Eating like a (Hawaii) local in Sin City

I’ve been MIA for so long – I haven’t posted in forever and I’m over 2 weeks behind in catching up in what everyone else is up to, so this morning I figured I’d carve out a little part of my day to get back into writing. But what to write about… considering that all I’ve been up to lately is working long hours during the work week and vegging out with Real Housewives of the OC on the weekends. So I gave up on my blog post and moved on to looking at my expenses for the past month (y’all are so jealous of my crazy life), where I was more than a little embarrassed at how many of the charges related to food purchases in Las Vegas. But the silver lining on my pigginess is that I figured I could be helpful and share all the food research I did before trekking it out to Nevada.

But first, by way of background, Las Vegas is often called the ninth island [of Hawaii] due to the amount of people that have moved or vacation in Sin City from Hawaii. I myself have been to Vegas at least 10 times (all on family vacations as opposed to a crazy bachelorette weekend) and except for this past month, every time I’ve gone I’ve bumped into someone I grew up with, whether it be neighbors, cousins, high school classmates, coworkers of my parents, the dean of my high school, OR my husband (back when we were just friends and newly 21). So what does all those Hawaii people swarming Las Vegas mean? Lots of “local” food options. So for the 1% of you out there that are still reading, here we go!

California Hotel – 12 E. Ogden Avenue


This hotel caters to Hawaii people to the point where on average 80% of their patronage stems from those that just flew in from HNL. So what better place to spend our jaunt of local eating than by booking three-nights here. The hotel features their main restaurant, Aloha Specialties, where you can pick up saimin (please note that a “small” saimin bowl was about twice the size of my head), teri cheeseburgers, haupia, spam musubi, stew, and various plate lunches. Their 24-hour Market Street Cafe includes a breakfast buffet for under $7, which serves scrambled eggs, rice, corned beef hash (from the can…. much better than the hoity-toity fresh stuff), and portuguese sausage.

They also have a candy shop named 808 local which includes pretty much every candy a local Hawaii kid grows up eating: beef jerky, li hing gummy bears, li hing sour patch kids, li hing strawberry belts, li hing…. you get the picture. We bought so much that we had to ship it back or else go over the 50 lb checked bag maximum. I am drooling just thinking about it.

Island Style – 3909 W. Sahara: One thing I did not expect to be deprived of in New England was my favorite Korean dish (meat jun). It turns out that the problem with Korean meat jun is that… it’s not actually Korean, but a Hawaii dish served in Korean restaurants. Say what???? So I was on a mission to sample some of that delicious thinly sliced beef marinated in a shoyu (soy) sauce and then dipped in an egg batter and deep fried. YUM. Some extensive research on chowhound and yelp pointed me in the direction of Island Style as the place to go. My suggestion? Go hungry! Portion sizes were huge! (This is going to be a theme of this post.) If meat jun is not your thing (and shame on you if it isn’t) you can also get kal bi short ribs, homemade kim chee and mandoo, bi bim bop, teri burgers, musubi, saimin… the list goes on and on.


L&L Hawaiian Barbecue – 7891 W. Tropical Pkwy: L&L is a Hawaii Franchise that has spread its tentacles all the way to Japan and New York City (don’t bother going to the latter…. it’s absolutely horrible). To that effect there are eight L&L locations in Vegas alone and an additional one a little further away in Henderson, but all my research pointed to this particular L&L for 2 reasons 1) butter mochi and 2) malassadas, both of which can be found at the Tropical Pkway L&L. Between those two options and the mochiko chicken plate lunch, it looks like L&L Vegas actually serves more local Hawaii foods than the L&L’s in Hawaii. And as for how the taste is, well not a week has gone by since my visit without me reminiscing fondly about the butter mochi! But if that’s not your thing, there’s also loco moco, chicken katsu, saimin, and of course, the spam musubi.

Poke Express – 655 W Craig Rd: In case you couldn’t tell by the title, this place sells poke (pronounced poh-kay and means raw fish (usually tuna but also includes salmon and octopus amongst its big sellers) marinated in various sauces/spices). Similar to L&L, there were several Poke Express’s but Yelp said that this one was the best. There’s no place to sit down in this particular store so we bought four different containers and brought it back for a dinner feast in our room while watching the Red Wedding episode of Game of Thrones (thank goodness for HBO.GO). I knew what was coming so I scarfed down my portion of dinner before trying to nonchalantly watch for Ryan’s reaction.

Totally going off track but I was disappointed when Ryan didn’t seem to have a big reaction to the red wedding… at least not like other people did. But then last night I overheard him on the phone with his dad (his dad watches GoT on DVD when they are released so he hasn’t seen Season 3 yet). Ryan’s attempt at a spoiler-removed synopsis went something like this: “it got real! Permanent real! You think it’s temporary…. and then you wait and you wait and, nope it’s permanent! Like Ned Stark permanent.” I tried not to laugh. Finally!

But back to Poke Express. Considering the last time I had poke, it was from one of the best poke markets in the islands, I was skeptical. But the place was really good! Just slightly embarrasing when Ryan spoke pidgin (Hawaiian creole) to the Hawaii-transplant store owners and then felt he had to translate so I could understand. Whatevs – I choke fo’ speak pidgin…. um yeah…

Island Sushi & Grill – 9400 S. Eastern Avenue: I dragged us all the way into a suburb of Las Vegas but realized later that there is also one located in Downtown Las Vegas in the Plaza (in case you aren’t renting a car). We went for their Sunday brunch, which is basically an all-you-can eat off their menu and includes things like mini-spam and egg sandwiches in a malassadas and spam and eggs sushi. It was pretty empty when we got there right when brunch opened at 11:30 but was standing room only by the time we left. They also had a Poke Express attached with tables to sit down at.

So hopefully this helps all you homesick Hawaii-transplants whom may not be able to get all the way back to the islands but can make it to Vegas. Happy Eating! And remember – everything in moderation… otherwise, you may come back 10 pounds heavier than you were 3 months ago and now have to work your butt off to lose it all again. Ugh. More on Diet version 9.5.2 later.

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