Where to get Hawaiian food in Charlotte, NC

Julie Shrader owns The Sweet Life Cafe.
Julie Shrader owns The Sweet Life Cafe.

A trip to Hawaii for some delicious food and Island vibes might be out of the question due to COVID-19, but Charlotteans can look a little closer to home instead and find that, yes, there’s a considerable amount of Hawaiian cuisine in Charlotte — dessert included.

Hawaiian shaved ice is a snow-like treat that can be categorized as fluffy in texture and offered in a variety of flavors.

The Sweet Life Cafe dessert shop specializes in this Hawaiian dessert, which has been a hit among customers.

“The Sweet Life signifies vacations and happy times,” owner Julie Shrader said of her business, which opened a few weeks prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“People from Hawaii have come and commented that it is authentic and transports them back,” she said of how the shaved ice lives up to expectations.

Adzuki beans, a sweet addition to the shaved ice, help make the experience even more authentic.

With such a variety of flavors — including the owner’s favorites, Pimp Juice and Tiger’s Blood — customers can’t possibly get bored.

On the savory side of Hawaiian cuisine, L&L Hawaiian offers a robust menu of island cuisine. Franny Robinson, who owns the franchise in Concord, grew up around the Ohana culture and has a mother who lived in Hawaii for over 14 years.

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Popular menu items at L&L Hawaiian include Spam Musabi, Chicken Katsu and Kalua Pork. Courtesy of L&L Hawaiian

“When we moved [to Charlotte] we saw there was nothing in the Concord/Kannapolis area that wasn’t fried chicken or pizza. So, we got this idea to try and do something like this,” Robinson said of the idea to open L&L Hawaiian restaurant.

And since its opening two years ago, the food impresses even the toughest of critics.

“People come from Durham, Raleigh, Fayetteville for our food,” she said. “It’s all about the marinade. We marinade our meat for 24 hours.”

Most everything on the menu is homemade, including items like the Katsu sauce, batters, marinades and more.

As with many Hawaiian restaurants, there’s also fusion cuisine. This isn’t a shock since Hawaii is a diverse place.

“It’s such a melting pot of different cultures now, ‘‘ Robinson said of the Korean, Japanese, Portugese and Latin influences in Hawaiian fusion cuisine. This isn’t any different of the L&L Hawaiian menu, where those influences can be found present in dishes like the hibachi-style chicken.

Here’s where to get your Hawaiian food fix:

(1) L&L Hawaiian

522 Kannapolis Pkwy., Concord

The concept of comfort food can be found in just about every culture, and L&L Hawaiian specializes in the comfort food of Hawaii. Lunch plates are uniquely served with two scoops of rice, macaroni salad and an “aloha-infused hot entrée” according to the website. Try the Kalua Pork With Cabbage, for a smoky slow-roasted shredded pork dish served with fresh cabbage. For the more adventurous eaters, try the Loco Moco — “savory hamburger patties over rice, topped with brown gravy and 2 fresh fried eggs.” Another Island classic is the Spam Musubi, which is made up of sliced grilled SPAM on rice, wrapped in dried seaweed.

What to get: Pulled Kalua Pork with Cabbage

Cost: $12.45

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Kalua Pork, a popular menu item at L&L Hawaiian, is a slow-roasted shredded pork served with cabbage. Courtesy of L&L Hawaiian

(2) Ohana Poke

320 S. Tryon St., Suite 114

For a fusion experience, try Ohana Poke: A blend of Japanese and Hawaiian cuisine creates a mix of fresh seafood offerings with vegetables and rice. It’s perfect for an on-the-go food fix. Customers can choose from the menu of signature bowls such as the Hawaiian Bowl, which includes pineapples, cucumbers, scallions, jalapeño, sweet onion and ponzu sauce or choose to build one starting with a base of rice or mixed greens, a protein selection, toppings and a sauce. This restaurant is takeout only.

What to get: Hawaiian Bowl

Cost: Regular Bowl ($9.95) Large Bowl ($12.95)

(3) The Sweet Life Café (formerly known as Kona Snow)

1627 Sardis Road North, Suite 4A

This family-owned sweets shop serves authentic Hawaiian shaved ice in addition to Kona-blend coffee drinks and espressos. The list of Hawaiian shaved ice flavors is plentiful, with Island flavors such as Bahama Mama, Citrus Paradise, Mai-Tai and Pina Colada
to name a few. There’s even separate lists for those who like more tart-tasting or sour dessert, dye-free flavors and sugar-free flavors. To shake things up, there’s a combinations list where customers can enjoy selections like the Tropical Twist — a mix of Hawaiian punch, mango, and pineapple. Seating room available in addition to to-go. Unlike many shaved ice cafes, The Sweet Life Cafe is open year-round.

What to get: Hawaiian Shaved Ice (Pimp Juice or Tiger’s Blood)

Cost: 12 oz ($2.45), 16 oz ($3.45), 20 oz ($4.10)

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The Rainbow Hawaiian shaved ice is just one of the many flavors offered at The Sweet Life Cafe. Courtesy of The Sweet Life Cafe

(4) Mama Poke Bowl

915 South Point Road, Suite G, Belmont

Nothing says comfort food like the word mama, and this Belmont eatery has all the makings to live up to its name. Try traditional dishes, such as Poke Bowls, or Japanese-inspired dishes, including miso soup and Hibachi. Delivery, takeout and in-restaurant dining is available.

What to get: Mama Sushi Burrito

Cost: $12 ($13 for Bowl)

(5) Umami PokeRito

7510 Pineville Matthews Road, Suite 5A

If Hawaii and Mexico had a baby, Umami PokeRito would be its offspring. This Pineville-Matthews Road eatery offers a fusion experience via menu options that incorporate the traditional makings of a poke bowl with the wrappings of a burrito — in other words, a PokeRito. Delivery, takeout and in-restaurant dining is available.

What to get: Umami PokeRito

Cost: $12.75

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Kadee Blakely is a native Charlottean who has worked as a freelance writer for local publications since 2007. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, true crime novels and trying out new recipes at home. Follow her on Instagram @kadeethescribe.