Review: Bamboo Grove Hawaiian Grille

Down in blue Hawaii.
So far away from blue Hawaii.
Aloha nui means goodbye.

“In Blue Hawaii”
Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks

Bamboo Grove

On yet another daylight-challenged, Oregon grey winter day, we puzzle over where to eat. It is a frequent noon time ritual at my office. My business partner–a social worker masquerading as a divorce lawyer–disdains a “project lunch.” The term refers to anything that might take more than 45 minutes to order and consume or involves any ingredient unavailable at Safeway in 1975. The “no project lunch” rule wears like a strait-jacket, denying me reach to nearly every entry on my favorite restaurants list.

Our office is in Johns Landing. Most of the food in the area is dreadful. There is bad pan-Asian down Macadam by the Zupan’s; horrid pub grub and mediocre sushi a couple blocks from there; and stunningly awful Chinese or sugar-coated corporate ham or turkey in our building. We enjoy the fried fish not far down Corbett, but not today. No, today is Friday and nothing else will brighten the weather somber mood like Bamboo Grove Hawaiian Grille.

Bamboo Grove sits just off Macadam, on SW Carolina, around the corner from a (surprise!) mediocre Thai restaurant. David Kahoilua, a self-described “hapaguy,” owns the place, though often orders are taken and delivered by his manager, Francis. Francis is a pretty nice guy if you catch him when he is not too busy, otherwise he can be brusque to the point of rudeness. Part of his gruff persona derives from the fact that the Grove is always packed at lunch, especially on Fridays. The 50 or so seat house is full by noon. You either go early or come in after about 12:30. Some customers fail to heed the rule, and they wait. To be fair, the flow from the kitchen is fast and Francis has a knack for turning tables.

It is not the decor that draws the mostly office dwelling lunch crowds. Two of the three small dining rooms are devoid of decorative flourishes, save for a surf board mounted near the kitchen on which the daily special is noted and some tropical flowers and bamboo painted on a couple walls. The third dining area is dressed in an almost humorous Tiki tacky get up. I have only been seated in there once and much prefer the nondescript tables and booths in the main rooms. Not that we care much about looks anyway. We are in a hurry.

Friday (and Saturday, too) is kalua pork day at Bamboo Grove. Kalua pork, is a Hawaiian specialty. In its true form, it is a pit-roasted pig, liberally sprinkled with Hawaiian sea salt, that smokes lightly under a cover of banana leaves. Oven-roast variations involving foil-covered pork shoulder (commonly referred to as the “butt”) with the special salt and liquid smoke are common. This is what they offer at Bamboo Grove, in part because health regulations do not permit pit roasting. According to Francis, pit roasting is overrated anyway, with that delightful smoky taste coming from the burnt burlap bag that goes into the pit with the pig. The oven-roast method is fine with me. The yield is delicately flavored strands, shreds and chunks of mouthwatering, moist pork meat.

A trip the Grove is worthwhile solely for the chance to sample this delicacy. Add in high marks for value and one might consider including this establishment in a regular moderate priced, dine-out rotation. A large fist-sized mound of Miss Piggy, along with a scoop of bland white rice and another of macaroni salad swimming in mayonnaise, is only $7.50. The medium, for large appetites, is $2 more. And, though I have never seen anyone order it solo, the unspeakable abundance of a large order will only set the diner back $11.50.

Other dishes are similarly portioned. Slow-marinated, assertively flavored teriyaki chicken ($8-$10-$11.50) is one poultry option. Others, Korean ($9-$11-$12.50) and Shoyu ($8-$10-$11.50) chicken, are also worth a try. Additional teriyaki possibilities are beef ($10-$12-$14) and pork ($9-$11-$13). If you have ever had the variations on pork ribs while vacationing on Maui, you might remember the ones you could get at Azeka Market. Here, that sweet teriyaki style is offered as “Kihei” ribs ($12-$14-$16). Korean style, or Kalbi, ribs are more garlicky and less sweet than the Kihei version and cost the same. For those who cannot decide between any of these (plus a few other) choices, there are a two combination platters, though these really require at least four serious consumers to make the adventure worthwhile.

