I've been in Boise long enough now to remember when there was no Hawaiian food in town. These days, we actually have enough choices to be discerning about which place makes the best Spam musubi and which place does the most succulent kalua pig. Hell, even manapua has more than one local maker these days.
Kana Girl's Hawai'ian BBQ takes its place in the lineup where you'd expect a joint sporting an Idaho specialty plate on the wall reading "Bu Laia" to be. (Quick aside for the uninitiated: Bu La'ia is a Hawaiian comedian known for his thick pidgin and silly stunts, including twice running for governor, once in the '90s while my sister and I--then based in Honolulu--were wearing out his False Crack in our tape decks.) In other words, Kana Girl's is so close to being over the top, it's almost a caricature of itself. But just when you think it can't get any more island kitschy, nostalgia starts oozing out of everything and you're hooked.
The menu is thick with choices, not just for the lau lau- and poi-loving crowd (no poi on the menu, though), but also for the vegetarian and the gluten-free diners. Cook and owner Keoni comes out of the kitchen to chat up diners in pidgin and teach kids how to say "happy birthday" in Hawaiian. His wife "Kana Girl" mans the register and delivers food while Keoni's voice sings out--literally--from the kitchen along with Bruddah Iz.
On a recent visit, the lau lau was long gone for the day, but Kana took down my name and phone number and promised to add me to both the manapua and lau lau text message distribution lists. The next morning, as I wrote this review, I got a picture message with a ti-leaf wrapped ball and a handwritten note saying, "Aloha 'lakeli' 'dis lau lau stay fo' you!"
As for the rest of the food, we feasted. Chicken katsu ($6.95) comes with homemade katsu sauce and the pounded-thin chicken is the best I've had in town. The three-plate teri chicken, teri beef and kalua pig ($9.95) was heavy on the smoky flavor. The manapua ($2.95) is stuffed with char siu and baked, the mac salad is extra creamy and Spam musubi ($3.95) has a thin slick of sauce on the fried Spam. Kim chee ($2.95) is homemade rather than from a Noh packet, so be prepared for an unfamiliar recipe.
As we traded bits and pieces of food among each other's plates, my dad reminisced about having to work the malasada booth at my high school's annual carnival, my mom remembered back to one of my May Day hula performances, and I quietly sang along to the Makaha Sons of Niihau. After a series of exchanges between my dad and Keoni, we ended up with a box of hot malasadas--fried "potagee" bread rolled in sugar--for dessert. They're not on the menu, but Keoni makes them up special for those who know to ask. Once they catch on--and catch on they will--I wouldn't be surprised to find myself on a text message distribution list for them as well.
--Rachael Daigle has much aloha for landlocked lau lau.
Boise Weekly sends two reviewers to every restaurant we review. Read what our other reviewer had to say about Kana Girl's Hawai'ian BBQ.