The Loco Moco at Rainbow Drive In

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.

Rainbow Drive In Loco Moco, $5.75

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!

Rainbow Drive In Teriyaki Beef Plate, $5.75

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.

What others have said:

Ono Kine Grindz – Rainbow Drive In
Yelp! – Rainbow Drive In


The Loco Moco at Rainbow Drive In — 26 Comments

  1. Hey, glad to hear about the junk gravy. Been going to Rainbow for years and years. And I really mean years! But actually the only thing I ever get from there is the teri beef plate or a teri beef sandwich. Aside from maybe breakfast stuff. Thanks for the alert!

    Going be home in maybe three weeks! Pig out time!

  2. Its been awhile since I’ve been to Rainbows, but years back we used to always go for the Teri Plate too (with a side order of chili)! It used to amaze me that their mac salad was not bad, since it only seemed to have macaroni, mayo, salt and lots of black pepper. I think they must salt the water when boiling the macaroni. But I do see that your photo has a LOT of mayo …I think times have changed or either the ‘cook for the day’. Once it awhile, I use to sway to the Corned Beef Hash and Egg….sorry not the Loco Moco. I enjoy gravy too, but wouldn’t appreciated that chili taste either!

    Have you tried the Loco Moco at Jack’s in Aina Haina?? pretty good!

  3. Ok, despite the mixed reviews, I’m just eggstatic to be greeted with an idea that will be my uh (let’s see it’s not quite 10am)…BRUNCH! Yep, I agree. With a locomoco you either got it or you don’t, but no way can you mess up on the brown gravy…no way man! Now it’s off to the kitchen I go…..

  4. Grew up in Kaimuki eating tons of Rainbows plate lunches over the years (boneless chicken, teri beef, shoyu chicken etc.) but don’t recall once trying their loco moco. To be sure, I haven’t frequented them as much in recent years, but I do recall seeing the Food Network piece and it struck me as a bit curious (for the aforementioned reason). If it’s still on the menu, I’d recommend their boneless chicken–breaded chicken cutlets swimming in brown gravy (hopefully not the chili flavored kind used in the loco moco!)

    For the true loco moco connoisseur, Cafe 100 in Hilo has an extensive menu including several creative variations on the basic loco moco. In fact, I think they lay claim to actually having invented the loco moco. Guess the Food Network folks were too lazy to make the trek out to Hilo to sample the real stuff.

    • I was searching for a good teriyaki gravy to put on teriyaki patties for our homemade loco mocos and I came across your review. I agree with Rocky here, Cafe 100 here in Hilo is like the Baskins & Robbins of locos. They even have locos for different holidays – like the Hallo-weenie Loco – I think that one is the hot dog loco. There’s always a crowd there and they do fundraisers (selling loco mocos). I moved to Hilo almost 15 years ago and remember when returning to Honolulu for a quick trip we stopped at Likelike Drive-In and they didn’t even know what a loco moco was. I think that Hilo has got to be the birth place of loco mocos (I’m sure I’ll be corrected now that I’ve said it)..But it’s good stuff!

  5. I’ve eaten at Rainbow’s for more than 20 years. Tried plenty of the basics there, boneless chicken, teri beef, chili, beef cutlet, teri burgers, hamburger steak, slush float, and the loco moco to name a few. I personally like the Rainbow’s gravy with the slight chili flavor in it. Usually when I eat there, the chili flavor is mild in the gravy, barely can tell. Just enough to make you say “What da…!?” In addition to the chili flavor, the gravy has good rich flavor and texture. I think they have one of the better gravys out there. The prefab hamburger patties are pretty bad, but they get the job done. You’re right that they are not game for any competition. From all the years I’ve been eating there, the mac salad is usually how you describe it. I don’t think it was a mistake of the day. Just put the gravy on top of the mac salad and it’s all good. Lindy got it right with the cornbeef hash and eggs over easy with gravy all over, then kethchup, shoyu, and worchestershire to top it off.

  6. I don’t know. Maybe I’m weird. I looooove Rainbows food. I’ve tried it all. After surfing Diamond Hd, playing volleyball at Queens surf, there’s nothing I want more than a plate lunch (preferably teri beef, or pork cutlet gravy all over) with extra mac. Not to be a soggy sock in tennis shoes, but the whole idea of plate lunch was economical, filling, and taste good to the masses. There is nowhere in the world that will stick to one recipe and appeal to EVERYBODY. I guess what I’m trying to say is, if Peter Lugers’ Steakhouse in Brooklyn was selling 5.75 plate lunches, I’d wouldn’t expect nitpicky reviews either. Maybe was my Waimanalo upbringing.. lmao

  7. Its not “Chilli,” the ingredient you are tasting is ginger. And the orangy color, not reddish, is similar to the STANDARD Mom and Pops Diner gravy you would find in the 50’s and 60’s all around Oahu.

    My grandfather owned and operated a Diner back then, and while its has long since before I was even born he always made his special orangy like gravy when the family came over for dinner. We always pestered him for the recepie but he took it to his grave.

    I love your post but you still have much to learn, grasshopper. Still I don’t understand how it took you so long to eat at Rainbow’s, it should have been one of your first trips in your local food 101 edumacasheen.

