When one thinks of Hawaiian food in Los Angeles, two things come to mind: Rutt’s, the famous Westside cafe that’s been putting out island staples since 1976, and the South Bay, which still offers a number of Hawaiian restaurants to enjoy. But now there is Kukui Hut Cafe in East Hollywood to add to the conversation.
Far from the reaches of the waves, Kukui Hut instead sits practically in the shadow of the looming blue Scientology Center in East Hollywood, pushed into a stretch of small storefronts along Edgemont Street, just up from Fountain Avenue. Despite the decidedly urban digs, the squat space does the most it can to transport diners thanks to some fun mural work on one wall, and loads of wickerwork throughout. Mostly you’ll find memories stashed away inside the casual menu, displayed on video monitors above the counter (and just below the surfboard). It’s where favorites like teriyaki burgers and loco moco play to the heart, alongside egg rolls, musubi, and a whole lot more.
Kukui Hut seems mostly to eschew the white-hot Hawaiian poke trend altogether, opting instead to push extremely hard in the other direction. You can get regular Spam musubi (a true island staple) here, but you might instead care to jump onboard the fried version, which basically replaces the softened rice patty below the Spam with a slip of hash brown not unlike the kind you’d find at McDonald’s.
From there it’s easy to meander into the Kalua pulled pork fries, which predictably also come topped with a fried egg, cheese, lots of wasabi mayo, and crunchy onion bits. It’s an unwieldy basket that four people would have a hard time polishing off over a meal, but absolutely delicious in its execution. Then there’s the straightforward loco moco, two white rice scoops topped with dueling beef patties, mushroom gravy, and even more eggs. These are also available over fries because, well, why not.
Burgers come in a variety of performances, among them the Teri Shaka among them. It’s a play on the word teriyaki, which you might know more commonly in the burger world thanks to the proliferation of teriyaki burger and bowl spots around Los Angeles. The Teri Shaka is plied with two rings of pineapple (one inside, one on top for edible garnish), but if you’re looking to really tempt fate you may lean towards the Aznuts, which also includes a split sausage link on top. Despite the sunny atmosphere and warm customer service, this place isn’t messing around.
In a world where Instagram fodder exists for a certain type of restaurant, it’s quietly refreshing to see a place like Kukui Hut Cafe exist quietly in a comfortable stretch of East Hollywood. The restaurant has been open only six months or so, drawing in mostly locals and anyone who pops open Yelp while, ironically enough, getting a checkup at the hospital nearby. The place is small but comfortable, and offers loads of natural light to help you see better over your mound of overclocked french fries.
Kukui Hut Cafe is the work of Catherine Kovao, a first-time Los Angeles restaurateur who found her space by doing a simple Craigslist search. There is no PR budget, little room for error, and a morning commute that sees Kovao drive in daily from Lancaster just to cook.
But despite all the modern struggles of running a restaurant, Kukui Hut turns out big, flavorful food for relatively cheap, in a neighborhood where around the corner young kids line up for hours just to brunch the day away. Across the street from there, an outpost of Brooklyn’s famed Five Leaves is coming, which should only further move the neighborhood dining needle. But until then there is Kukui Hut Cafe, a simple, delicious, inviting space that doesn’t just deliver on its quiet promise to feed you well: it blows it out of the water.
Kukui Hut Cafe
1308 N. Edgemont St.
Los Angeles, CA