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Rich & Hearty Hawaii Comfort Food – No Frills, No Fuss!
Most of the Hawaii recipes here on PWWB, like ahi poke bowls & beef stew, remind me of Mom’s side of the family. Loco moco, however, always makes me think of Dad. He’s a meat & potatoes Midwesterner who loves anything smothered in gravy, so the Hawaii drive-in scene really stole his heart when he lived in Honolulu with my mom. His reminiscing about their trips to Rainbow Drive-In has given me such a soft spot for classics like Loco Moco.
Loco moco is hearty, no-frills Hawaii comfort food, & this recipe is how we like to make it at home. It stays pretty true to classic versions you’ll find on the islands – a rich beef patty served over sticky white rice with glossy brown gravy & a fried egg. We amp our gravy up with lots of hearty mushrooms & sweet onions for extra flavor, tying all components of the dish together – truly the ultimate comfort food meal!
Non-locals & mainlanders might be surprised to learn that a wholesome, hearty dish like loco moco is so big in Hawaii. Truth is, there’s so much more to the local food culture than tropical flavors & amazing fresh fish. Influence from many Pacific Rim cultures makes comfort food a huge part of the Hawaii food scene & loco moco is the perfect example of that. It’s rich, hearty, & so satisfying – whether you enjoy it for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, loco moco is always a good idea!
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Loco Moco Recipe Highlights
If loco moco is new to you then you’re in for a fantastic treat! My family’s recipe is…
ICONIC HAWAII. Loco moco is a staple in the local Hawaii food scene found everywhere from drive-ins to fine dining restaurants. It’s wholesome, classic, & totally no-fuss. Created by locals & loved by everyone who tries it!
PURE COMFORT FOOD. A beef hamburger patty served over fluffy white rice, smothered in mushroom gravy & topped with a fried egg. Rich, savory, & super hearty – everything you crave from a comfort food meal!
GREAT ANY TIME OF DAY. Locals enjoy loco moco all day for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, making it fun for any occasion. Best paired with a nap! 😉
It’s just as ‘crazy’ delicious as it sounds! ♡ Read on to learn more about how to make Loco Moco, or jump straight to the recipe & get cooking!
What is Loco Moco?
Let’s take a few steps back. As iconic as Hawaiian loco moco is, if you’re a non-local it probably doesn’t match the vision of fresh seafood & tropical flavors often associated with Hawaii. The reality is that there’s so much more to the local Hawaii food scene. Hawaii is a melting pot of people, cultures, & traditions from all around the Pacific Rim & you can easily experience this diversity through Hawaii’s food. On the islands, you can eat everything from the freshest poke you’ve ever had to epic Hawaiian comfort food like noodles, fried chicken, & gravy-smothered loco moco. In Hawaii, the food is as culturally rich & diverse as the people!
So what is loco moco? ⇢ Loco moco is a classic local-style meal consisting of a burger patty served over rice, smothered with brown gravy, & topped with a fried egg. It’s a staple in the diner & drive-in scene in Hawaii but it’s so well-loved that you’ll also find high-end versions served at the islands’ fanciest brunch spots. Visitors & locals alike have a soft spot for this simple, humble dish.
Where did loco moco originate from? ⇢ Legend has it that loco moco was created in the 1940s in Hilo (on the Big Island) when teens were looking for a quick & cheap meal. A group of teenage boys called the Lincoln Wreckers played sports at Hilo High School & used to hang out at the Lincoln Grill restaurants afterward. They only had a few bucks to spare but wanted something filling & comforting. So they asked the owner, Nancy, to whip up the dish & a legend was created!
Loco moco has a strong resemblance to Japanese hambagu, a hamburger steak also served over rice. Like other uniquely local-style dishes like spam musubi & shoyu chicken, loco moso is a clear reflection of Pacific Rim cultures on the islands, whether the Lincoln Wreckers realized it or not.
What does loco moco mean? ⇢ According to legend, the first teenage boy brave enough to dig into this dish was nicknamed “Loco” (or “crazy”). Moco simply rhymed!
This is a classic loco moco recipe just like the versions my parents enjoyed at drive-ins when they were younger. It uses simple, no-fuss ingredients to create 4 hearty & delicious components that stack on top of each other for the perfect comforting bite.
Note: Full ingredients list & measurements provided in the Recipe Card, below.
- Burger patties – The loco moco burger patty is the core of the dish! We make ours from ground beef – be sure to use 80% lean for tons of flavor. Worcestershire sauce adds umami-rich savoriness & seasonings like onion powder, black pepper, & seasoned salt like Lawry’s take all the flavors up a notch.
