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. And whether you prefer Spam musubi over saimin or manapua over a massive plate lunch of kalua pig, two scoops of steamed rice, and 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.
2950 South Alma School Road, #12, Mesa
This gem of fast-casual island fare in Mesa has been quietly serving up satisfying and inexpensive Hawaiian-style (and Chinese, Japanese, and Korean) eats for over 30 years. If you've got the whole day, head in early, as this place attracts a small crowd of business casual-types lining up out the door (thanks Guy Fieri).
It's almost hard sticking to your order at the simple counter-service setup if you glimpse of someone else's lunch coming out from the kitchen. Mix plates are especially hard to resist, especially if it involves their 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.
Hula's Modern Tiki
The restaurant and bar with a tiki twist that started on Central Avenue has since expanded to be a Valley icon with two offshoots (though the original location is no longer). The fish is flown in from Hawaii, so dishes such as South Seas Fish Tacos, seared ahi wontons, and macadamia-encrusted mahi mahi are favorites. Plus, there are the popular Luau Pork Sandwich and crispy coconut shrimp rolls with a pineapple-horseradish dipping sauce.
Beyond their food is the impressive cocktail menu — a heavyweight contender in the Phoenix bar world. Hula's mai tai, painkiller, zombie, and hurricane are some go-tos, while 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 usually ordered on a special occasion.
Leo's Island BBQ
7665 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 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 get in-and-out.
With locations in north Phoenix's Desert Ridge and Chandler (plus about a dozen more around the country), this upscale restaurant chain showcases 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.
Fast-casual fish with flair kind of 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.
Rumbi Island Grill
With spots in Chandler and Mesa, this fast-casual Utah-based (of all places) restaurant features a tropical-minded menu of rice bowls, island-themed entrées, salads, soups, and sandwiches. Popular dishes such as 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.
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Wow Wow Hawaiian Lemonade
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.
Kamana'Wana Hawaiian Treats
13833 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.
Editor's note: This story was originally published on August 27, 2012. It was updated on March 21, 2019.