To focus on the protein/rice/macaroni theme misses several sections of the menu, though it does capture the essence of the place: large portions, reasonable prices and satisfied in-eat-and-out customers. For a slightly lighter lunch, I have gone with the chicken Caesar ($9). Come to think of it, though, the only thing that makes it lighter than the others is the substitution of generously dressed romaine and croutons in place of the rice and mac salad. I doubt there is huge calorie swing involved. In the appetizer section, you can reduce your caloric (if not volume) intake by sticking with the poke ($12). Poke, for those who have not had the pleasure, is cubed raw tuna–usually ahi–typically marinated in different soy-based infusions and served with slivers of raw onion. At Bamboo Grove, Hawaiian (soy and sesame oil), ginger or shoyu versions are regularly available.

Through the grey and wet, surf the Johns Landing sea of culinary mediocrity along to Bamboo Grove for a hearty, toothsome midday (or evening) meal. It is no project at all.

  • Phone: (503) 977-2771
  • Address: 515 SW Carolina Street, Portland, OR. 97239 Google Map
  • Hours: Open daily: Mon-Fri 11am-9pm; Sat 12pm-9pm; Sun 4pm-8pm.
  • Website: bghawaiiangrille.com

Bamboo Grove Hawaiian Grille on Urbanspoon

Your thoughts are welcome

  1. says

    Ok, I can’t let this pass on behalf of the PDX Tiki Contingent:

    “The third dining area is dressed in an almost humorous Tiki tacky get up. I have only been seated in there once and much prefer the nondescript tables and booths in the main rooms. Not that we care much about looks anyway.”

    If you “don’t care much about looks” why are you complaining about it? I’m defensive about our tiki!

    Thanks for writing about this place, wish I knew about it when I was working closer. Oh, and you need to ditch your partner for lunch, you should never try and eat with people who don’t like food!

  2. di-jester says

    While I agree mostly with the write-up above, I must say that after more than a few trips to Bamboo Grove for take-out, I often finished (or tried to) the meal feeling a bit over lipified. The main reason I kept returning was to try and find something on their menu that wasn’t so fatty. The flavors at Bamboo Grove were perfect, but the cuts of meat, in my opinion, needed their ample reserves of fat trimmed off prior to hitting the grill. There used to be a little cafe in Eugene called Hawaiian Time that was inside the 24 hour fitness. They served the typical Hawaiian plate lunch, but did so with a depth of flavor and a quality of meat that had you salivating before you even walked through the door. I’m from Texas, so I can’t claim to know what Hawaiian food is supposed to taste like. But, in my mind, enormous portion sizes don’t make up for fatty meats, all the while with a somewhat hefty price tag on-board. Here’s a suggestion: get a side of mac salad from Bamboo, then drive up Barbur to the bento place for their teriyaki chicken and have a very hawaiian-ish plate lunch with less chewy fat stuff and less impact on your wallet.

  3. pollo elastico says

    I used to work in Johns Landing, and agree with the author about the food choices. Panini-pressed sandwiches from Zupan’s are probably your best bet – stay the hell away from (Ig)Noble House. I once had a stir-fried shrimp dish there that tasted like on old gym sock.

    At times our office would order lunch to-go (from Bamboo Grove) for the entire group.

    As a previous poster mentioned, the meat was overly fatty.

    Flavors were muted, and depended too much on salty shoyu. The starches were insipid. And the vegetables in the dishes were quite crappy. They are doing a disservice to Hawaiian street food, which is supposed to plentiful, sure (with the double-book on the carbs), but cheap grind to boot. The whole theme seems very Haole to me – like charging $13 for limp spaghetti marinara in a place with red checkered tablecloths and candles in empty chianti bottles.

    I agree whole-heartedly with dj-jester – try the bento place up the street. It’s much cheaper, and fresher.

    Or go around the corner for run-of-the-mill Thai at Bai Tong – at least they have a somewhat decent Pad Kee Mao.

  4. Love this restaurant says

    With regards to the ambiance, I love it. I find it very warm and inviting; more so when they aren’t quite so busy because of the noise level. I don’t know about now, but they used to have live hawaiian entertainment on Friday nights.

