Loco moco, musubi, mochiko chicken, kalua pig.
I can count on one hand how many Tacoma-area restaurants serve those classic Hawaiian dishes. That’s four. Total. And two of those are chain restaurants.
When Da Tiki Hut closed its doors one year ago after a grease fire in its kitchen caused devastating damage to the Sixth Avenue restaurant, it left a hole for fans of Hawaiian dining.
Nearly every week since last March, a reader messaged to ask, “When is Da Tiki Hut reopening?”
That opening finally came two weeks ago. Co-owners Steve and Tamara Lerma reopened the restaurant March 26.
That guy walking around the dining room at Da Tiki Hut handing out free tastes of smoked meats? That’s Steve Lerma, who is experimenting with a new smoked meats menu and has some surprise dishes planned. He also plans to strengthen the restaurant’s tiki cocktail list.
Getting the doors open was a complicated endeavor with two insurance companies (one for his business, the other for the building owner) negotiating the details. They hit some snags along the way. The restaurant’s venting hood needed upgrading and then the furnace went out.
When they reopened two weeks ago, the line was out the door. They ran out of food.
Flash forward a few weeks and business is close to usual at the restaurant that serves a menu of classic Hawaiian eats for lunch and dinner.
Here’s a first-bite reopening visit.
The owners: The Lermas opened Da Tiki Hut in 2014 after coming up with the idea for a Hawaiian food truck. Instead, they lucked into the Sixth Avenue location and opted instead to open a restaurant.
While the restaurant was repaired, they returned to their original food-truck plan. They kept busy serving only at Joint Base Lewis-McChord with a pod of about eight other local food trucks (only those with base privileges can visit).
The dining room: It looks much as it did before, minus some decor that was smoke damaged. The dining room was painted and the back space where the tiki bar is now equipped with tall tables and stools, but otherwise it’s business as usual at the casual restaurant with tableside service.
The eats: It’s mostly the same menu covering the greatest hits of Hawaiian dining. Right after opening, the menu was slightly smaller to meet the demand when the crowds descended, but more items were added last week, such as poke salad and dinner entrees. Menu specials, such as the mochiko chicken coated in sweetened rice flour that’s served as a special on Wednesdays and Thursdays ($9.50), are now offered, too.
Appetizers and salads: Lumpia ($5.25), gyoza ($5.50), a half dozen kinds of musubi served a la carte ($2.50 to $3), garlic furikake fries ($5.50), loaded fries with gravy and kalua pig ($7.25), two kinds of poke salad served with rice ($8.25 to $9.25) and a tropical fruit salad ($6.75).
Lunch and dinner: The classic plate lunch, the Hawaiian staple, is back with a choice of tiki chicken, kalua pig, Korean-style chicken with mac salad and rice ($7.50 to $9.50). Big eaters still have the option of a combo plate with three kinds of meat, rice and mac salad ($11.25). There’s also chicken katsu ($10.50), short ribs ($13.50) and five kinds of loco moco plates that range from a basic ($9.50) to a double-sized portion ($11.25) and one made with kalua pig and a hamburger patty ($11.25). All of the above come with mac salad and rice.
Burgers: Six choices, all served with fries ($6 to $9.25).
Dinner entrees: Grilled mahi mahi ($12.50), a rib combo ($14.50) and katsu combo ($13.50).
For kids: The Keiki plate comes with either Spam on Hawaiian rolls with mac salad or Hawaiian chips, or a mini version of a plate lunch ($6).
On a first visit: A plate lunch and loco moco are a fine handshake on a first visit to this restaurant. Both are classic Hawaiian staples meant to provide ballast for a demanding work day, or if you just want to eat yourself silly.
A plate lunch with kalua pig ($9.50) arrived with a tasty pyramid of smoke-infused pork shoulder, which spilled juices that collided with two scoops of rice and a creamy mac salad nudged with grated carrots and a creamy dressing ($9.50).
Another plate lunch, this time with Korean-style chicken, arrived sticky with a kicky sauce that tasted like an amped-up teriyaki glaze ($9.50).
Loco mocos are always stick-to-your-ribs good. That classic Hawaiian meal combines a hamburger patty with brown gravy and fried egg over rice. Da Tiki Hut’s Double Down was a monster loco moco with a double helping of juicy hamburger patties, a river of brown gravy, two fried eggs that arrived over medium (they always get the eggs right here) and a big bed of steamed rice in a portion that could feed three ($11.25). Ben’s Special Moco was a burger patty, gravy and eggs layered with a bonus layer of kalua pig, served over white rice and with a side of mac salad ($11.25).
Mochiko chicken is another must order (sometimes it’s available even when it’s not listed on the specials menu on Wednesdays and Thursdays, so ask your server). It’s like fancy Hawaiian popcorn chicken — cubed chicken thigh dusted in a sweet rice flour batter and fried golden brown, served with rice and mac salad ($9.50).
For starters, the garlic furikake fries are made even better with a squirt of the house tiki sauce, which tastes something like the love child of ponzu and teriyaki ($5.50). Don’t miss the musubi, which is a choice of Spam, fried chicken katsu or another meaty topper served over a big block of warmed rice wrapped up in seaweed paper.
If you visit Da Tiki Hut and don’t order the poke, you’re doing life wrong. The regular version (there’s also a spicy type) pairs a scoop of rice and crunchy seaweed salad with a tower of cubed raw ahi in a delicious shade of ruby red that had been tossed in a salty-sweet poke sauce ($8.25)
Da Tiki Hut
Where: 4427 Sixth Ave., Tacoma
Info: 253-625-7690, facebook.com/Datikihut
Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays.