Budget Beat

Island Eats for Under $10 at Mesa's Aloha Kitchen

Craving a taste of the islands but don't have the cash for a trip across the Pacific for an authentic plate of succulent marinated and charbroiled beef with a side of macaroni salad or a bowl of tangy stir-fried noodles?

Well, you're in luck -- you need only to drive to Alma School and Guadalupe to cure your craving for island flavors.

Mesa's Aloha Kitchen is an island food gem that has been serving up some of the best Hawaiian food in the Valley for more than 25 years. The small, family-owned eatery is located just off Alma School in a dated strip mall next to Nello's Pizza. It's easy to accidentally drive right past it, but it's worth making the U-turn if you miss it.

The interior of the place is nothing fancy and probably hasn't been updated since they opened 25 years ago, but it's clean, well lit, and actually reminds us of the authentic plate-lunch shops in Hawaii. The girls behind the counter are always friendly and more often than not are on a first-name basis with many of their customers.

Tuesday through Sunday, you can indulge in one of their Aloha Plates stacked high with tender bulgogi beef, tangy teriyaki chicken, and crisp chicken katsu, or a bowl of their popular fried saimin (an island-style noodle dish with Chinese barbecued pork and Japanese fishcake) or a tasty tropical sandwich with a side of crispy fries. And it's cheap -- as in, two-people-can-eat-for-$10 cheap.

We stopped for lunch last week and since we couldn't decide on just one type of meat, we opted for the Mix Plate Combo #4 ($8.50). Sweet marinated slices of charbroiled bulgogi beef and juicy teriyaki chicken rested on two scoops of sticky white rice and, of course, a side of island potato-mac that was heavy with black pepper and perfectly cooked elbow macaroni. The portion size for the full plates are huge, and it's more than enough to feed two hungry people.

If you're on a solo lunch mission or you and your dining friend don't want to spit a plate, Aloha Kitchen offers mini plates of sweet n' sour chicken, bulgogi beef, teriyaki chicken, and, our choice for the day, katsu chicken ($4.50).

The portion size is slightly smaller than the full-size plate, but it's anything but mini. The deep-fried panko-crusted chicken is a mix of white and dark meat and comes with a side of unique island-style barbecue sauce, one scoop of rice and one scoop of that awesome potato-mac. It was more than enough food for one and at just $4.50 a plate, we're pretty sure we'll be making the trip to Mesa more often for a tropical lunch escape.

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