Eating My Way Through the Alphabet: Big Kahuna Hawaiian BBQ
Published 11:00 am Saturday, February 11, 2023
By Eden Slone
As January has finally come to a close, my mind has shifted from snowmen to sand castles and from winter nights to long summer days. Although we are slowly nudging our way closer to warmer weather in the unpredictable weather of Kentucky (and since Punxsutawney Phil did see his shadow), it may be a while before it’s sunny and 75. However, if I can’t be at the beach, then maybe I can eat like I am at the beach. With this in mind, I made a trip to Big Kahuna Hawaiian BBQ in Lexington.
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Tucked away in a modest brick building on Liberty Rd., drive slow as you’re approaching it, or else you might miss it. Once you get inside, you’ll take a short flight of steps to enter the tiny restaurant. While the restaurant itself is relatively small, it isn’t lacking in decor. With a laid-back feel and a surf shop vibe, you could almost convince yourself you aren’t in Lexington. There are paintings on the walls, a fun mix of memorabilia with both an Americana and island-style touch, and a subtle bit of soft tropical music in the background. It’s casual, simple and relaxed/ They aren’t trying too hard, and the focus is on the food.
The menu is small but feels specialized rather than limited. It’s divided into three sections: platters, sandwiches, and sides. I have never been to Hawaii myself – although it is high on my bucket list) – so, I don’t have much experience with authentic Hawaiian cuisine. If I was truly going to transport myself to an exotic location, I wanted to try foods I wouldn’t usually select. For my platter, which came with a side of macaroni salad and sticky rice, I ordered the Hawaiian classic, Spam, and eggs. I couldn’t leave without trying any official barbecue, though, so I ordered an extra side of their kalua pork, which could also be ordered as a full platter. To get a true Spam fix, I ended with a Spam musubi, which is Spam and sweet soy on sticky rice wrapped in seaweed.
As a massive lover of macaroni salad, I had to grab a forkful of it first. It was creamy, but the mixed carrots gave it a hint of crunch. I could see myself eating it at a summer cookout. With two heaping scoops of warm sticky rice next to the macaroni salad, I continued eating my sides first. Each scoop was topped with a house chili sauce, spicy mayo, and sweet soy. I will admit that I am naturally not a huge fan of sweet soy or chili sauce, but I loved the rice and spicy mayo. I even mixed a few bites of the macaroni salad and rice for a slightly chaotic but fun mix of flavors. I also enjoyed the pork BBQ, which was butter soft with its Hawaiian sauce. It’d be delicious on a sandwich (which is also an ordering option).
When it was finally time to make my way to the main dish, I knew I was in for a treat when my knife barely tapped into what I officially deem the perfect fried egg. Not too runny, not too dry, with that sunny side up color and a burst of flavor, it was an egg to write home about. Under the egg was the tried and true Spam, a childhood favorite I hadn’t eaten in years. Spam became popular in Hawaii during World War II and is a beloved staple on the island. After trying Spam and eggs, it’s easy to see why. While I didn’t have a lot of room for much else, I dug into the Spam musubi, which was an excellent way to finish the meal strong. Anything that contains sticky rice is a win for me.
That fried egg. Is it weird to be so obsessed with an egg? Maybe, but with an egg that good, I have no shame. Eating it with Spam was an unexpected combo for me that I now have a newfound love for.
For most, including myself, some of the menu items at Big Kahuna, like Spam, are not for everyday eating. However, this week, I didn’t want everyday eating. I wanted to be transported, and that’s precisely what Big Kahuna did. I was no longer in the Bluegrass winter fog or cold temperatures for half an hour. Instead, I was eating a colorful plate of food with a wide range of flavors, and just for a moment, I was somewhere else. Not everyone can make it to Hawaii this winter, but everyone can make it to Big Kahuna.
904 Liberty Rd., Lexington, KY 40505
With a passion for food and the way it brings people together, Eden Slone is an intern reporter who has created the Eating My Way Through the Alphabet series as a way to highlight some of the best food in Nicholasville, Lexington, and beyond with a new restaurant in alphabetical order being shared each week. If you have a favorite restaurant you’d like to have featured, feel free to send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.