- Gravy – Smother the loco moco burger in a classic brown gravy made with butter, beef broth, beef base, Worcestershire sauce, & a cornstarch slurry. We also love to add sweet onions & mushrooms to our beef gravy for an even more delicious heartiness.
- Rice – Our preferred variety is Calrose rice, the medium-grain white rice often used in Hawaii. It gets nice & sticky as it cooks, creating the perfect bed to soak up all the richness of the loco moco burger & brown gravy. If you have trouble finding Calrose rice, a short-grain variety like sushi rice will work just fine. If you prefer to use something like brown rice or wild rice, go for it.
- Egg – Fry it sunny side up & place on top of your loco moco with a garnish of thinly sliced green onions.
How to Make Loco Moco
Loco moco was originally created to be quick & convenient, so this recipe stays true to that tradition! It all comes down to preparing 4 components – sticky white rice, beef burger patties, brown gravy, & fried eggs – then stacking them on top of each other. Making it all from scratch takes about 40 minutes, but a bit of meal prep makes this recipe even faster.
Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.
Cook the rice. Be sure to rinse your rice thoroughly to remove any starches from the surface of the grain. This helps give the rice a beautifully sticky consistency! Transfer to a rice cooker & cook according to the manufacturer’s directions. Important! ⇢ For extra fluffy rice, be sure to let the rice rest in its steam for 5-10 minutes after it finishes cooking.
Pan-fry the hamburger patties. Gently mix all the burger ingredients with your hands & form into patties (don’t over mix or else the burgers may be tough!). Pan-fry the patties in butter until they’re golden brown. Why? ⇢ Pan-frying keeps all of the rich beef drippings in the pan. That’s exactly where we want them – they’re the foundation of flavor for the loco moco gravy!
Build the gravy. Add sliced mushrooms & sweet onions to the pan & sauté them for about 10 minutes until deeply browned (don’t rush this!). Deglaze with beef stock & scrape up all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan – there’s so much flavor trapped in this fond! Add Worcestershire sauce & beef base, then bring to a simmer & whisk in the cornstarch slurry. Why? ⇢ These gravy ingredients create tons of flavor but the cornstarch slurry is all about texture! It helps everything come together as a thick & glossy gravy.
Fry the eggs. You’re after a beautiful sunny side-up egg here! Simply crack an egg into melted butter & cook until the whites set but the yolk is still a little runny. Why? ⇢ A perfectly runny egg oozes into the rest of the loco moco as you slice into it – picture-perfect & so crave-worthy!
15-Minute Meal Prep
Doing a little bit of prep ahead of time helps everything come together even faster when you begin cooking. This is especially helpful if you’re making loco moco for a crowd! The burger patties are easy to mix & form ahead of time, then all you have to do is pop them in the pan. You can also slice all of the mushrooms & onions in advance to get the gravy going faster. Check the Recipe Notes, below, for more loco moco meal prep tips!
Loco Moco Assembly & Serving
The classic way to serve loco moco is by placing the juicy burger patty on top of the sticky rice & smothering it all with a big spoonful of rich beef gravy. It’s a genius way to layer things because the fluffy rice instantly soaks up all the gravy goodness & juices from the burger. 🤤 Place the fried egg on top & add some sliced green onion for a picture-perfect finishing touch.
Loco moco is a super filling lunch or dinner, but it’s also good for breakfast! (Throw an egg on anything & it counts as breakfast, right?! 😉). The best way to eat loco moco is to slice into the egg first, allowing the yolk to run through the gravy & rice. Mix it all together, dig in, & enjoy!
In Hawaii, you’ll find loco moco served plate lunch style with mac salad, but it’s also fantastic & filling enough all on its own. Feel free to share your serving with others!
I can’t wait for you to try this Loco Moco recipe! It’s a treat-yourself kind of dish that appeals to locals & mainlanders alike – Mom & Dad are proof of that! My family absolutely loves it & sharing it with you means the world to us!
If you do give it a try, be sure to let us know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo & tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. We LOVE seeing your PWWB creations! ♡ Happy cooking!
More Recipes Like This:
Hawaiian Recipes & Local Favorites
When it comes to local Hawaii comfort food, there are few dishes more iconic than Loco Moco: a hearty burger patty served over rice, smothered with beef gravy, & topped with a fried egg. This classic Hawaii diner staple is so well-loved – by locals & visitors alike! – that you can find versions of it everywhere from drive-ins to fine dining restaurants.
This particular recipe comes to us from my mom, who was born & raised in Honolulu. It stays pretty true to classic versions you’ll find in Hawaii, consisting of 3 easy-to-make components:
- Burger patties, which Mom makes using simple ingredients & pan-fries in a cast iron skillet to build epic flavor,
- Loco moco gravy, a quick pan sauce that we make extra-hearty with the addition of thinly sliced mushrooms & sweet onions, &
- Sunnyside up eggs, whose runny yolks ooze into the rest of the loco moco as you slice into it – the perfect finishing touch!
