It's basically a Salisbury steak with an egg on top, but for Hawaiians and those who love to visit the islands, Loco Moco is a dish with legendary status. Perhaps because of its fatty comforts and ease of preparation, it's one that lends itself to pub food adaptation, on the order of Canadian poutine, so it's far from impossible to find. But getting a real, carb-tastic Hawaiian plate lunch in Houstonia can be a tall order. Despite a thriving tiki culture, Hawaiian food is not really Houston's thing, to put it kindly. Kitsch favorite Hula Mama's in Humble closed earlier this year. It was replaced by a chain, Waikiki Grill. That makes Aloha Pho, which opened on North Mason Road in Katy in June, the only remaining locally-owned Hawaiian restaurant in greater Houston.
And it's not just Hawaiian. The gentleman who did most of the serving (between bites of pizza and Wendy's) had a distinct Vietnamese accent, though he said he moved from Hawaii a few months ago. The menu traces the same path, with dishes from both places. There are Viet basics like egg rolls, phở and bún, but also Hawaiian rice plates. My friends and I were there for the latter, but decided to start with a Vietnamese dish referred to on the menu as five-spice fried chicken wings. They were definitely fried, but didn't taste particularly of the powdered blend that includes star anise, cloves and cinnamon.
Weekend specials include Hawaiian delicacies kalua pig, laulau, lomi-lomi salmon and poké, but we stuck to the simpler everyday offerings. Each of the three plate lunches we tried started with a bed of raw cabbage topped with two ice cream scoops of white rice and one of mayonnaise-laden macaroni salad. Teriyaki beef featured almost paper-thin slices of meat steeped in a marinade sweetened with pineapple. A faint whiff of charcoal imbued every slice.
Pork katsu doesn't vary much from restaurant to restaurant, as long as it is panko-coated and properly fried. The difference at Aloha Pho is the curry served on the side for an additional $1. In a slight departure from the thick, gravy-like Japanese curry I expected, the onion and carrot-studded sauce had a glossy sheen and a syrupy texture. Just a touch of spice clung to the last moments of each bite before I swallowed it.
And the Loco Moco? The egg yolk was beautifully runny, but my friend who ordered it, who has spent some time in Hawaii, said it didn't pack the punch she was hoping for. Salisbury steak with an egg on it may have been a bit too accurate a description. But when in Katy, it's hard to complain about the chance to sample the only island grub in town.