Whereas a Polynesian-themed restaurant like Damon's is gently tropical, calming you with breezes and weirdly golden salad dressing, Bahooka is... passionate. Bahooka is more like some PT boat captain was shipwrecked somewhere above the 10 Freeway, made friends with the ghost of a buccaneer, and has since worshipped too many idols and inhaled too much seaspray.
This is not to say that Bahooka isn't one of the most delightful remnants of tiki culture around, for it is. Peppered with a hundred fishtanks, it is a comfortable shack, an antique shop separated into galleys, brigs, and quarters. Music drifts from somewhere behind the globe lanterns and netting: Hawai'ian lullabies, poppy reggae rap, and even the occasional island version of "Wind Beneath My Wings".
This is not fine dining per se... this is Mom and Dad eating what they liked back in '68, shushing you and enjoying cocktails with various levels of flammability. This is where you take people to impress them with immense kitschery, or to get them hurts-behind-the-forehead drunk. Classics like Mai Tais are made here, and they still create gin drinks like the Singapore Sling. I'm told there's a concoction called "One Grenade with the Pin Pulled" that is probably illegal, somewhere, and a Honey Bowl (rum, apricot, Coke, and of course set on fire). One can almost hear the mocking laughter of Ulaulekeahi, God of Distillers.
The bar is both very cool and slightly disorienting, as you realize your beverage sits on an aquarium. Since your drink is also likely to be large enough for two people and set alight, this will be the least of your stories. Your dinner table is another matter, a long plank hanging from bloody great iron chains.
Shush up and go sit down; let Mommy and Daddy drink.
I'm told that one has not visited Bahooka until one has tried the ribs, and I like variety, so I get the Tahitian Style Combination (Um, they may or may not eat this in Tahiti). You get a sandwich of choice: beef, turkey, ham, pastrami, tuna, et al.
I choose the pulled pork, basically a porcine sloppy joe in a semisweet glaze, difficult to eat but given stability and sour spark by the giant pineapple ring on the bun. With this you get pork spareribs, great fatty things, not heavily done enough to lose the marbling but also lacking lip-smacking char. I've had them, so I can say I've been to Bahooka.
The french fries are pale blocks, hot enough to make you inhale but fitting well with either that ketchup you see there or the sugary barbecue sauce. For salads, your lot is iceberg... but Bahooka's house dressing is pretty neat, a mellowed-out pinkish cream that's not too many prop-plane hops away from thousand-island dressing.
When you're done your bill comes with a handful of old-school lollipops crinkling in their cellophane.
Bahooka is easy to find; go up or down Rosemead, and turn when you see the grey antiaircraft cannon baking out front in the Rosemead sun. There's a parking lot.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), American, Pasadena/San Gabriel/Alhambra, Hawaiian/Oceania )
Scrounge up a few bucks and go
1121 Glendon Ave. (north of Wilshire, in Westwood Village)
Phone: 310-208-2002 | map
Despite Westwood Village's desperate attempts to gentrify* itself, I'm glad to see a few holdouts still catering to those who'd like the occasional cheap lunch. Skip the nearby SanSai and look for this place, hidden in plain sight along Glendon Avenue.
Wander along the warren of white-painted alleys until you get to the window. Old-school numbered combinations are the theme here: chicken, spicy chicken, teriyaki beef, shrimp sticks, bowls. The portions are large considering the prices, which tend to fall under seven or eight bucks, and underneath it all is a healthy mound of sauce-soaked fried rice.
The beef made here is lightly marbled, pounded thin into planks and glazed with sauce, difficult not to wolf down. Full-bodied flavor is sealed inside, but still benefits from a few drizzles of rich yet uncloying teriyaki sauce from a squeeze bottle.
The chicken is real hacked-meat-on-metal love, braised before and after to create some lovely searing, and is almost suspiciously tender. The spicy chicken is a sentet or octet of crunchy shells, hiding dark meat with a modest palate burn.
Gyoza. I'm used to being underwhelmed by gyoza... but these are my new favorite pot-stickers. They feel homemade, with crispy edges and a homely, soft interior that has more flavor than its steamed nature would suggest.
There's salad, pretty much iceberg and humorless carrot slices that contribute color more than anything else, but an interesting creamy vinaigrette is available to jazz it up. There also ain't much to drink--bottles and cans of soda, Snapple or water are your lot--but you, like the budget-conscious students that sing the praises of this joint, come here for the cheap grillwork. They charge a tiny bit for credit cards.
Thanks to my friend Kalani, who used to live around here and who introduced me to this lunchtime gem.
* Especially check out the sentences gushing in relief about how there aren't as many students and youth clogging up the area any more. What community needs that? Evidently, absurdly wealthy adults know far better what the Village needs.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Japanese, West Side/West Hollywood, Hawaiian/Oceania )
A rhythm all to itself
3839 Main St. Suite B (hidden somewhere in Culver City)
Phone: 310-204-5728 | map
Tokyo 7-7 is a gritty little landmark, hidden behind the storefronts that sit prettily along the tiny stretch where Bagley exhausts itself into Main. It's a blue and white stucco box that you won't find unless you walk out of the massive parking structure on Cardiff and say, "huh. I didn't know that was there." It's only open for breakfast and lunch.
