Restaurant Review: Manoa BBQ

Family-run restaurant offers variety and satisfies hunger.


Kai Yasuda

Manoa BBQ Loco Moco

Kai Yasuda, Contributing Writer

Kai Yasuda, Contributing Writer

If you spend a lot of time around the University of Hawaii, you have probably seen Manoa BBQ, a small family run restaurant located in the popular Manoa Marketplace.  Most of their customers derive from close-by residents and students, from high school and college. What are they known for? ALL of their dishes…sort of. A friend first introduced me to this restaurant to experience the zillions of dishes that they offer.  When first looking at the menu, the crowded little letters laid across the long, wide panel overwhelms you. Whether it’s hamburger steak, kalua pig and cabbage, or garlic shrimp, they literally, but not actually literally, have every plate lunch you could think of, so consider them a one stop shop for your food consumption needs.  They serve breakfast, plate lunch, Chinese food, Hawaiian food, etc. Are they all good? Not necessarily, but most times, five star quality does not matter so much when you are hungry. So, before reading, recognize that while not the best restaurant ever, Manoa BBQ is definitely one with high praise.

Right outside hangs a few decrepit letters, signifying that this spot is indeed the home to Manoa BBQ.  It doesn’t seem glamorous. The ad covered windows reveal a small room with two dated wood tables, and a light coat of soot that likes to grab at your soles when you walk, completely covering the floor.  Looking into kitchen does not do them justice either. The grill has aged charcoal marks and legs that dust bunnies seem to have made home around. It makes you wonder whether or not they actually passed their inspection.  However, despite their ability to make their business look modern and professional, it still attracts customers, including myself.

I go to Manoa BBQ at least three times a week despite the flawed venue, so this left me asking myself, why do I still eat here?  Could it be because it’s close to school, because the food is good, or because I want to see if the Chinese man in the front is wearing the Bruce Lee t-shirt again? All are more or less correct, but the reason I, and many others, return to this humble eatery time and time again is because it feels like home.  Home does not resemble perfection, and neither does Manoa BBQ. But, they do excel in making people feel comfortable. For example, the employees value the meaning of family. About two months ago, the quiet Bruce Lee t-shirt guy surprisingly talked to me. We held a conversation about college, and he told me all about his daughter who had just graduated from Creighton, and will be going to medical school.  Also, he enjoys to check in on me from time to time and ask about how my baseball is going. This man has a genuinely kind soul, and is an obvious hard worker. Just being able to see him smile every time you are about to order provides enough incentive to return the next day and order something again.

Manoa BBQ offers a million different things that a person can eat, but I have always, and will always, ordered the loco moco.  When you are served the loco moco, it comes in the classic plate lunch foam container and has a section with mac salad. After breaking the egg, and allowing its yellow contents to ooze throughout the burger and rice, I am ready to grind.  The fluffy eggs fall apart effortlessly in your mouth, while the burger provides the salty sensation you crave. The rice, soaked in gravy and egg yolk, melts into a savory mush that sticks around in your mouth even after you swallowed it down, and even though it’s a bit disgusting, you like it, but won’t admit it.  All together, with the moist and smooth rice, the soft eggs, and the punch of flavor from the burger, you can’t stop eating until you look down to see the few remaining traces of a loco moco that was once there. Is this exaggerated? Possibly, but nonetheless, the loco moco does hit the spot on those sunny days when you feel a little more local than usual, or when you’re looking for a solid kanak attack.

I regularly get bacon and eggs for breakfast.  This past week, I have ordered it five times because you simply can’t go wrong with food like this.  Like most bacon, the rich salty fat flavor is packed in with each bite, and they cook it right every time.  It comes out with that optimal balance of chewy tenderness with a crumbling crunch; the type of bacon that makes you close your eyes to savor the moment.  Although depressing, that special bacon is often the highlight of my day. Accompanied with some over easy eggs over rice, and a generous amount of shoyu, you can start off your day eating pure bliss for breakfast.

Whenever looking for a fancy place to eat, or taking a girl out on a first date, Manoa BBQ is definitely not the place.  However, it is good for those times when you are alone, feel like you need to get something to eat, and you just want to go home to chill afterwards.  After sports games, or long days at school, you simply want food. Nothing fancy. Nothing expensive. Nothing difficult. You want a cheap meal that fills you up and satisfies your cravings.  That is Manoa BBQ’s specialty. It’s not the perfect restaurant, but, perfect is not always ideal.

Manoa BBQ
2752 Woodlawn Dr, Honolulu, HI 96822