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Hawaiian plate lunches downtown

Medford may not look like a tropical paradise, but it's increasingly easy to find a taste of Hawaii around downtown.

Two island-style eateries have opened this year in the heart of Medford: Sunrise Cafe at 130 E. Main St. and Bruddah Joe's at 204 N. Central Ave.

Both are within walking distance of the Mail Tribune's newsroom, a big plus when it comes to adding a little aloha to the middle of my day. I appreciate having nearby lunch options. And when those options are as rib-stickingly hearty as the mounds of rice, macaroni salad and grilled meat that make up a traditional Hawaiian plate lunch, it's a good idea to get a little exercise on the way to and from the table.

Since Sunrise Cafe opened March 29, I've strolled into the bright, little nook several times. Owner Ed Chun, who grew up in Hawaii after he and his parents moved there from Korea when he was 3, cooks up fresh, but still-traditional fare that he describes as "modernizing my memories."

The Sunrise lunch menu offers all the standards — huli huli chicken, pulled pork and teriyaki steak for $7.95 each, as well as mahi mahi grilled or fried for $11.95. A veggie rice bowl for $8.95 is perfect for smaller appetites while the truly hungry can tackle Loco Moco's hamburger steak, two fried eggs, onions, rice, brown gravy and macaroni salad for $8.95. You can have your choice of classic sticky, short-grain white rice or brown rice, and each plate is garnished with fresh pineapple and seasonal fruit.

If you can't make up your mind, the MVP plate for $12.95 piles huli huli chicken, pulled pork, teriyaki steak along two scoops of rice and a mound of creamy macaroni salad. It's perfect for sharing. I also enjoyed a bit of all the grilled meats on a taco platter, which comes with a stack of warm corn tortillas to wrap up morsels of meat with a mild but tasty mango salsa.

A sign in the window proudly promises that Sunrise sauces don't come from cans. The signature sauces that bathe meats before they hit the grill and those waiting in squeeze bottles on the tables so diners can put on the finishing touches tend to run on the sweet side, melding sugary and savory.

Bruddah Joe's, which opened right after Sunrise Cafe, has turned a section of basement at the Elks' Lodge into an authentic-looking island diner with bamboo-mat room dividers and neon-bright walls. Like Chun, who launched his cafe from a catering business, Bruddah Joe's owner Joseph Walter, a North Medford High School grad whose family is from Oahu, started serving food in Medford nearly two years ago from a catering business and food cart.

The menu features huli huli chicken ($7.75), thin-sliced beef ($8.25) or pork ($7.75), all marinated in a signature ono sauce that includes a nice gingery kick. Bruddah Joe's also serves kalua shredded pork, a savory shoyu chicken (both $7.75) and Spam. Look for Spam and eggs over rice for $6.75 or musubi — seared Spam atop a pressed block of rice then wrapped, sushi-style, in nori — for $2.50.

"Vegi LoLo," teriyaki tofu with sauteed onions, peppers and celery, is a great option for the less carnivorous, but more tofu and less green pepper in the mix would be even better for my $7.75.

The macaroni salad here is more interesting than a bland blend of pasta and mayo. Shredded carrots and chopped pickles perk up the texture and flavor while generous amounts of paprika add a warm, orange glow. Fans of the pale, creamy classic might be put off, but I liked it.

Joe's plate lunches come in a Styrofoam box, not on a plate. That might sadden the environmentally conscious, but Walter says ordering at a counter and getting a box of food quickly is authentic. It is perfect for take-out, but then you will miss the mellow mix of island music that helps set the mood in the cafe. Also don't forget to stop by a sideboard offering ono sauce, sriracha, sweet chili sauce and soy sauce for a final boost of flavor.

— Anita Burke