Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Hawaiian Food Comes Just Outside The County; Poke, Comfort Food Worth Searching Out

Spicy tuna chirashi zushi
The Taste of Aloha has brought the taste of Hawaii to the border of Howard County, and it's worth the drive to bring a little sunshine into your winter.

This is a small family-run restaurant in Arbutus that brings casual Hawaiian food -- with its mix of Asian and American influences, its range from light raw fish dishes through noodle soups to hearty burgers and "plate lunch."

I don't want you to go with heightened expectations, but Taste of Aloha reminds me of R&R Taqueria. It's a guy who wants to cook authentic food.  Bare-bones seating.  A short menu that changes with the ingredients.  And a real focus on making things from scratch.  Let's just say that we left disappointed that we had passed on macaroni salad because lunch made us realized that we had probably underestimated it.

Saimin and fish tacos
First, you need to hit up Taste of Aloha just for the raw fish.  Hawaiians make these wonderful dishes called poke where fish is cubed, then mixed with vegetables and often a dressing.  There are endless varieties, and they were one of our favorite parts of vacation.

Last weekend, Taste of Aloha was serving a poke cousin called spicy tuna chirashi zushi.  A scoop of warm perfect rice surrounded by cubed tuna mixed with a spicy emulsion.  A touch of creaminess, but mostly a bright, light spiciness.  A dash of furikake gave a little salt and crunch.  As a $6 appetizer, it was one of my favorite dishes that I have eaten this year.  On a china plate, it would have been at home at a high-end restaurant.

Second, you should come expecting authenticity.  Hawaii has developed a unique culture with input from places like Japan, Korea, the Philippines and Portugal.  During out single meal, we listened to two other tables exclaim about how the food tasted just like they remembered from their time on the islands. The menu included kalbi, chicken katsu, several burgers, and kahlua pig served as a hoagie or as a big plate lunch.

Mrs. HowChow ordered mahi-mahi tacos that had perfectly grilled fish with a kimchi slaw and pineapple salsa.  I tried saimin, a noodle soup that starts with a mushroom-vegetable broth and then lets you add spam, shrimp, tofu, dumplings or a bunch of other proteins to bulk it up.  It was a cloudy broth and a filling soup perfect for a cold day.  I jazzed mine with a dash of soy sauce and a squirt of hot sauce.

Again, this is the vibe of R&R Taqueria where the folks take the food seriously even though they're cooking in a gas station.  We heard folks talk about how the chef makes his own sauces and marinades, including his own teriyaki sauce.  That's the kind of effort that we tasted in all our dishes and that makes me want to go back to try the kalbi, the roast pork, and maybe even the dishes made with spam.  That was also when we realized that the macaroni salad side dish was homemade -- and probably delicious.

Don't go with crazy expectations.  This is a casual place with a one-man kitchen.  But Taste of Aloha is really worth checking out because they're making an effort to do something special.  Plus, it's a unique menu that will give you a little taste of the islands without even driving to BWI.

Thanks to Jonalyne and Dorothy, who turned me onto Taste of Aloha.  Katie at Cupcake RN even wrote about eating there last month, but I actually hid the place for a few weeks so that I could surprise Mrs. HowChow with poke.  If you're going to make a special trip, I recommend following the restaurant on Twitter or on Facebook to see when they announce poke, chirashi zushi or other raw fish dishes.

Taste of Aloha
1405 Sulphur Spg Rd
Arbutus, MD 21227
(410) 501-3030

NEAR: Taste of Aloha is a little south and east of Catonsville. Get directions. From Ellicott City, you can take Frederick Road to Rolling Road and then into Arbutus. From the south, you'll probably come up I-95 and then loop around on I-195 and local roads. You probably won't happen across Taste of Aloha from Howard County, but it's pretty easy to find.

Taste of Aloha on Urbanspoon


Adam said...

This is awsome. When I was in collefe in Utah there were a tone of Hawaiian/Polynesian places but I have yet to see one come to this area. Did they have loco moco?

kama'aina said...

Yes they do have Loco Moco. This place was an awesome discovery!

Katie said...

Glad Mrs. HowChow enjoyed it! You hit the nail right on the head. I was trying to think of a way to best describe Taste of Aloha and comparing it to R&R is accurate. With both, you can taste the heart and soul the chefs put into the food. Next time, give the mac salad a try- really good!

Elizabeth @ The Bare Midriff said...

Wow, I SO have to try this place! Great review - love the details! And thanks for once again reminding me that I need to try R&R Taqueria!

love the mac said...

The mac salad is the absolute best I have ever tasted. The rest of the food was wonderful. I was at their soft opening and I got to taste a little of everything.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this! This is about 0.2 miles away from my office. Will have to try it!

Anonymous said...

Awesome food .Me and my wife loved the great taste.The pork and cabage was my favorite. ;)

Anonymous said...

The food is so delicious. The owner/chef is also the sweetest man. He is friendly and seems to really love preparing these wonderful dishes from "home". I will definitely be going back!

Bclass said...

I live close to this spot and drive by it twice a day on the way to work. Haven't stopped in, but plan to now based on these great reviews! For those so inclined, there is a also a great bakery that recently opened just up the street...Village Junction. Real donuts!

Steffi said...

I had a delicious dinner there last night. It will become a regular place for me. I told the guy at the cash register that I was sent by HowChow. He said he has been hearing that all week. In fact, the table full of people that was in there with me were also HowChow folks. Great food, great service, I will be back!

Unknown said...

I have now gone there 5 times. Every time it was fantastic. You MUST try the Kaluha Nachos.