Hungry? You'd better be if you're at Kana Girl's Hawaiian BBQ. The former Smoke Inn A-frame on State Street serves plate lunches that even the famished will find hard to finish.
Fans of hearty Hawaiian fare might remember Kana Girl's previous iteration off Franklin Road in Meridian, which opened in 2009 to rave reviews from Boise Weekly critics. Sadly, owners Kana and Keoni Tyler closed the business due to struggles with addiction. Clean and looking for a clean start, they resurrected the restaurant at 3912 W. State St. in April.
As with its previous location, most meals at Kana Girl's start with the same starchy building blocks: two mounds of sticky white rice and a decadent, mayo-laden ladle of carrot-flecked mac salad or a pile of pineapple coleslaw. The mix plate ($10.95) tacks on a heaping trio of meats--teriyaki chicken, teriyaki beef and kalua pig--all squeezed into a giant Styrofoam container.
The barbecued chicken was most interesting, with strips of smoky, marinated thigh meat lined with a layer of crisp fat. The thinly sliced, teriyaki-marinated skirt steak was also not bad, though a little sweet and dry. The kalua pig's soggy pale brown pork had little flavor.
As it turns out, flavor is largely up to the diner at Kana Girl's. Whether you go for a few squirts of gluten-free soy or pry open the condiment mini-fridge for a slug of Broke Yo Okole hot teriyaki sauce, hoisin plum sauce, smoky BBQ sauce, tartar sauce or Wowsabi mayo, there are plenty of ways to perk up your pork.
My companion found the zippy Wowsabi mayo a necessary addition to her panko-breaded mahi mahi patty ($8.95), which was also on the dry side. The small cup of ahi poke ($4.95), while a disconcerting shade of dark soy brown, was much more enjoyable, with light heat and hints of sesame oil and green onion.
Throughout our lunch, Keoni's booming voice periodically belted out ballads like "Hawaiian Superman" and "Over the Rainbow" from the kitchen, while a tattooed Kana visited with the restaurant's sprinkling of customers. Scanning the ocean blue walls covered with island ephemera--including a hammerhead shark in a flowery shirt and maps showing places patrons have visited--it was hard not to be charmed by this oddball Hawaiian hole in the wall and its eclectic owners.
As we hoisted our leftovers and lumbered toward the door, my companion whispered, "If they charged by the pound, we'd be in the poor house." Thankfully, they don't.