Broken Mouth: A Love Letter To The Aloha Spirit
Broken Mouth brings a tiny bit of the magic of Hawai’i to downtown LA. The restaurant is a love story, and like all good love stories, this one has a bit of kismet to it.
The owners, Louise and Tim Lee, describe it as a boy-meets-girl kind of place. “I’m an LA girl,” says Louise, “and Tim’s a Hawai’i guy. We met when we were both working restaurant jobs and I just had a sense he was the one. I went home and told my mom, ‘I think I just met my husband.’”
As their relationship progressed their careers did, too. Both found themselves working 70-80 hours managing restaurants, and on their shared day off they’d be too burnt out to do much of anything.
“So one day I took a leap of faith and quit my job,” says Louise. “My parents were livid but I had faith that I’d find something.”
Though she had no plan, a listing for the corner restaurant space at 9th and Santee caught her eye. “We walked inside and I just knew,” she said.
Her instincts in both her husband and her restaurant, have paid off. Now that they’re working together the hours don’t seem as bad. They’re still putting in long days, but it’s their business that they’re working so hard at, and they believe in each other.
The neon sign on the wall proclaims, “I do what I like,” a Hawai’ian phrase extolling a hang-ten attitude, but repurposed for Broken Mouth as a declaration of love for their food and their vision.
Tim serves as the head cook, making the kinds of food he explains as “The food we cook for ourselves and our friends at home.” He grew up working in his parent’s restaurant in Honolulu, and the menu is inspired by both Hawai’ian and LA cultures, with chia seed pudding and avocado toast sharing space with Spam Musubi and Hawai’ian plate lunches. Everything on their menu -- minus the sandwich buns -- is gluten-free.
The flavors of the Hawai’ian dishes are wonderfully unique. There’s an umami flavor to everything, as sweet and savory notes dance across the plate. Tim explains that when the Hawai’ian islands were being developed for agriculture an influx of Asian immigrants moved there to work on the plantations. While they did not share a common language, they found commonality thru food. Examples of this can be found on Broken Mouth’s menu, where Japanese influences go into the chicken plate, Portuguese influences into the sausage plate, and a Korean cucumber kimchi serves as a side dish.
Tim proudly beams when describing the reactions of Hawai’ian customers who come into their restaurant, proclaiming that Broken Mouth is the only place they’ve been able to find the flavors they grew up with.
But for non-Hawai’ians, Broken Mouth provides an opportunity to taste a unique and delicious food made by two people who took a leap of faith and followed a passion.
As the sun sets for the day and Hawai’ian music plays through the space, Tim and Louise work side-by-side tending to their restaurant. One can’t help but feel a bit of Hawai’ian romance blowing through downtown.
Written by Abel Horwitz | Photography by Caleb Thal