Be sure to check out the blog post, above, to learn more about the origins of this iconic dish & the beauty of the local Hawaii food scene! It’s something I’ve enjoyed my entire life & it’s so exciting to share with you here on PWWB. ♡ Happy cooking!
loco moco assembly & serving:
- 2 cups Calrose rice, rinsed well
- loco moco burger patties, below
- beef gravy, below
- fried eggs, below
- 2 green onions, thinly sliced
loco moco burger patties:
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 pound 80% lean ground beef
- 1 large egg
- 2 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- ½ teaspoon seasoned salt, such as Lawry’s
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
for the onion & mushroom beef gravy:
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 8 ounces white button or cremini (baby bella) mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed, & thinly sliced
- 1 medium sweet onion, thinly sliced
- 2 cups beef stock or broth
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon beef base
- cornstarch slurry (1 scant tablespoon cornstarch whisked with 1 tablespoon water)
for the fried eggs:
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 4 large eggs
- kosher salt & ground black pepper, to season
- Cook the rice: Transfer the rice to the rice cooker’s inner cooking pan. To rinse the rice, cover the rice with warm water, give it a good jostle with your hands to agitate the dust off the rice’s surface, then carefully drain the water. Repeat rinsing until the water runs clear – this takes a good minute or two; be patient! Following the ratios provided in the manufacturer’s directions, add water to the inner cooking pan. Place the inner cooking pan in the rice cooker & cook according to the manufacturer’s directions. Once the rice is done, let it steam & rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.
- Form the loco moco burger patties: Preheat a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, prep the burger patties. To a medium bowl, add the ground beef, egg, panko breadcrumbs, Worcestershire sauce, seasoned salt, onion powder, & ground black pepper. Use your hands to mix until just combined – take care not to overmix, as doing so leads to tough burgers. Divide the mixture into 4 equal portions. Form each portion into a ¾-inch thick burger patty, pressing a small indent in the center of each patty to prevent the burgers from swelling as they cook.
- Pan-fry the loco moco burger patties: Add the butter to the hot cast iron skillet. Once melted, place the loco moco hamburger patties in the skillet. Cook 3 minutes per side, until a nice crust has formed on each side of the burgers. Transfer to a plate & set aside.
- Prepare the onion & mushroom beef gravy: Add the butter to the same skillet used to pan-fry the burgers. Once melted, add the mushrooms & onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender & browned, 8-10 minutes. Deglaze the skillet with beef stock, using a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, then stir in the Worcestershire sauce, & beef base. Bring the mixture to a simmer. Once simmering, stir in the cornstarch slurry – the gravy should thicken immediately. Tate & adjust seasoning as desired. Reduce heat to keep warm for serving.
- Prepare the fried eggs: Meanwhile, as you prep & simmer the gravy, prepare the fried eggs. Place the butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, carefully crack the eggs into the pan. Season with a good pinch of kosher salt & ground black pepper as desired. Cook 3-4 minutes, until the whites are set. Set aside for serving
- Loco moco assembly & serving: Pile the rice on a plate or shallow bowl, creating a nice bed for the burger. Place the loco moco hamburger on top of the rice. Smother the burger with onion & mushroom gravy, then top with a fried egg. Finish with a sprinkling of thinly sliced green onion, shoyu (soy sauce), & any other condiments you love. Serve immediately. Enjoy!
- Storage & Reheating: Loco moco is a dish that’s best enjoyed fresh, though the rice, burgers, & mushroom gravy will all store well. Transfer the components to separate airtight containers & store in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. Assemble a plate of loco moco with the leftovers, heat in the microwave until warmed through, & top with a freshly cooked fried egg.
- 15-Minute Meal Prep: This loco moco recipe has a couple of moving parts, but it all comes together pretty quickly once a little bit of prep work is out of the way. You can eliminate all active prep at dinnertime by taking care of this prep work in advance . Pick & choose from the list below, or do it all & all you have to do at dinnertime is get cooking – easy!
- Prepare the loco moco hamburgers according to Step 2 of Recipe Directions, above. Transfer the formed burger patties to an airtight container, separating them with a piece of wax or parchment paper. Refrigerate for up to 3 days. (5 minutes active prep)
- Prep the veggies. Slice the mushrooms & sweet onion according to the Ingredients List, above. Transfer to separate airtight containers & store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. (10 minutes active prep)
Recipe and Food Styling by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography by Rachel Cook, Half Acre House.