People are lining up for the low-key restaurant’s matcha pancakes and loco moco. Rise and shine.

Worth the wait: the highly popular loco moco at Morning Wood in San Bruno. (Photo by Elena Kadvany)

It’s 8:20 a.m. — 20 minutes after Morning Wood’s stated opening time — and almost two dozen people are lined up outside, hungry. A handwritten sign posted on the locked door informs the early risers that the Hawaiian-Japanese restaurant will be opening later than usual, with no explanation but a polite “mahalo.”

At 8:30 a.m., the door swings open and Barry — a friendly, exuberant staff member wearing a red sweatshirt emblazoned with “Honolulu” in white text — greets the crowd. He apologizes for the wait and and explains the Morning Wood philosophy: good food done well, not quickly.

“Once you’re inside, it’s island time,” he says. “Mahalo for being awesome. We’ll feed you soon.”

Clockwise from top left: Milk French toast wth strawberries and syrup made from Japanese adzuki beans; the Japanese breakfast’s rice with furikake and sous-vide eggs; patrons line up early on a Tuesday morning. (Photos by Adam Pardee and Elena Kadvany)

People don’t seem to mind the wait at Morning Wood, whose Hawaiian and Japanese breakfast has drawn long lines since the restaurant’s opening in San Bruno in December. True to the owner’s Hawaiian roots, when you eat at Morning Wood, you’re on island time.

“Mahalo for being awesome. We’ll feed you soon.”

Husband-and-wife team Chad and Monica Kaneshiro both left careers in the Bay Area fine-dining world to open Morning Wood together. It’s their creative, tongue-in-cheek (yes, that is what the name refers to) response to years of white-tablecloth cooking.

Chad is from Oahu and Monica from San Francisco. They both have Japanese and Korean blood. Plus, they love brunch.

Over easy: Chef-owners Chad and Monica Kaneshiro churning out breakfast at Morning Wood in San Bruno. (Photo by Adam Pardee)

“We wanted to do what we wanted to do,” Chad said. “This is a way for us to have fun.”

They thought they’d start off slow and perfect the menu over the first six months. Then, the second week they opened, a local radio DJ had breakfast there and talked it up on air.

“Literally that afternoon for lunch our door just blew up. From then on it’s been nonstop,” Chad said.

Yelpers report more than hour-long waits on weekends. Even on a recent Tuesday morning, the line outside the modest restaurant, located in a nondescript El Camino Real strip mall, grew quickly before 8:30 a.m.

Interior views of Morning Wood, from ceramic roosters to bottled almonds and spices. (Photos by Adam Pardee)

The owners are unwilling to compromise quality to address the long lines. It’s the two of them in the kitchen and a small waitstaff. Modifications are “politely declined,” the menu states, and parties larger than six are split into separate tables.

“Just because we’re busy doesn’t mean we can afford to hire a huge staff,” Chad said. “We’re not at a point where we want to let go of the food and trust someone else to do it.”

There’s more than just Instagrammable brunch dishes to Morning Wood. Look closely and you’ll notice the owners’ culinary chops. Cornbread comes with whipped yuzu-honey butter. A breakfast burger is coated with tea leaf aioli. Okonomiyaki, a Japanese savory pancake, comes with corned beef croquettes. The milk French toast is topped with syrup made from Japanese adzuki beans (also used as a topping on Hawaiian shave ice).

Morning Wood’s Japanese breakfast: rice with furikake and sous-vide eggs, pickled vegetables, miso soup and homemade Portuguese sausage. (Photo by Elena Kadvany)

There’s also loco moco, the traditional Hawaiian dish of rice topped with a hamburger patty, gravy and fried egg. At Morning Wood, diners can choose from three meat options: shredded kalua pork, meatloaf patty or mochiko chicken (fried in the same sweet rice flour used to make mochi).

A lighter option is the Japanese breakfast, a platter of rice with furikake and sous-vide eggs, miso soup, pickled vegetables and your choice of meat, including housemade Portuguese sausage (now a staple in Hawaii, brought by Portuguese immigrants in the 19th century), spam or mochiko chicken.

Then there are the enormous matcha pancakes, made from mochi batter infused with Japanese matcha. The result is chewy, pliant pancakes topped with powdered sugar and butter.

The Morning Wood Pancake: mochi infused with matcha. (Photo by Elena Kadvany)

The menu changes frequently and follows the seasons, Chad said. Soon they’ll be adding beer and wine.

The Morning Wood rooster, standing tall. (Photo by Adam Pardee)

The owners live five minutes from the restaurant. Their goal, Chad said, is to simply bring good food, business — and a little edginess — to San Bruno, which is not one of the Bay Area’s known foodie cities.

If you go to Morning Wood, embrace the island vibes. Your dishes might not arrive in perfect sequence. You’ll use a roll of paper towels at your table for napkins and grab your own silverware from mason jars. But the food is good, the coffee flows freely and strong ohana vibes — the Hawaiian term for “family” — are felt throughout.

Morning Wood//8am-2.30pm daily (closed Mondays)

260 El Camino Real, San Bruno, (650) 636–4007

Follow Morning Wood on Instagram

Check out more of The Six Fifty’s local food coverage:

Peek inside Wursthall, San Mateo’s newest (and vegan-conscious) bierhaus

Meet the popular pop-up bakers on the rise in Silicon Valley

The unlikely rise of Saltwater Bakery

Elena Kadvany

A writer with a passion for investigative reporting, telling untold stories and public-service journalism, I have built my career covering education and restaurants in the Bay Area. My blog and biweekly newsletter, Peninsula Foodist, is the go-to source for restaurant news in Silicon Valley. My work has been published in The Guardian, Eater, Bon Appetit’s Healthyish, SF Weekly and The Six Fifty.

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