Some time ago we visited this family-owned restaurant, then called the Aloha Kitchen, when it was on Austin Highway. It was at the rear of a flower shop. You walked past the counter where you ordered bouquets, through a small room where you could buy Hawaiian shirts and, if I recall correctly, macadamia nuts and other such items.
After taking a few turns in a maze of hallways you got to a large room filled with tables. Now, you were in the one place in town that you could sit down and order authentic Hawaiian favorites.
The family business recently moved in to a small restaurant space on Harry Wurzbach Road. There is no flower shop to negotiate here, but at the Aloha Grill we found the same big, friendly spirit that we had before, and some very good food.
The two sisters serving tables in the dining room called out “aloha” when we entered and when we departed. They were happy to answer our questions about Hawaiian cuisine, and our server, Renée, did so with obvious interest and detailed information.
Our first question was about the three-color fried chips that we ordered with a bowl of sweet, spicy and fruity Mango Papaya Salsa. These were potato chips, but the color differences were because of where they were grown in Hawaii. The various types of volcanic ash in the soil lent them their hues of off-white, purple or terracotta, we were told. The potatoes are sliced and packaged in Hawaii, but The Aloha Grill fries them in house. They were a little greasy, but that’s never stopped us before from liking house-cooked chips. (In fact, salt sticks better to greasy chips than dry ones.) The salsa was simple but satisfying. I am sure we’ll order it when we return.
Looking at their list of “Local Kine Favorites” we skipped the poi, a starchy paste that is a Hawaiian staple, and moved down the list to the Spam Musabi. Spam is another popular food in Hawaii, and we weren’t being snobs (well, not too much) by not ordering it.
Instead, we’d seen something more appealing, the Lomi Lomi Salmon. This dish was a reminiscent of pico de gallo or ceviche. Diced fresh salmon was mixed with similarly cut onion and tomato. The result was an ultra-fresh, mild-tasting mixture that we ate by the spoonful. It would also have been good as a dip or a topping for bruschetta.
My companion’s eyes are trained to go first to the pork on any given menu. Hawaiians love pork, and the dish that caught his eye was the Kalua Pork and Cabbage. The shredded roast pork, in a light pork-flavored broth, was mixed with perfectly cooked fresh cabbage mounded on top of sticky rice. It was so lovely to behold that I almost abandoned my Teri Burger, a half pound of hand-pressed Black Angus served on a toasted bun with teriyaki mayonnaise.
We ended up sharing, as we generally do. The pork and cabbage was simple, but sheer comfort, all the way down to the broth-soaked lumps of warm rice. The burger was a perfect medium, the trimmings were fresh. I really liked the teriyaki mayonnaise.
When we go back (and we definitely will be back) the next pork venture will probably be the Pork Adobo; the beef lover will probably give the Mauimarkie Cheese Steak Sandwich (sliced grilled rib-eye, marinated in Teriyaki sauce, topped with melted Swiss cheese) a try.
Dessert was a choice between Mango Pie or Pineapple Cake. We had both, it only seemed right. Had this been a contest, I think the fresh, creamy flavors of the pie pushed it just ahead of the cake – even though the cake tasted freshly made, heavily frosted (a good thing) and rich in pineapple flavor and macadamia nut texture.
The Aloha Grill offers much to go back to – we didn’t try the Aloha Maid juices, with choices like strawberry guava and passion orange. We were almost hooked by the Crab Quiche, too, or Uncle Choona’s Beef Kalbi, a Korean specialty that was served at the Aloha Kitchen, too.
We never did try the poi. My friend had been to Hawaii and didn’t just love the poi he’d had there, and I was similarly unimpressed with my experience of it. But we’ll trust Aloha Grill to show us, next time, just what good poi should taste like.
While I’d really like to mention every other dish on the menu, I hope you’ll go discover them for yourselves. You will be glad you gave this warm little restaurant a try. The ambience is pared-down simple, but the real atmosphere comes from the good aromas, tastes and friendliness of the personnel, as well as the authenticity of the food.
The Aloha Grill
1151 Harry Wurzbach Road (and Burr Road)
Lunch: Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Dinner: Tue.- Sat., 5-8 p.m.