Spotlight by Aaron Levy
Situated in a taupe, non-descript building off Macadam Ave. in Southwest Portland, Bamboo Grove isn't exactly in one of Portland’s more trendy culinary quadrants.
Still, after sixteen years, the Hawaiian Grille is unapologetically thriving. Run by Maui-born David Kahoilua and his wife Kristie Noguchi, the large restaurant is one of only several Hawaiian restaurants in central Portland.
“The community is close knit, we all know each other,” he said of the Hawaiian restaurant community. “I tend to visit most of them. Everyone has a different specialty. We all help each other out, as far as restaurant problems or questions we may have.”
Bamboo Grove is everything you want in comfort food: Big portions of well-seasoned, sweet and savory food in a friendly environment. The restaurant serves Hawaiian staples like kalua pork, shoyu chicken, ahi tuna poke, and macaroni salad. Though Portland has a sizable Hawaiian population, Kahoilua - referred to as Kawika, or The Chosen One in Hawaiian, by his friends and staff - said most of his guests aren’t from the islands.
“We have a lot of walk in business,” he said, “I’d definitely have to say 90% of my customers are born and raised on the mainland versus raised in Hawaii.”
Modern Hawaiian cuisine was heavily influenced by the Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Portuguese, and Filipino peoples who immigrated to the islands in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to work in sugarcane plantations.
Portland has more than its healthy share of authentic Asian cuisine. It also has a lot of people who write about cuisine. These two factors would presumably make it hard for a restaurant working on the protein, rice and macaroni salad concept to thrive.
“We weather it pretty well,” he says, “Some people depend upon Yelp reviews to decide whether they’re going to go to a place or not. Some of the reviews are very good and help us out. Other ones are critical to be critical.”
Bamboo Grove has four stars on Yelp. The food is exceptionally good and what it may lack in nuance, it more than makes up for in sizable portions. When I visited for lunch, the teriyaki pork had been marinating for four days and the spicy chicken was incredibly tangy and flavorful. The rice was cooked perfectly and the crispy cabbage that laid the foundation for my plate added a fresh crunch.
“Everything is marinaded for a minimum of two to three days before it goes out,” he said. “We use pure cane sugar. The difference between using that and beet sugar is huge. Not very many countries produce cane sugar any more.”
Keeping with the Hawaiian tradition, Bamboo Grove is a casual environment with nice people, good food and the certainty of leaving with leftovers.
515 SW Carolina St. Portland OR., 97239