Sulphur Spring Road in Arbutus seems an unlikely place to find Hawaiian comfort food, but a small roadside restaurant called Taste of Aloha definitely delivers authentic island flavors. Chef/co-owner Robert Alcain, a native of the Hawaiian island of Molokai, only opened this quaint spot a little over a year ago, but word of mouth has made it a popular dining destination for those in the know. Alcain’s Hawaiian food resides at the intersection of American, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Polynesian, and Portuguese influences—enough to make lovers of Asian cuisine take notice.
The American contribution makes its appearance in an appetizer called Musubi (six pieces for $5.95). Slices of Spam—that’s right, the potted meat product you either love or loathe—are marinated in house teriyaki sauce, pan-seared, then sandwiched between two layers of rice and wrapped in nori seaweed. Though equally amused and horrified by the concept, we found this Hawaiian favorite oddly addictive.
While signature burgers like the Kanak Attack—topped with pepper jack cheese, teriyaki pork, a fried egg, grilled pineapple, sautéed onions, and teriyaki mayo ($8.95)—seemed popular with the takeout crowd, we opted for two typically Hawaiian offerings, the kalua pig ($5.95) and the chicken katsu. In Hawaii, they usually bury a whole hog in a pit lined with hot stones and cook it overnight, but the chef has adapted the kalua pig to his new surroundings. He simply slow cooks a sea-salt rubbed pork shoulder for several hours, resulting in moist pulled pork that gets an added crunch from chopped cabbage. As this dish is served without embellishment, we doused ours with the Sriracha sauce that sits at every table.
The chicken katsu ($6.95), a boneless breast breaded with Japanese panko and deep-fried to a golden brown, was a much better choice—in part, thanks to the tonkatsu sauce that accompanies it. While the panko gives the chicken added texture, the house-made sauce, a concoction of ketchup, Worcestershire, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, brown sugar and sake that has been simmered and reduced, was the real revelation here. Its tangy, salty, sweet flavor is unlike any sauce we’ve ever had, and if the chef bottled it, we would gladly have taken some home.
For something sweet, we satisfied ourselves with Hawaiian Sun passion fruit juice, imported from the islands. Given that there’s so much more to explore, and Taste of Aloha is a short ride from downtown, we can’t wait to go back.