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Forget small plates, star chef slumming, or pork porn. Ask anyone who knows: healthy, fresh fast food is the most dynamic trend in the restaurant industry across the country, a high-potential way of satisfying several generations’ needs to eat decently within hectic lifestyles.
Chains like Panera Bread, Chipotle and Jason’s Deli (did you know they were heavily organic?) have done such an impressive job at this, it’s only logical that others would look to emulate.
Braddah’s Island Style, 2330 S. Rainbow Blvd., is a new local concept (already finalizing a second location) that was conceived by an ex-Chipotle employee, and the connection is obvious: a simple, well-explained assembly line counter where you combine ingredients of your choice into a healthy savory alternative that’s only a dollar or two more than McDonald’s, KFC or El Pollo Loco — if that (prices range from $6.25 to $7.60).
Hawaiian food in particular is due for a healthy makeover. Plate lunch style Hawaiian is one of the most underappreciated ethnic options in Vegas, and thanks to our “11th Island” status, there are many solid places to get poke, lau lau and loco moco here. But tradition often pushes a cuisine with generally balanced offerings into the territory of huge portions with too much added sugar, fat and salt.
Braddah’s on the surface looks to follow suit, but it’s more Hawaiian-inspired, combining it with Mexican trimmings, and a nod to California freshness. So, instead of typical Hawaiian sticky rice, you get brown rice, with seaweed if desired (adding a nice savory element as well as health benefits). On that, you pile “huli huli” chicken, Kalua pig (pulled pork), “Pulehu” Steak (flank, marinated in hoisin and Chinese five spice), grilled cod or grilled veggies, then top with typical Mexican trimmings and some cross-cultural salsas (charred pineapple verde; mango & roasted corn or tomato with grilled Maui onion) in your choice of a bowl, burrito (white flour or whole wheat tortilla), romaine lettuce salad or three taco plate (corn or flour tortillas).
When I first stopped in, my friend mentioned that it was our first time visiting, and the counter person offered us generous samples of two meats. Then before we left, the owner also gave me a small box of the coconut bark (decadent toffee laden with chocolate and shaved coconut). Maybe I got special favor because they sensed I was a reviewer (I didn’t say) but regardless, I’d suggest all my readers take advantage of their generosity and ask for the same “first-timers” treatment. There’s a good chance it will hook you, too.
Coming back two days later, we ordered a seaweed rice bowl with Kalua pig and three tacos of chicken, steak and fish. The pork was my favorite: incredibly tender, juicy and savory, and contrasted nicely by the briny austerity of the seaweed rice. The chicken held some great grill flavor, but was still also tender, and the fish was buttery and mild. Of all, the steak most easily got lost in the shuffle, the sweetish marinade making it taste like somewhere between mild kalbi or soft jerky.
It could use some pep.
The salsas were also disappointing overall — maybe trying too hard to combine Hawaiian and Mex flavors — though of the three, the charred pineapple worked nicely when combined with one or the other of the housemade spicy-sweet sauces on the tables: raspberry-jalapeno and guava-habenero (the latter bottles are oddly unlabeled, kind of a risky oversight in a family restaurant). Apparently a coconut-ghost pepper recipe is soon coming, too.
Adding some of their fresh, light guacamole (onion heavy, and accented with Hawaiian pink salt) was a good idea too. But there’s a danger here in wanting to mix in too much, and with so many strong flavors, it’s too easy to lose the base elements and come out with a sweet-spicy mush.
Owing to their ample portions (one Hawaiian tradition they didn’t lose), the tacos were a bit messy. On my next visit, I’d definitely lean toward a burrito, probably the ultimate way to marry the flavors here.
Braddah’s dining room is pleasantly decorated with vintage travel images and faux flowers on the tables, a warm setting for such a low price point. They also have a street-side patio, and even a drive-thru window — so, no excuses.
Braddah’s Island Style, 2330 S Rainbow Blvd., 702 222 0767 facebook.com/BraddahsIslandStyle. E.C. Gladstone is a Las Vegas-based food writer. Follow him on twitter and instagram @ecgladstone And for more bites and drinks, go to nowimhungry.com and sipsavorswallow.com.