This isn't a ZOMG! eatery. It's for kitsch factor: walls with thin wood paneling, a wood ceiling, a few baseball pennants, and battered chairs. Squeeze bottles of ketchup and syrup adorn the tables. It's run quietly and efficiently by several motherly Japanese women. You come here* because you know about the place and you have a toasty little spot in your heart for it, not because you want to impress your foodie friends.
The menu is simple, U.S. breakfasty stuff with some Japanese and Hawai'ian for seasoning. The Shrimp and Portuguese Omelet is a neatly folded wallet, like a firm egg sandwich rather than a fluffy blanket; dime-sized shrimp hide among the moody Portuguese sausage, bean sprouts, and shreds of carrot and celery. You can get this as a Royal, which will place this whole affair over some rice.
The pancakes here are cute little frisbees of proper plushness, not subscribing to the "our pancakes hang off the dang plate!" aesthetic that's been getting so much press elsewhere in the world. The French toast is decent and minimalist. For lunch there's even a char-siu soup.
We don't usually get the breakfast deals, but they're an eyebrow-raising two dollars and change. Even so, with our French toast, side of eggs, the Portuguese-and-shrimp omelet, toast and two cups of actually-pretty-good coffee, we break the bank at under twelve bucks. One of the women will snap around a few pegs on an honest-to-goodness abacus to add up your (cash-only) bill.
On our last visit the lady waiting on us wore an apron that says "GOOD MORNING", then "CHARMING", then "SWEET". And that's exactly what they are.
* Although, too often whilst trying to get over here, I get sidetracked by Rutt's, like iron filings dragged by a magnet.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Japanese, Diner, American, Santa Monica/Culver City, Hawaiian/Oceania )
So I take my pupule wahine out on a lazy, post-rain Saturday to this grass-roofed dive. There are no Hawai'ian shirts here, no porcelain parrots on perches, no promotional surfing videos on the TV, and one battered surfboard on the wood-paneled wall. Paper money bills from all over the world are taped to the mirror behind the counter. There are tiny serving windows to the kitchen and to the outside patio.
Let's start with the breakfast item about which you're going to rave to your friends. Hawai'ian King French Toast. With a dusting of powdered sugar, it's cinnamon-bun soft and insanely good before syrup ever touches it. With the syrup, it's Polynesian grandeur.
Rutt's Famous Royales are a scrambled omelette over white rice (or, and trust me here, fried rice). Well and good. The one you see here is the "Regular" size. The Original Royale has Portuguese sausage, char sui pork, and Chinese BBQ pork, all chopped fine and woven into this luscious tropical tapestry.
Every bite makes you want to crush it against the roof of your mouth with your tongue to pull every iota of flavor from it. Complete this ensemble with dashes from the teriyaki bottle, and ladle much of the homemade salsa over this. The salsa perfects the dishes here (as the hardcore tattooed local next to us said, "need that juice!"). There are other Royales too: chicken, salmon, seafood, Kalua pork, and of course spam.
That was just breakfast, one third of the menu. There's lunch. Quesadillas! Saimon soup! Shakes! Kona Coffee! Breaded mahi mahi! A chili size with chili on top of a burger patty, on top of white rice! And, of course, spam musubi. I have no more exclamation marks. Have mercy.
Most dishes come in Jr., Regular and King sizes, and all this is ravish-worthy... and yet not as heavy and artery-crushing as you'd expect. I broke da mout', but I walked out afterwards without gasping.
There's plenty of parking, in the back and on the (totally sign-free!) streets. Rutt's is open until 8:30 daily, and opens up at 6:30 every day except Sunday, where they wait an extra thirty minutes, presumably so you can pray for your health beforehand.
(Thanks to Jeannette P. on Yelp, without whose experienced recommendation I would never have learned about Rutt's.)
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Diner, Santa Monica/Culver City, Hawaiian/Oceania )
Another strip mall prize, thanks to Heather P.
JP is tiny, a square space with well-considered color: walls of clay, mustard and aluminum, woven chairs, perpetual surfing on TV and a myriad of colors on the chalkboard menu. A blues guitar repents overhead, or southern rock. A casual island spot in the midst of sunblasted midwestern Valley.
The lanky saint behind the counter is John, who is a really nice guy. He's so pleasant that if I were someone's busybody old aunt I'd be introducing my nieces to him. People who come in seem to know him, and I expect that Johnny Pacific's going to be a hotly defended neighborhood treasure.
But what was I supposed to be talking about... empanadas! I scan the fingernail-chewing array of fried meat pie choices: ham and cheese, all melty and familiar. Kailua pig (which doesn't taste fried at all, and it reminds me of Hawai'i). Spinach and cheese. A pulled pork? Does anyone else do that? Damn.
The "JP Frittes" are Belgian style, in that they're seasoned and come with dipping sauces: I can recommend the Basil Aioli, the Sweet & Sour Thai, and the Chimmi-Churri that has a back-of-the-throat garlic kick.
Everything is served in boxes & paper, simply, sans frills. The drinks are various choices of freshly squeezed and homemade, such as the just-sweet-enough lemonade, but you can get a can of Inka Cola if you have a mind to.
There's even dessert empanadas... how about a "Flanada" with homemade caramel sauce? A chocolate & coconut? I'm going to have to run over to one of the Empanada's Place locations and do some comparative eating...
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Brazilian, American, The Valley, Argentine, Hawaiian/Oceania )