Take one tropical location and mix it with influences from across the Pacific Rim — like Japan, the Philippines, Korea, and Thailand — and you've got the cuisine of Hawaii, the ultimate in fusion food. Whether you prefer Spam musubi over saimin or manapua over a massive plate lunch of kalua pig or two scoops of steamed rice with a side of macaroni salad, several island-style restaurants around the Valley aim to please with their tropical tastes. Here are eight of our favorites.
Aloha Kitchen2950 South Alma School Road, #12, Mesa
This fast-casual island fare gem in Mesa has been quietly serving up satisfying and inexpensive Hawaiian-style (and Chinese, Japanese, and Korean) eats for over 30 years. Head in early, as Aloha Kitchen draws a small crowd of business-casual types lining up out the door (thanks, Guy Fieri). It can be hard sticking to your order at the simple counter-service setup if you catch a glimpse of someone else's lunch coming out from the kitchen. Mix plates are especially hard to resist, especially if it involves the teriyaki chicken — black-edged, charbroiled boneless chicken marinated in special island teriyaki sauce and served with steamed rice and choice of macaroni-potato salad or a small side salad. And don't miss the luscious kalua pork, charbroiled salmon, and saimin — island-style noodles in a shrimp soup base.
Kamana'Wana Hawaiian Treats13833 North 19th Avenue
Hawaiian desserts aren't hard to come by, either. Kamana'Wana Hawaiian Treats offers authentic-style shave ice in island flavors like coconut, mai tai, pina colada, Hawaiian punch, and Honeymoon. They also offer pitaya or acai bowls or smoothies, frappes, and cold-brew coffee.
Hula's Modern TikiMultiple Locations
The restaurant and bar with a tiki twist that started on Central Avenue has since expanded into two offshoots (though the original location has moved). The fish is flown in from Hawaii, making dishes such as South Seas Fish Tacos, seared ahi wontons, and macadamia-encrusted mahi mahi are favorites. Also popular are the Luau Pork Sandwich and crispy coconut shrimp rolls with a pineapple-horseradish dipping sauce. Beyond Hula's Modern Tiki's food is the impressive cocktail menu — a heavyweight contender in the Phoenix bar world. Hula's mai tai, painkiller, zombie, and hurricane are go-tos; signature cocktails include Dr. Funk and the Hawaii 5-0. The massive Scorpion Bowl — with a flaming 151 rum float — serves up to four guests and is great for special occasions.
Roy's RestaurantMultiple Locations
With locations in north Phoenix's Desert Ridge and Chandler (plus about a dozen more around the country), Roy's Restaurant is an upscale restaurant chain showcasing Chef Roy Yamaguchi's version of Hawaiian cuisine fused with French techniques. With a focus on food fished from Hawaii's oceans, dishes include lobster potstickers, blackened island ahi, and crusted Hawaiian ono with ginger wasabi beurre blanc sauce. Desserts like pineapple upside-down cake with coconut ice cream make for an island-style ending. Of course, sake, beer, waina, and island-time cocktails are best enjoyed during Aloha Hour.
Ahipoki BowlMultiple Locations
Fast-casual fish with flair sums up what'll you'll get on a quick visit to Ahipoki Bowl. It's a multi-step process, but the end result is a weighty salad or rice bowl mixing Hawaiian and Japanese flavors. Choose your base — salad, rice, or a little bit of both — and then your fish. Think spicy tuna, blazing salmon, scallops, octopus, shrimp, or the Tuna Luau. Then pick a sauce, and finish it off with toppings like seaweed salad, crab meat, chili flakes, green onion, and more.
Leo's Island BBQ7665 West Bell Road, Peoria
Opened in 2010, this casual eatery in Peoria's Arrowhead shopping and dining district serves up its island-style food in portion sizes fit for for a luau. Fan favorites include katsu curry, Spam musubi, and the Island Moco Loco (a burger dish topped with fried eggs and gravy). Family-style meals at Leo's Island BBQ offer barbecue beef, pineapple chicken, and island-fried fish filet for about $32 — ensuring no one walks away from this island hungry. They also serve mini-meals with options like crispy shrimp and chicken katsu for those hoping to quickly get in and out.
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Wow Wow Hawaiian LemonadeMultiple Locations
Currently with four Valley locations, Wow Wow Hawaiian Lemonade uses local ingredients to create a menu of drinks, smoothies, bowls, and toast — all with a Hawaiian-theme nod to the chain’s original location in Maui. Wow Wow offers roughly 35 different flavors of raw, cold-pressed lemonades and limeades, including the classic all-lemon and fun ones like strawberry mint, watermelon basil, and pea flower. Each can be ordered iced or frozen. You can also snag some Blue Hawaii Toast topped with cashew butter, blue spirulina, star-cut kiwi, blueberries, coconut flakes, and honey.
Rumbi Island GrillMultiple Locations
With spots in Chandler and Mesa, Rumbi Island Grill is a fast-casual restaurant based in Utah (of all places) with a tropical-minded menu of rice bowls, island-themed entrees, salads, soups, and sandwiches. Popular dishes like the Hawaiian Teriyaki Rice Bowl, Aloha Mango Chicken Salad, and the Luau Pork Plate go along with the convenient service. And the Little Kahuna menu is perfect for any young stowaways.
Editor's note: This story was originally published on August 27, 2012. It was updated on January 21, 2020.