Versus: Loco for Moco Buffs

A Hawaiian showdown between Kona Kitchen and Kauai Family Restaurant.

Loco Moco is a traditional Hawaiian fast-food dish that starts with a mountain of white rice, followed by a hamburger patty, a fried egg, and brown gravy. It's cheap, filling, and way better than the high-school-cafeteria flashbacks it's been known to induce.We were skeptical diving headfirst into this Versus bowl, not convinced our waistbands could take the extra pressure. But Loco Moco is quite delicious, proving this challenge a surprisingly delightful adventure. Sure, beef and gravy may not be your idea of a healthy breakfast, but this isn't about being healthy—it's about putting your cholesterol and calorie checklists aside and hanging loose like the islanders.The Rivals: Kauai Family Restaurant, 6324 Sixth Ave. S., 762-3469. "Kauai Family Restaurant" is the answer you're likely to get when you ask a local where to find the most authentic Hawaiian food in Seattle. Kauai, as you can probably guess by the name, is family-run. The owner cooks, his sister waits tables, and his daughter works front-of-the-house. The vibe is warm and friendly, and portions are generous and made with love. The Loco Moco ($5.50) is served all day, and comes in a pretty bowl doused with homemade gravy that's a mix of both beef and chicken. The dish was tasty, but the well-done hamburger patty could have been cooked a little less and seasoned a little more.Kona Kitchen, 8501 Fifth Ave. N.E., 517-5662. This Maple Leaf neighborhood restaurant doesn't win any points for ambience, but the food is to die for. The Loco Moco ($6.79) is a little more expensive than Kauai's, but that extra buck buys you what seems like an extra scoop of rice and gravy. Like its rival's, Kona's hamburger also comes well-done, but the seasoning is spot-on. The beef gravy, made from scratch, needs to be bottled and sold immediately. It's decadent without tasting fatty, and has the color of amber syrup. Mixed with the broken yolk of the fried egg, it made for one of the best meat-and-rice toppings we've ever sunk our spoon into.The Champ: This was one of our toughest challenges yet. Both Loco Mocos were good, but Kona Kitchen's was better: the meat more flavorful, the portion larger. Plus, compared to Kona's gravy, Kauai's was just so-so. Call us crazy, but if we had to choose, we'd rather risk busting our gut for Kona Kitchen's

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