|Volume 9, Issue 12||
But the history of this Hawaiian family in Cedar Mill only goes back about eight years. LuAnn Latorre's son and daughter had moved to the area previously. Cherisse had come to Vancouver to attend the International Air and Hospitality Academy. Her son Jason came over in 1999 when his uncle helped him get a job at Uwajimaya. LuAnn came to visit a couple of times, and began to hatch an idea.
'All I did all my life was cook," she says. She had been working for Marriott, preparing food for the airlines. But she was tired of the working environment. She and her husband Kimo, who also worked for Marriott in another division, had been saving their money, and they decided the time was right for a big change.
She came home one day and said, "I've had enough, we've got to go." Within a week they had made their plans and headed for Oregon. She wanted something that the whole family could do together. She found the present location, which had previously held The Chicken Stick, and opened the Kauai Island Grill.
Little has changed since the Grill opened its doors in October 2003. The extensive menu is the same, featuring Hawaiian plate lunch favorites like Loco Moco, a hand-formed beef patty grilled and served atop a scoop of sticky rice and topped with gravy. The most popular dish is their Chicken Teriyaki. It's a marinated chicken thigh, freshly grilled and sliced, coated in a thick homemade Teriyaki sauce and served with rice. On Friday and Saturday they make special items like pineapple upside down cake and poke, the marinated raw tuna that's becoming popular.
Many specialties are served with one scoop of rice and one scoop of "ono (very good)" Hawaiian macaroni salad. Auntie Lulu's is the best I've ever had—it's truly crave-worthy, and I don't even like macaroni salad in general! This is not a place to come if you're on a strict diet, but it's a lovely treat, and the large portions can be shared, or taken home for another lunch!
They import some of the Hawaiian ingredients directly, including Saimin noodles from Kauai, and taro and poi. "The air freight costs more than the food in most cases," LuAnn says, "but it's worth it because it's what people want. We're not out to soak our customers, we keep our prices low so the kids can afford to come and get their favorite foods. They get homesick, and they come here not just to get the food, but to share stories and have a fun time."
In August, LuAnn began feeling unusual fatigue. Her husband had taken a part-time job that gave them health insurance coverage to help with treatment for the ovarian and uterine cancer that was discovered, but the 20% co-pay was still a huge expense. LuAnn's daughter began to organize Hawaiian Breakfast fundraisers to raise money to cover those costs. Customers flock from all over to enjoy Portuguese sausage, spam, smoked meat and eggs and to help their Auntie Lulu. If you can't make it to a breakfast fundraiser, an account has been set up at Wells Fargo bank for donations—specify that it's for "Aunty Lulu at Kauai Island Grill." The next breakfast is Sunday, November 20, so come check it out from 8 am to noon.
She's been getting monthly chemo treatments since the surgery, and occasionally the restaurant has been closed because she needs the support of her family, to drive her to and from the treatments at the NW Cancer Research Institute near St. Vincent's, and to care for her when she's weak from the chemo. She advises people to call ahead to make sure they're open—503-643-4820.
Her daughter works full-time at the restaurant, and her son and husband work there part-time when they can. Her son's eight-year-old boy is a "restaurant baby" having grown up there. LuAnn arrives about an hour and a half before the restaurant opens to begin cooking. Everything is made from scratch. Marinating the chicken, making the sauces and simmering the slow-cooked meats for eight to ten hours is all a labor of love for her. "My cooking is a mirror of my soul. I'm so grateful that people come here. My house has always been the one with a dozen kids around all the time. We have a cookout every weekend. I'm just glad to share my food with the community."
Word-of-mouth has brought customers from as far away as Utah and California. Intel workers attending training at the Hillsboro campuses take the word back to their associates. It's also a popular lunch spot for Columbia and ESI employees. Everything is prepared for takeout, but if you can find space at the counter or one of the two tables (or the two more outside when it's dry), it's fun to experience the family banter and the warmth when regulars show up and share their lives with the Latorres.
The Kauai Island Grill is located at 811 NW Murray Blvd, next to Plaid Pantry. (Because of the median strip on Murray, to get there from the south you need to turn on Science Park and enter via the driveway next to Key Bank.) Normal hours are 11-7 Tuesday-Saturday, but call ahead to make sure they're open: 503-643-4820.
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Portland, Oregon 97291