  8. Derk, Ginger? I didn’t taste that. At least, that’s not what stood out, or I would have noted it. On the teriyaki beef for sure, but not in the loco moco gravy. It was Chili (powder or from the gravy itself) mixed-in to the best my palate could decipher. For sure.

    Compare, say the brown gravy on the Hamburger steak (easily convertible to Loco Moco) from BWS Cafeteria to Rainbow… WAYYYYY different. Guaranz.

    But hey, everyone has their own preference – especially with gravies and sauces (flavor, depth, quantity, viscosity, etc.) – so all due respect to your take on it.

    Many folks here rave about it (and it shows in the lines at Rainbows). I’m in the minority for sure!

    This debate inspires me to go back to Rainbow’s this weekend and verify my take on it. Tough job, but someone’s gotta’ do it!

  9. I know I have not eaten at the Rainbow since October of 1974, but the BBQ Beef Plate with extra rice and extra salad is the best and I would still guess it would still be good today. I loved the Mac Salad and would just die for a taste today. I have tried to duplicate the reciepe to this date but have never come up with same taste I remember. I have been successful with some of the other island favorites. I was really glad to find this site, Thanks for the memories.

  10. Howzit John, if you’re referring to the teriyaki beef, I notice, like many other classic plate lunch eateries, Rainbow’s also has a pronounced ginger flavor. So if anything, “choke” the freshly-grated ginger.

    Still, no matter even if you think you NAILED the recipe, it just won’t be the same eating it somewhere other than either at Rainbow Drive In on Kapahulu avenue, or a block down on Waikiki beach. THAT’s where the magic is! It’s all about ambiance. :-)

    So come back to Hawaii and relive those 1974 memories soon!

  11. Is this the resturant located at/or very near the airport? I can’t remember the name, but I will be going there again this April!

  12. Pomai, you may have point about returning to Hawaii. I would probably gain about 50 lbs. in a week. But you have the right idea, the food always tastes better after a day of surfing or laying on the beach. I thought we always asked for the BBQ Beef plate for the teriyaki plate at the Rainbow, extra rice and extra salad with a large fruit punch.

  13. Rainbows isn’t as good as it used to be. After the original owners sold (and the second owners too, I think), it went down hill. Last time I went, I couldn’t stomach my favorite (the hamburger steak plate) because they don’t make the burger anymore, now its premade. I miss those flat patties that you could cut with your fork and pieces of onion sticking out.

    The gravy has definitely gotten worse, so has the mac salad. The saving grace is the slush floats.

  14. Tony K, you must be referring to Byron’s Drive In, which is still there! Here’s a review on them:

    John, Rainbow Drive-In is definitely the kind of place that will hit da’ spot after a day out of surf ‘n sun. Reid over at ‘Ono Kine Grindz said their chili rice bowl and teri beef sandwich is a winnah’. I’m gonna’ have to try that! Must be AMAZING if they’re mixing the chili gravy with the brown gravy. lol

    Howzit Chris over in Japan!

    Josh, on that Secret Life of… (Drive Inns) Food Network show, the owner’s last name was Gusukuma. Yet, looking at their website, the founders last name is Ifuku. Perhaps an in-law?

  15. Been reading about the mac salad comments. IMO the best mac salad is at The Heights at the Aiea Medical Building. Pomai, the place is a DEFINITE need to review place for the future!

  16. Jay, shoots, I’ll absolutely take you up on The Heights review the next time I’m out Aiea side (which will be in a few weeks or so).

    Which entrees do you recommend? Whichever ones I/we get, I’ll make sure to get that BEST Mac Salad (them be fightin’ words! lol) with it!

  17. Pomai, whenever I go there I can’t seem to resist their boneless teri chicken fried noodle combo. Teriyaki and mac salad is a match made in heaven! Cant wait to see your review of the place. Definitely one of my top plate lunch spots on that side of the aina.

  18. Actually, contrary to most people beliefs, Rainbows has not changed ownership since they opened in 1961. Also, regarding the burgers, they have recently started making their own burgers again.

  19. Pingback: Hawaii Eats: Loco Moco — Hawaii Traditions

  20. Must have been a bad day on the gravy. I saw on Guy’s DDD that the gravy is homemade and has tomato paste in it, hence the slightly reddish color? Agree on the mac salad – mo betta at Gulick since they do a potato mac. This is my new first stop upon arrival in the 808. Used to be Zippy’s but now we do Costco, then here. Chicken cutlet in gravy, or if it’s a Wednesday, the pork roast. Boyfriend gets the chili dog and slush with ice cream.

    • Traci,

      Yup, that DDD episode revealed exactly what my suspicions were. Even Guy shook his head at the idea of tomato sauce in the brown gravy. Interestingly, they also put Opae (dried shrimp) and konbu in the pot while making the stock for the gravy. My sister knows how to make “Brown Gravy” using just shoyu (no meat stock), and it’s surprisingly really good!

      But Costco over Zippy’s? Common’ now, you can’t come to Oahu and not hit-up Zippy’s at least once! We “Oahuans” take Zippy’s for granted, however I for one know, if I moved away, that would be at the very top of my most missed local places to eat!

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