "to bake in the ground oven," and traditional preparations involve an underground pit called an imu.

The Kalua pork also makes an appearance in the My Kalani, one of Leilani's most popular dishes. Served in a Styrofoam box and modeled after the plate lunches, the hearty breakfast features fat scoops of white rice and mac salad, two fried eggs, three slices of Portuguese sausage and, of course, the pork.

The over-medium eggs contribute their buttery yolk to the pork-and-rice mixture, acting as the glue that binds each bite. Smoky and tender, the Kalua pork is delicious, its salty flavor perfectly offset by the mild and creamy mac salad. The Portuguese sausage, resting in a coagulated pool of yellow grease, was the only component that didn't quite win me over.

Veering from the traditional, the vegetarian bagel is another filling breakfast option. A dense and chewy jalapeño bagel gets stuffed with sautéed mushrooms, green onions, basil, spinach and a fried egg. As it cools, the melted cheddar cements together the multi-layered creation. A rich meal requires an equally indulgent drink, so don't overlook Leilani's innovative brews. Fruit smoothies join several luscious coffee drinks, including a dessert-y amaretto mocha and a coconut latte. 

Brunching on Leilani's wooden patio, surrounded by greenery, I felt an overwhelming sense of happiness. Sunday brunch, I realized, setting aside my fork to tackle the oozy bagel sandwich, is simply dreamy. Slowly, though, as I approached the end of my mid-afternoon meal, euphoria soured, turning into vinegar. After all, when you're anticipating Sunday brunch, a week is a long time to wait. 

Write to minar@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com.


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