5401 Linda Vista Road #402, Linda Vista
It's kind of funny how nostalgia works. Take plate lunches, for example. The Hawaiian lunch staple usually involves some sort of cheap protein, a scoop of rice, and macaroni salad. There's nothing particularly alluring or memorable about that except for its connection to Hawaii. For this reason alone, it holds a cherished place in our hearts. Because everything about Hawaii is and always has been perfect (I'm pretty sure that's written into one of Newton's laws or something).
Or so I figured when I walked into Kona Kakes and Plates, a small Hawaiian spot next to the Ballast Point tasting room, in the shadow of USD. I've devoured a few post-surf plate lunches — in Maui, Oahu, Kauai — and, oh man, do I remember them being good.
I also remember them not being filling enough. So when I dallied over choosing between the plate lunch classic kalua pork, and a slow-roasted pork special the Kona Kakes cook assured me had been cooking overnight, I assumed I could knock'em both out without breaking a sweat and ordered the mixed plate.
Okay, first of all, I hadn't just been surfing island waves for three hours, and apparently 30 minutes' worth of laps don't inspire the same level of appetite. The mixed plate was a lot of food, especially for 10 bucks.
Second, though I was dining in, they served my plate lunch in a Styrofoam to-go container. Since I've recently had a less than thrilling experience with heaping piles of modestly priced pork and rice served in Styrofoam, my eyes and stomach grew leery.
But as I strive to be a professional eater of pigs in polystyrene blankets, I dug right in. The slow-roasted pork was fairly good, with really tasty gravy, though for a low heat cook I would really expect a little more tenderness from the meat.
I actually preferred the kalua, shredded and mixed with cabbage for a satisfying texture. The smoky flavor wasn't the best ever, but mixed up in the rice it made a nice foil for the mac salad. What can I say about that? It tasted of mayo.
Enjoying Kona Kakes demands a worthy context. Given its proximity to the tasting room and university, I could probably recommend the place as a decent, affordable study break or soak-up-the-Sculpin type spot. But mostly, I'd suggest surfers, looking to extend the stoke of that appetite-inducing morning session, might be in the right frame of mind to conjure a little North Shore nostalgia with a quick plate lunch here. Personally, I'm still on the lookout for a good poke salad.