TNT Diner

The latest food mashup you’re sure to crave? Hawaiian tacos. Get them at this cafe

Chicken char siu from Taste of Samoa Manapua Bakery.
Chicken char siu from Taste of Samoa Manapua Bakery.

In my continuing quest looking at merge foods — when two foods make a third hybrid food — I stumbled on yet another taco mashup.

Earlier this month, I told you about pizzacos. Those pizza-taco hybrids are offered only on Tuesdays at the Defiant Goldfish near Point Defiance Park.

Today’s hybrid tacos are tacopuas.

They’re a merge of Hawaiian and Samoan food with structural help from Mexico. And Chinese food, if you trace the roots of manapua.

The tacopuas come from Edward Leota, who opened Taste of Samoa Manapua Bakery in May with business partner Ron Manning. The take-out-only cafe and bakery is in the Parkland kitchen space that also holds South Beach Cuisine and Espresso.

The cafe and bakery specializes in Hawaiian and Samoan bakery items, but also rice bowls and lunch entrees.

Leota’s tacopuas have become the most popular menu item. They’re built with some of the components of a manapua, which is a Hawaiian version of a Chinese char siu bun.

Those portable buns are sold at Chinese bakeries or dim sum restaurants. They’re made with a puffy dough stuffed with sweetened barbecued pork and then steamed or baked. You might recognize them by this description: They’re softball-sized globes of paper-white dough filled with an oozy pork filling.

Leota takes the Hawaiian manapua/char siu bun dough and flattens it into the shape of a round tortilla.

The fillings are meats popular on Samoan steam tables, such as turkey tail and corned beef, but also chicken or beef teriyaki and chicken curry. He also has a chicken version of a char siu filling and there’s a vegetarian one.

They might look like tacos, but the only thing Mexican about them is the shape and using the dough as a meat-delivery system.

The vegetarian version comes kind of close to resembling a Mexican taco. The filling is something like a tasty, crumbled up veggie burger patty made with corn, black beans and a kick of chipotle. Leota douses it with a savory sauce and adds shredded iceberg.

The others are hearty tacos meant for meat lovers. One is a small meal, two are a feast. They’re also inexpensive. All are $3, except for the corned beef, which is $3.50.

The chicken char siu is bright pink, just like the pork version, but slow cooked until the meat resembles pulled chicken with a whiff of 5-spice. Chicken and beef teriyaki come coated in a savory-sweet teriyaki sauce. You can taste the salty gravy on the turkey tail manapua. It tastes like Thanksgiving gravy, but made with shoyu. Leota wasn’t sure how the corned beef version would sell, but it’s become a regular favorite.

When he opened, he wasn’t sure that fans of Hawaiian or Samoan food would understand the tacopua, but he’s been surprised.

“I got the idea from YouTube and I wasn’t so sure about them,” he said. “Even when we opened up, I wasn’t too sure if I was going to do them.”

He put a few versions on the menu and they sold, and then kept selling after he added more versions.

They’re an everyday offering, not just for Taco Tuesdays. Any of the tacos can be turned into a meal-in-a-bowl with two scoops of rice for $4.25.

Note: There’s no seating at the bakery and cafe. It specializes in take-out food.

Samoan bakery alert: In case you hadn’t heard, Samoan food hit Pierce County big this year. Taste of Samoa Manapua Bakery is the third Samoan deli and bakery to open this year following Polynesian Favorites in February and Lilly’s Bakery and Deli two months later.

Taste of Samoa Manapua Bakery

Where: 13817 Pacific Ave. S., Tacoma; 253-348-4989.

Note: Take-out only, no seating.