Or more specifically, the “brown gravy” at Rainbow Drive In.
About a year or so ago, The Food Network’s “Secret Life of…” show with Jim O’Connor featured a segment on Rainbow Drive In, putting a spotlight on their Loco Moco plate, which the owner said was one of their most popular items. So if this was broadcasted on national television, it’s gotta’ be great, right?
So this past weekend I was looking for something filling and comforting for lunch, thus, we stopped by Rainbow Drive In where I decided to give their touted rendition of Loco Moco a try.
Unfortunately, the brown gravy, which is the essence of this dish, was just such a deal-breaker, for me at least. Wus’ up with that chili flavoring in it? It tastes like they add chili powder or the chili gravy itself into the same pot as the brown gravy, giving it this odd combination that doesn’t match at all. If you look at its color, it even has a reddish hue to it, which sort of validates my assumption of what’s in it. Overall it was bland, lacking in depth and character and, simply put, just weird.
Under that were two over-easy eggs, which I would have prefered sunny side up (they didn’t ask), but that’s OK. At least these were done perfectly, with the yolk still runny, just how I like it.
Digging deeper, we get to the two hamburger patties, which were just OK. Nothing that would win any hamburger steak plate competition. It looked and tasted prefab. Not house-made. Also, it was cooked on a flat top griddle, not flame grilled, which the latter could have really helped improve the weirdness of that gravy on top.
Of course under all that was the standard two scoops of rice.
The second disappointment was the Mac Salad. The macaroni itself was way overcooked and soggy, making it taste and feel like I was eating a spoonful of straight mayonnaise. I took one bite and that was all I could stomach.
In fact, I could barely eat half the plate until I finally couldn’t take anymore of that weird gravy and tossed the rest.
The last really good Loco Moco I had was at Big City Diner at Ward. Now those guys know how to grill burgers and brew brown gravy! Still, I’ll never forget the Loco Moco at Country Kitchen (now closed) way out in Kaa’awa next to 7-11. Absolutely was da’ best’s'est!
While I won’t call it a pot of gold, I will say there was a really ono plate of Teriyaki Beef at the end of this Rainbow. So there is hope!
My girlfriend ordered this plate, and fortunately had enough to share with me. The teri’ beef was flavorful, tender and moist, seared on the edges, and the teriyaki marinade was just right – not oversoaked, which is often the case with teriyaki beef. You could really taste the ginger, which I love in how that compliments the beef. It’s served over shredded Iceberg lettuce, which brings a nice balance to the dish. Unfortunately, this plate was also served with that horrid Mac salad, which would be more aptly named “Ball of Mayo”.
Getting back to that Loco Moco gravy, I don’t think that was a mistake either. It must be their standard brown gravy recipe, because my girlfriend ordered a veal cutlet plate with gravy from there before and it had that same weird chili flavor in it.
Perhaps the cook or owner thought so highly of their Chili, which is also a popular item at Rainbow’s, that they figured they’d include some of that flavor in the “brown” gravy. Dunno.
IMO, the brown gravy on a Loco Moco should be hearty, meaty and deep. Where you can taste the browned bits of beef used to flavor it. Ya’ know? Most of all, it certainly shouldn’t taste like chili or curry! Shoots, I’m happy with the packaged brown gravy mix in the supermarkets. That’s good stuff!
As far the Mac Salad, this could have just been a blunder for that day, which happens at almost ALL restaurants. This might just be that one time the cooks forgot about the macaroni boiling in the water and overcooked it. At least I HOPE that was the case.
As far as the establishment itself, it’s truly a Kapahulu avenue old timer landmark, with all the ambience of a local style plate lunch stand.
It’s also conveniently located within walking distance to Waikiki beach, making it a popular stop for hungry tourists, surfers and sunbathers.
They also have souvenirs that would make great gifts especially for Hawaii expats…
Rainbow’s is certainly doing something right, because the place is always packed. I know, as I drive past there almost daily. As mentioned earlier, I don’t eat plate lunches that often, and surely there are other items on Rainbow’s menu yet for me to try that I’d really like, such as I did with the Teriyaki Beef.
If you’ve had a Loco Moco at Rainbow’s Drive In (or are a regular there), tell us your thoughts on it. Or if you have a favorite dish you like from there, please leave a comment and let us know.
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