    With regards to the food, I haven’t found anything on the menu that I don’t like. My husband (who is hawaiian) says the fat is what gives it the flavor and that hawaiian folks love it. It’s true that this restaurant is a big “meat-fest” and doesn’t offer many choices on the lighter side but that’s how authentic hawaiian food is. The price is very reasonable and the portion sizes are huge (even if you remove the fat :o) ). They don’t claim that it’s a health food restaurant but it is comfort food (rich, fattening, great tasting food). The only thing that’s lacking in my opinion is fresh pineapple (or any kind of fruit), poi, and some slushy drinks. My recommendations are Korean Chicken, Kalua Pig (Fridays only), and the Yakisoba (this is huge so be prepared).

    Also, if you ever need a large event catered at your location, this place does a fantastic job. For catering, they are willing to make all kinds of things that aren’t listed on their standard menu (just ask them). Be careful though, if you say you need to feed 50 people, you’ll probably end up with enough food to feed 75 until they are completely stuffed.

    Overall, this is one of my favorite restaurants.

  5. Erin says

    We just got back from a week in Moloka’i and another all around Kaua’i. I MISS KATSU!

    Does anywhere do it here? We’ve tried a few of the Hawaiian places in town and they were tasty but no katsu. I’d even go for L&L at this point (actually, I like L&L…)

  6. Love this restaurant says

    There’s an L & L out on TV Highway in Hillsboro. I think it’s 23105 TV highway. Not sure if it’s still there though. It was/is right next to Fred Meyer.

  7. mczlaw says

    Bamboo Grove has had a chicken katsu on special recently. I would call ahead to see whether it is still available.

    –mcz

  8. Liana says

    Bamboo Grove has Katsu every Thurs. and it is pretty darn good. I prefer the Kihei ribs there, although they can be fatty/ That is just how the cut of meat is. I am from Hawaii and think that it is very authentic food that Hawaiians eat on a regular basis.

  9. C&S says

    I work in the John’s Landing area as well and am frequently horrified by my coworkers’ suggestions to visit Old Spaghetti Factory, etc. for lunch. Bamboo Grove is a like a breath of fresh air in our stale lunch food row area. I love eating out on the patio in the summer.

  10. WH says

    If you like (real) hawaiian food you should check out Kauai Island Grill in beaverton. Small place with lots of aloha and great food! And for katsu curry (yum!) go to the japanese restaurant Ikenohana. The portion is MASSIVE, especially for the price!

  11. kikaida says

    place to eat:

    Man you should try the newbie in town in beaverton off the corner of 158th and walker, AIEA GRILL the teriyaki beef broke da mouth..

  12. Corbs says

    I think if you want Katsu you should go to some of the Japanese restaurants around, Ikenohana (Allan Blvd) and HakataMon (in Uwajimaya) have good and plentiful Katsu. The HakataMon owner lived and worked in a plate lunch place in Hawaii for a couple of years and really likes ‘local’ food. If you like curry too, then get the Katsu-Curry, it’s huge! His Kalbi is usually pretty good too. He makes is own Udon as well.

    L&L is no longer L&L, I think it’s called Hawaii BBQ or something like that, it is no longer owned by anyone from Hawaii as well.

    Kauai Island grill has good stuff, but their portions have been smaller lately. They have awesome deserts though.

  13. Jade says

    Just tried the new Aiea Grill, and was extremely pleased with both the chicken katsu and beef curry. Definitely a close second (and only because of the smaller menu) to the L&L in Aloha (Hawaiian Kine BBQ)……

  14. kikaida says

    Aiea grill is great extremely ono food been there twice already, talked to the owner who is from Aiea, I hear his manager is from the Big Island kOna side, he said the reason he has a small menu is because he wants to do it slowly but surely and always be consistant with the taste and the quality of his food.he is in the process of weeding out the items that is not selling and will be replacing it, with maybe a mahi sandwich, and maybe teri beef sandwich too, but he said this is only the beginning of things to come, the others have many menu items but when you eat them it’s always different never consistant….

  15. Jade says

    Thanks for the info, kikaida. Can’t wait for the expanded menu. I was just on L&L’s website, and learned that they’re opening up a BBQ in Cedar Hills. Between that and Aiea…..wow……I need more fat pants…..

  16. barosborough says

    Bamboo Grove is one of our favorite places in all of Portland. Please disregard people trying to send you to a strip mall bento place. They obviously don’t like Hawaiian food.

    The atmosphere always keeps getting better. They have finished the back room and just put new tile floors in throughout with a beautiful blue glass river running through the tile.

    This place screams “family style” all the employees are so nice even when it’s super busy. Outdoor seating on the deck is great. Especially on Friday’s when they have live music.

