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April 19, 2014

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Aloha Specialties’ Hawaiian … punch?

The food’s simple, but this Downtown restaurant packs in flavor - and crowds

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Beverly Poppe

Aloha Specialties’ Ocha-Zuke

If you didn't know better, you would swear Hawaiian food is a bad joke the natives foist upon haoles as a way of keeping the islands to themselves. Macaroni salad is served with everything. Ditto white rice. Kaluha pig is nothing more than a heap o' shredded pork sitting atop a pile of cabbage. The state "sushi" (something called musubi) is a giant slab of Spam on a giant slab of firmly compacted white rice, and a favorite dessert is a practically tasteless coconut gelatinous pudding called haupia.

Restaurant Guide

Aloha Specialties
At California Hotel, 382-0338.
Sunday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-10 p.m.; cash only.
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But if you make the trek to a second-floor corner of Downtown's California Hotel, you will see a line out the door for almost every minute Aloha Specialties is open. The food here seems to satisfy every islander's palate for the eats of the 50th State.

If you want to go completely native from the first bite, tuck into a loco moco — the classic Hawaiian dish of a ground beef patty with a fried egg on top, smothered in brown gravy and sitting upon — what else? — white rice. This guilty pleasure of a carbo-bomb is probably the best hangover remedy ever invented, and a good introduction to the lack of finesse that defines this food.

What the spicy Korean chicken thighs lack in subtlety (and spice) they make up for in crispy, juicy goodness. Equally good are the bento-box meals called Ocha-Zuke (each containing various acquired tastes (grilled mackerel, pickled vegetables, more Spam, but everything carefully cooked and arranged). As barbecued pork goes, the kalua variety will never challenge North Carolina for pulled pig supremacy — it being possessed of neither smoke nor crunch — but it is mighty tender, as are the char sui (barbecued pork) slices that adorn the fried saimin (dried wheat-egg noodles) tossed with slices of celery, (apparently) the closest you'll ever come to a green vegetable in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

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