Rutt’s Cafe is a Little Taste of Hawaii on the Westside

Rutt's Cafe

3 weeks ago I put the call out for the best plate lunch spot in Los Angeles, and got more than a few great recommendations. Based on your comments, the South Bay is clearly the place to be for Hawaiian food. But for a weekday lunch, that’s not realistic (for me anyway). The consensus seemed to center around Aloha Cafe Downtown and Rutt’s Cafe on the Westside, so when I found myself looking for lunch in Culver City this week Rutt’s seemed like the perfect option.

Tons o’ plate lunch porn, after the jump…

Rutt's Cafe

Unlike some of the Hawaiian chains that dot the city, Rutt’s really feels like a lunch spot in Hawaii. Well, actually, I’ve never been to Hawaii… so I don’t really know what a lunch spot feels like in Hawaii. But it’s what I would imagine a Hawaiian lunch place to feel like. Surf boards on the walls, an outdoor “hutt” for al fresco dining, and most importantly a lunch counter. The menu is enormous, and breakfast is clearly just as important as lunch.

Lunch plates come in three sizes (Jr., Reg, & King) and range in price from $4.95 to $9.45. There’s spam, loco moco (eggs and gravy), teriyaki beef, korean short ribs (kalbi), Hawaiian BBQ chicken, hamburger steak, pork chops, kalua pork, char sui (Chinese roast pork), and portuguese sausage. Or you can order a combo plate, with any two of these options: BBQ chicken, char sui, teriyaki beef, kalbi or kalua pork. All the plates comes with white rice and macaroni salad, or a green salad.

Rutt's Cafe

We tried the Kalbi and kalua pork.

Rutt's Cafe

And the char sui and teriyaki beef. None of the meats were spectacular, but none were terrible either. The kalbi was probably the best of the four, but there wasn’t nearly enough of it. The teriyaki beef had the most “sauce”, and the kalua pork (which was essentially just pulled pork) had a distinct smokiness. The gigantic chunks of char sui were enjoyable, but totally dry. And the red seasoning on the outside had little to none of that sweet flavor that makes red roast pork so delicious. In fact none of the meat was particularly sweet or flavorful, leaving it up to you to add as little or much of the teriyaki sauce as you see fit. (Don’t mind if I do!) Once you do that, everything improved significantly.

Rutt's Cafe

Not into the macaroni salad? They also have lunch bowls in three different sizes. This is the Junior Hawaiian BBQ Chicken bowl, which comes with chicken, broccoli and carrots served over rice. For $5 I suppose it’s a nice option for those looking to eat light, but there are larger options for those looking for more food. Just one warning… the BBQ chicken is thigh meat, and a bit rubbery in parts, so if you’re not into that texture you might want to order the chicken breast.

Rutt's Cafe

But plate lunches and bowls aren’t really the main draw of Rutt’s. What you see being eaten at most tables in the joint is their “Famous Royales”, essentially a giant omelette of fried egg goodness served over white rice. Ask for it “fried” and the whole thing gets mixed together in what’s basically a glorified version of “Chinese” fried rice. (And a damn good version at that.) They also come in Jr., Reg., and King sizes for $5.45 to $8.95, and you can get any of the meats available on the plate lunches. We tried the regular size Portuguese sausage royale ($6.45), fried (naturally), although next time I’ll probably go for the Original- which comes with Portuguese sausage *and* char sui for the same price. I also didn’t realize you could order a fried egg on top for an extra 75cents. Clearly that’s the way to go.

Rutt's Cafe

Prefer noodles to rice? Their “Fried Saimin” dishes are also super popular, although they only come in Reg and King sizes. Essentially the same concept as the fried royale, but with saiman (noodles very similar to top ramen) instead of rice. The “Hawaiian” is the go to order, regular size is $6.95, and comes with char sui, eggs, onions, and slices of fishcake (which kind of look like slices of char sui fat, but are way easier to eat.) Some of the bits of meat are fatty and tough, but overall the dish is super delicious- a cross between a Japanese yakisoba and a Chinese lo mein.

Neither dish is particularly sweet, once again allowing you to regulate the flavor by adding your own condiments (including teriyaki sauce, hot sauce, a spicy salsa or sriracha- which is only available by request.)

There is clearly more at Rutt’s to enjoy… including breakfast (burritos and Hawaiian french toast FTW!), saiman soup and daily specials (yesterday they had lau lau) and I really look forward to going back. The real problem will be not ordering a fried royale or fried saiman (it’s going to be tough!) Not all the food is knock your socks off good, and they can certainly do a better job with some of their meats, but there’s something about it that just feels really awesome. Whether it’s the best or most authentic Hawaiian food in L.A., I don’t have the authority to say. But the place makes me really want to go to Hawaii and find out!

THE +

  • I love how they make you feel like you’re in Hawaii
  • I want Hawaiian food, but would rather not eat at those corporate chains
  • They have three sizes for all appetites
  • I don’t like my Hawaiian BBQ super sweet, so I like that they serve the meat bland, and let you add the condiments yourself.
  • I have dreams about those fried royales. Add a fried egg on top, and I’m in heaven!
  • The fried saiman ain’t too shabby either
  • They have Hawaiian soda, Kona coffee and two different kinds of shaved ice! (Kintoke & Malolo) So great…

THE -

  • You can only get two different meats on the plate lunches!? I’m a 3-4 meat kind of guy.
  • You get way more food for the $$ at places like Ono
  • The meats on the plate lunches were mostly dry, and kind of flavorless
  • Fine for the area, but not worth driving across town for

Rutt’s Cafe, 12114 Washington Blvd, 310-398-6326

Metered parking is available and plentiful on Washington in front of the restaurant.

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