    The best is the Kalua Pig (Fridays only) and the Yakisoba (with sweet hot sauce and shoyu chicken). The Kihei ribs are outstanding as well. For dessert the Mango sorbet is fantastic.

  17. beej1955 says

    We live on Maui, and the rib place at Azeka mall just closed. I hear Fat Daddy’s in the triangle is good for ribs now.

    When not living here, we live in John’s Landing, and why oh why do they not have better restaurants there?!!? Does anyone have any suggestions?! We have tried all of the ususal suspects and are so underwhelmed. I would love to hear of any places we may have missed that are good….

  18. Prone to Hyperbole says

    2 things for all of you Hawaiian Food Lovers!

    (disclaimer first: I, too, am not Hawaiian. However my boyfriend is Hawaiian, born and raised, and his Father is several generations Hawaiian / Chinese from well before it became part of the U.S.A.. So I will channel his information to you all here).

    1. I am ecstatic to see how many people on here know about the places in the ‘burbs that serve the real deal! There are apparently at least three others in Vancouver, WA that I’ve only been told about. I have no experience with those. HOWEVER I didn’t notice ANYONE mention what my boyfriend says is by far the most authentic of them all: OHANA on Sandy around 30th. It’s a Korean/Hawaiian family (hence Ohana, “family”) and the recipes (at least the Kalua Pig) are from the Grandfather, and have never been altered. The place is simple, and the MASSIVE shave ice station is a bit awkward looking in the dead of winter. But the FOOD is super! The plating is super authentic plate lunch style, and is not “pretty” like some of the food at Bamboo Grove (thinking the spam musubi mainly). But it’s the most authentic.

    2. That said, my BF and I hold Bamboo Grove as our over-all favorite restaurant in town. I’ve eaten there (actually being literal for once here) probably sixty plus times (and yes I struggle with my weight!) ;-)
    And honestly, we have never had one single bite of food that wasn’t stunningly delicious. But PLEASE let me qualify before anyone responds with disapproval. I only go there when I am specifically craving ludicrous amounts of salt / seasoning, embarrassing portions, and so much fat that the shredded pig is LITERALLY floating in it’s own, unstrained liquid fat (which “accidently” mixed with the overly mayo-dressed mac salad – also completely authentic – and creates a salt / fat combo that literally makes me tear up even while I’m typing this!). A really good girl friend of mine and I go there a lot and usually end up texting each other pump-up messages before hand, saying thing like: “I’M GONNA SHOVE PORK IN MY FACE HOLE UNTIL PORK FAT IS DRIPPING DOWN MY CHIN AND I FEAR I SHALL DIE!!!”
    Yes, that’s gross. And yes we Americans eat too much. (Though not NEARLY as much as many native Hawaiians and other Islanders. Trust me!)
    But as long as you pace yourself on how often you go, and how much you try to take home (unless the owner, Kavika, sees you try to use a to-go box and encourages you with his puppy dog eyes to “enjoy” it all there!), then you should be fine.
    Or, not being sarcastic here, but……

    Last point:
    3. This is a food that is supposed to be, MUST BE, the fattiest cuts of meat possible. With very little trim involved. The flame up on the grill should be from fat dripping through the grates as well as the sugar in the salt-sweet glazes and sauces. It’s the only way to achieve perfect, health-threatening carcinogens. That’s the entire point of Hawaiian grilled meat entrees! Anything less than that is like wasting your money at the Silk location of Pho Van where they use (and I’m not kidding!) beef TENDERLOIN in lieu of fattier, gristlier cuts that are the only acceptably traditional choices. It may have started as a poverty thing, but the depth of flavor and texture we’ve all come to expect over generations can only be achieved by these proper cuts. If you want to cut out some extra fat, enjoy the good and proper fatty meats that are inherent to their respective cuisines, but drink one less whole milk latte, or dessert, or other fat source. Compromise can really be a reward if you don’t want to punish yourself by accepting sub-standard cuts of meat in a category(s) where one choice IS the right choice.

    Lastly, if you think they should use leaner / more trimmed cuts, that’s your right to opinion. But don’t post about it as if they did something wrong, or flawed. It may lead a newcomer to the cuisine astray. Or make them feel guilty for lusting for fatty pork rib heaven. ;-P

    Thanks for reading

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