While the Bay Area clan was visiting during the Thanksgiving holiday, we accompanied them on
requisite trips to several local restaurants and the main shopping trip to Ala Moana Center…
four plus hours at Ala Moana. And this was already on top of several hours spent previously by
the family on Black Friday (gift shopping should NEVER start at 6am even if the merchandise is
free) at Ala Moana. Of course, after a full day of shopping, what’s a family to do? Eat of course.
However the University of Hawaii also is playing a crucial game that starts at 5:30pm. What
now? Go to a sports bar of course! Food and TV! But what sports bar do we patronize?
“Oh, I’m goin’
To the Hukilau
A huki, huki, huki, huki, Hukilau
Ev’rybody, loves the Hukilau
Where the lau lau is the kau kau at the big luau”
Hukilau Sports Bar and Grill
What do you get when you combine an expat from Kapaa, Kauai an expat from Ewa Beach,
Oahu and and an expat from Hilo, Hawaii and drop them in the Bay Area? You end up with
three former local boys ono (craving) for Hawaiian food and hospitality. Add a little extra cash
and maybe a little too much free time (and perhaps one drink too many) and you might end up
with a restaurant venture where none of the principals had ever ventured before; The Hukilau!
The (ad)venture first started at the top of Masonic Avenue where it bridges above Geary
Boulevard at a former neon lighted bar. While I was attending UCSF years ago, I would always
drive by this corner bar whose name I can’t even recall. All I remember was the bright green and
red neon lights. Well, fast forward many years and you now have the original Hukilau Grill.
Their menu includes many favorites that Hawaii locals still enjoy on a regular basis like Spam.
Spam?! Yuck! Well, before you knock it, hear me out. Straight out of the can, I agree, it is gross.
Slimy, pinkish meat like product with about 1 week’s supply of sodium. However culinary tastes
are sometimes born out of necessity. During WW II when many food items were rationed, this
was especially severe in the 50th (well, it wasn’t the 50th at the time) where geographic
isolation intensified rationing. Locals were looking for alternate protein sources and low and
behold, the military provided protein in canned form. Like Spam, Vienna sausage and corned
beef. And the saltiness of these canned proteins helped stretch a meal that much farther. Just a
little protein with lots of vegetables or lots of rice. However the Spam on Hukilau’s menu isn’t
born from necessity as much as taste. Spam Musubi. A ¼ inch slice of pan crisped Spam – maybe
dipped in a thick teriyaki sauce – placed on hot rice and wrapped with nori. The thing legends
are made of! Even Tony Bourdain polished off a whole Spam Musubi on his No Reservations
episode in Hawaii (of course, his Spam was placed on a fried rice musubi).
Hukilau also features that glorious plate lunch specialty created in Hilo, Hawaii many years ago;
the Loco Moco. The original version is a pan fried hamburger patty placed on steaming white
rice in a bowl then topped with a fried egg – usually a sunny side egg – then smothered in thick
brown gravy. In tribute to the 60th anniversary of the Loco Moco, Hukilau serves several
renditions of the Loco Moco. Some on fried rice, some with chili and cheese instead of brown
gravy and others with chicken katsu, fried fish or veggie patty instead of hamburger. Any way it’
s served, it’s all good!
The Hukilau also has been hosting the Sam Choy Poke Festival for the past 8 years. For the
uninitiated, poke (po-kay, NOT po-kee) is Hawaii’s version of a fish tartare with larger cuts of
fish – usually about ¾ to 1 inch cube – spiced with rock salt and a variety of other flavorings.
Limu (seaweed), sesame seed oil, white and green onions, inamona (kukui nut), shoyu and chili
pepper are a few of the various flavoring agents added to the mixture. Fishes include ahi
(yellowfin tuna), kajiki or au (blue marlin) or salmon and also include tako (octopus) or
various cooked and raw shellfish. In fact, poke, a cold beer and a 40 inch flat screen are the
three major food groups during the football season.
“We'll throw our nets out into the sea
And all the ama ama come-a swimming to me
Oh, we're going to a hukilau
A huki, huki, huki, hukilau”
The third location is based in the motherland of all the Hukilau’s, right in central downtown
Honolulu in the basement of the Executive Centre. When they first opened about 2 & ½ years
ago, I wondered how a Hawaiian themed restaurant (while great for Hawaii expats living in the
Bay Area) would fair in the motherland. After all, denizens of the 50th don’t get homesick for
Hawaii, they’re already living here! The theme for Hukilau Honolulu strays a little from Hukilau’
s stateside locations. While you’ll still find surfboards and Hawaii memorabilia on the walls, the
theme is more sports bar including showing University of Hawaii games on the many flat screen
TVs. The menu is also more Regional Hawaii Cuisine instead of kitschy homesick Hawaiian food.
We sampled two excellent renditions of local favorites, the musubi and nigiri sushi. The first was
musubi but with curried chicken and candied pecans added to the mixture so that the final
result was like a curry spiced onigiri. The second was a reversed nigiri sushi with a nicely browned
slice of Portuguese sausage as the toping (bottom) with kim chi fried rice instead of the usual
vinegared rice. Both were delicious!
Executive Chef Jason Takemura (originally Executive Chef at Chai’s Island Bistro) also made a
great moi (Hawaiian threadfin fish) with fresh ginger sitting on a bed of shiitake tempura. The
oil and fish juices permeated the tempura perfectly. The grilled rib eye steak with truffle porcini
cream also was perfectly cooked medium rare and very tender. We also sampled one of their
many renditions of french fries choosing the truffle and Asiago fries (they also offer plain, garlic
or chili cheese). We washed everything down with Stella Artois on tap though owner Kurt Osaki
also offered a bottle of 2008 Domaine Depeuble Beaujolais – a very food friendly light red wine.
It also didn’t hurt that the University of Hawaii upset Navy 24-17.
So the next time you’re visiting the 50th, plan a side trip to Hukilau Honolulu or if vacation isn’
t in the imminent plans, visit either Hukilau San Francisco or Hukilau San Jose for Hawaiian
hospitality and food.
1088 Bishop St, LL13
Honolulu, HI 96813
Hukilau San Francisco
5 Masonic Ave
San Francisco, CA 94118
Hukilau San Jose
230 Jackson St
San Jose, CA 95112
“What a beautiful day for fishing
In the old Hawaiian way
All the hukilau nets are swishing
Down in old Laie Bay
Oh, we're going to a hukilau
A huki, huki, huki, huki
huki, huki, huki, huki
huki, huki, huki, hukilau”
Goin' to the Hukilau