Food and Drink

Sunny Hawaiian vibes meet autumn comfort food in loco moco

Homemade loco moco (Photo by Kim Sunée)

Loco moco, as fun to say as it is to eat, is a simple, satisfying fall dish inspired by warmer climes. A popular option for the classic plate lunch — a quintessential Hawaiian meal — loco moco was reportedly created in 1949 in Hilo. Today, you’ll find this riff on what some call an “elevated Salisbury steak” on almost every traditional Hawaiian menu. (In Anchorage, try local versions at Hula Hands and L and L Hawaiian BBQ.)

This recipe is inspired by chef Brandon Heath of Kalei’s Lunchbox, a local favorite in Pukalani, Maui. The Lunchbox serves up some of the best plate lunches on the island, with the patties in gravy being a favorite. Variations include everything from added tofu and spam to kalua pork. The classic “plate lunch” version is topped with a golden fried egg, making it “loco moco.”

Hunting season offers moose and caribou, so if you have the option, switch out local game for some of the ground beef. If you want to skip the rice, serve the patty, egg, and gravy on a soft bun for a twist on a hamburger. Some versions enlist a cornstarch slurry, but Heath maintains that you really need the fat for a good roux.

“And a good beef stock is key to add to the roux,” Heath says, to make a good gravy. “If the gravy is good and the patties are good. And the seasoning … well,” he laughs. “It’s going to be good!”

Loco moco

Makes four servings

1 pound ground beef (80% lean, 20% fat)

2 cloves garlic finely minced or 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1 large egg, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water

1/2 cup fine breadcrumbs

Salt and freshly-ground black pepper

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, such as grapeseed, avocado, or canola oil

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup diced or thinly sliced yellow onion, preferably Maui or Vidalia

8 ounces cremini or shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced

1 1/2 to 2 cups beef broth or chicken stock

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

For serving: steamed white rice; 4 eggs, sunny side-up or over easy; chopped green onion

Combine in a medium bowl: ground beef, garlic, egg lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water, breadcrumbs, 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper. Mix quickly with hands until just combined, being careful not to overmix or patties will be tough. Form into four (1/2-inch thick) patties. Place patties on a plate and cover with plastic wrap; chill in fridge 10-15 minutes.

Heat vegetable oil to coat bottom of a large (12-inch) skillet or griddle set over medium-heat. When oil is hot, add patties in a single layer, spacing them out evenly. Cover with a lid and cook three minutes. Remove lid and turn patties, cook another four minutes, uncovered, until edges are brown and crispy. Remove patties to a plate to rest.

Add butter to pan drippings; add onion and mushrooms, and cook, stirring occasionally, five to seven minutes, until tender. Sprinkle flour over and stir, one minute; the lumps will smooth out once you add broth. Stir in 1 1/2 cups of broth, soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce. Bring to a low boil and let cook, stirring until smooth and lump-free. Taste and add more salt or pepper, as needed. Reduce heat to a simmer; add patties back to pan with gravy. Fry eggs. To serve, scoop rice onto four plates, top each scoop with a patty and a fried egg and drizzle with gravy. Garnish with green onion.

Kim Sunée

Kim Sunée is a bestselling author ("Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love, and the Search for Home," "A Mouthful of Stars," "Everyday Korean: Fresh, Modern Recipes for Home Cooks") and a former magazine food editor. She's based in Anchorage. For more food and travel, visit