Hidden gem: Ai Love Nalo

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If you follow me on Instagram, you have a general idea of my diet. It’s 90 percent burgers and the rest is an overflowing mix plate of noodles, pizza and tacos. So when I get a tip-off about a plant-based restaurant serving farm-fresh Hawaiian food, smoothies and sweet treats, I have to investigate. Here’s the kicker: It’s in Waimanalo.

Ai Love Nalo is in a converted gas station next to McDonald's on Aloiloi Street.

Ai Love Nalo is in a converted gas station next to McDonald’s on Aloiloi Street. Don’t be fooled by the lomilomi massage sign. The food’s inside!

To me, Nalo is a neighbor island. The stop-and-smell-the-pikake pace of everything is just as foreign as having more veggies on my plate than meat. Ai Love Nalo just might change that.

Beautiful bowls bursting with vibrant veggies, wholesome grains and delicious sauces.

Beautiful bowls bursting with vibrant veggies, grains and robust sauces.

We arrive before the kitchen is ready to serve at 10:30 a.m., so we sit out back in the Garden of Eatin’ to sip our drinks while we wait.

GardenofEatin

The kombucha is brewed in house and comes in a few varieties including lilikoi (pictured), ginger and mango.

The kombucha is brewed in-house and comes in varieties including lilikoi (pictured), ginger and mango.

The iced tulsi basil mint tea ($4) and iced ginger, olena, lemongrass hibiscus tea ($4) were nice thirst quenchers after our hike up Makapuu.

The tulsi basil mint iced tea and another with ginger, olena, lemongrass and hibiscus were nice thirst quenchers after our hike up Makapuu.

I enjoy my tulsi basil mint tea for the herbaceous, minty hit. If these greens are not your thing, I recommend getting it sweetened with agave nectar.

The Medi Bowl is an enormous bowl containing kalo falafel, fire-roasted baba ghanoush, beet hummus, and millet tabbouleh on a bed of greens drizzled with an herbaceous tahini sauce.

The Medi Bowl ($11) is enormous: kalo falafel, fire-roasted baba ghanoush, beet hummus and millet tabbouleh on a bed of greens drizzled with tahini sauce.

The Medi Bowl’s kalo falafel (kalofel) is fantastic on its own, but once you mix up everything, you’ll find the ribbons of root vegetables (grown on the property) add pops of freshness and flavor.

The Buddha Bowl has a hearty selection of kabocha squash with wakame, liquid aminos, ginger, mushrooms, kale, and avocado over millet and/or brown rice.

The Buddha Bowl ($11) has a hearty selection of kabocha squash with wakame, liquid aminos, ginger, mushrooms, kale and avocado over millet and/or brown rice.

Although the kabocha in the Buddha Bowl could have stayed in the oven a bit longer, I love how its flavor goes with the wakame, pickles and mushrooms. After finishing this bowl, not once do I feel hungry until driving to dinner at 7:30 p.m.

The WOW Laulau has slow-cooked local veggies in luau leaves with a choice of poi, brown rice, or millet with tofu poke (plain or spicy) and fresh greens.

The WOW Laulau ($11) has slow-cooked local veggies in luau leaves. It’s served with poi, tofu poke and fresh greens.

This Hawaiian plate is so ono, it’s unreal. The deep earthy flavor of the slow-cooked veggies in the luau leaves pairs perfectly with the freshly made poi. Wow, laulau is right.

If you're looking for a burger replacement, the BBQ portobello sandwich is your best bet. It has a local organic portobello mushroom topped with coconut slaw on a locally baked vegan bun.

If you’re looking for a burger replacement, the BBQ portobello sandwich ($11) is your best bet. It has a local organic portobello mushroom topped with coconut slaw on a locally baked vegan bun.

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After we order, I find out that Ai Love Nalo was opened last year by Malia Smith, my former professor at Hawaii Pacific University, and her husband to make sustainable food. The delicious vegan dishes they serve up make their mission to educate others about sustainable practices very easy to swallow.

Ai Love Nalo
41-1025 Kalanianaole Hwy
Wednesday-Monday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. (closed Tuesday)
www.ailovenalo.com