In Oregon, the plate lunch scene is competitive.
The Beaver State is a popular mainland destination for transplanted Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, which means you’ll find not only L&L Hawaiian Barbecue, Hawaii’s answer to In-N-Out Burger, but also a plethora of mom and pop spots serving spam musubi and loco moco.
Cameron and Tyler McNie, the owners of up-and-coming Kansas City chain Hawaiian Bros., are familiar. They are the scions of Oregon’s largest plate lunch chain, Hawaiian Time, which opened in 2003 after they bought recipes and training from a Hawaiian who was closing his spot.
Hawiian Time has nine locations across the state, from Eugene to Beaverton. I’ve had plenty of Hawaiian Time while living there and always found it to satisfy my noontime urge for starch, spice and pork fat.
But there’s no question the McNie brothers found a higher gear with Hawaiian Bros., which opened its first location in Belton in 2017 after the McNies followed longtime friends on a reverse trip down the Oregon trail.
“We have a lot of respect for our family business and our time there,” Cameron McNie says. “But when my brother and I came out here, we wanted to get out and do our own thing. We had 15 years of experience, but we got brainstorming: What are some of the things we did well with our family business? What are the things we want to change? Let’s start from the beginning instead of having to correct it 10 years later. What attention to details do we want to get in place now?”
The goal of the McNies and their partners is to grow the Bros. into a big business with locations all over the Midwest. The quality of this fast-casual chain certainly warrants it — it’s the best plate lunch I’ve had on the mainland thanks to garlicky Honolulu chicken and sticky teriyaki served with round scoops of perfectly peppery mac salad. The Molokai chicken sizzles with spice and herbs. And then there’s the smoky pulled pork — rich in fat and flavor and seasoned with Hawaiian sea salt.
Hawaiian Bros. recently opened its third location in Overland Park, with a Northland expansion following fast behind and opening this fall. I’ve had everything on the menu, and nothing disappoints. Everything other than the pulled pork is made-to-order. But if I’m recommending one big wow, it’s the kalua pig, which is slow-cooked for 15 hours using a proprietary process McNie declined to detail.
Even in a town with pork pit on every corner, it’s a standout.
“I was a little nervous when we started this, to do barbecue,” Cameron McNie says. “The teriyaki, the chicken — that’s different than a lot of people are doing out here, so I thought that would be a hit. The pork I was really worried about because it’s like, ‘Man, barbecue is such a big thing in the Midwest. Pulled pork is everywhere. Are people going to like our version of it?’ And people have loved it — and they’ve loved our barbecue sauce. So we were really, really excited about the response to that.”
GO: Hawaiian Bros. has locations in Belton, Lawrence and Overland Park. The Overland Park location is at 12120 College Blvd., Overland Park, Kan. Open 11 am-9:30 pm daily. 913-291-1004, hawaiianbros.com.