I've probably exhausted you by now with my wondering at Houston's Coca Cola ad-worthy diversity. But I've got bad news. We don't (yet) have a significant Hawaiian population.
This is probably good news for Hawaiians. I mean, they already live in a Vacationland (sorry Maine). But despite the current poke boom, mostly steered by Houstonians of east Asian descent, our tastes of other branches of Hawaiian cuisine are decidedly few and far between. And people who have had a Hawaiian plate lunch, the island equivalent of a Southern meat-and-three, crave it.
Lucky for them Hawi Hawaiian BBQ Express opened in an unassuming (aren't they all?) shopping center on FM 1960. When I went on a recent Saturday night, I had to wait for a table. Clearly, the word is already out in the neighborhood. What are they saying? Probably something about the huge portions. Or the varied menu. Or the coffee dispenser filled with hot teriyaki sauce. It's a toss-up.
The bill of fare includes salads and noodle soups, but mostly focuses on fried and grilled meats. That's not to say you shouldn't try the Spam musubi if you're curious. My guess is that you have to be raised on the chunky sushi-style roll of teriyaki glazed Spam. I only managed a couple of bites, no fault of Hawi's.
The most economic way to get a cross-section of the offerings is to order either a mix plate or a Hawi plate (which the gentleman at the counter pronounced like "Howie," which I would not have guessed without assistance). The Hawi plate allows diners to choose two proteins for $8.49 with a pile of steamed rice and a sizable salad. Meat options overwhelmed me: Hawaii's famous pulled kalua pork, named for the pit in which it's traditionally cooked? Curried chicken? Boneless barbecued chicken or beef?
For some reason, I just can't seem to have a Hawaiian meal without katsu. The chicken version here was made with thigh meat, making for a juicier center to the crisp, flattened fritter. The counter staffer strongly recommended the galbi among all the barbecued meats. I didn't mind the $3 upcharge for the adaptation of the Korean short ribs. But I can't say I was wowed. Connective tissue made the beef difficult to eat without the aid of utensils and even then, what was left was not as tender as I might have hoped. But the sweet marinade was a pleasant foil to the chicken and its sweet-and-tangy sauce.
Hawi may still be finding its legs. But for now, the neighborhood is clearly more than ready for a taste of the tropics.