Next week, my wife and I will be in the San Francisco area. My wife was born in American Samoa and lived there until age 15. We know there are a lot of Samoans and other Polynesians in the SF Bay area. Which restaurants or stores offer the best Samoan food?
Discovery! – Lotu and Lita’s Polynesian Restaurant – East Palo Alto
I finally understand how the great explorers must have felt when they discovered a Pacific island unknown to the mandarins of the West. Driving down University Avenue in East Palo Alto (the scruffy, ethnically vibrant sibling of what has been called Shallow Alto), I spotted what appeared to be a Polynesian restaurant. It turned out that two restaurants shared the same space. One restaurant, EPA Restaurant (East Palo Alto Restaurant) serves fried chicken and fish, and has been described – favorably - on Yelp. But in the front of the storefront was Lotu and Lita’s Polynesian Restaurant, which serves Tongan, Fijian, and Samoan food. As best I know the restaurant has not been described on Yelp or Chowhound or anywhere else, if a Google search can be trusted. What greater pleasure can any foodie have than to discover a new cuisine?
Lotu and Lita’s is delightfully basic, a chowhound’s dream, and like many restaurants of the type (Ghanaian, Filipino, or Guyanan) food is kept in a steam table facing a room with a few tables (only one other take-out customer was present during the time that I was present at noon on Saturday).
My knowledge of Polynesian food is pretty much limited to Poi and Spam, neither of which were in evidence. In contrast about half a dozen dishes are prepared each day, including Island Lamb Curry (fragrant but mild), Taro Leaves with Lamb (lupulu) which is very flavorable and worth driving for, Mussels with Coconut Milk, Fai-ai la (tuna with coconut), Taro (a potato-textured starch, which Lita described as the Polynesian rice), Beef Chop Suey, Fried Fish (apparently related to mackerel, a species that appears to be a Bay Area fish du jour: it was served at the French Laundry and Saison as well), Turkey Tail Teriyaki, and cooked banana (which had the taste and texture of potato – I was assured that it was not a plantain, but a banana), and Samoan Sausage. Dessert was an excellent Pineapple Pie.
Like many ethnic restaurants, the meat was more gristly than that found in upscale boites. (This is my problem with lovely Nigerian restaurants as well). Trader Vic’s it is not. No pu-pu platters or drinks with little umbrellas. This is not our imaginaries of the islands, but sturdy island food for Pacific immigrant communities. But the dishes were filled with flavor. And Lita, the Samoan owner, was congenial, who, after some skepticism, let me take her photo as documentation.
I understand that there are a few ethnic Polynesian restaurants in East Palo Alto, and I hope to explore several of them. But for now Lotu and Lita’s has my strong recommendation. It should be on the bucket list of every chowhound.
Lotu and Lita’s Polynesian Restaurant
2150 University Avenue
East Palo Alto, CA
Monday-Saturday 10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Sunday 11:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
The French Laundry
6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599
2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110
For the trully traditional and definitely tasty samoan palusami (taro leaf in coconut milk), taro, chicken, supa sui , laua povi..or pineaple pies and of course the samoan cocoa..THIS is the place to get your supplies..The place is hygienic and has pleasant island type decor and a very friendly and helpful staff.. AND the prices are suprising reasonable.. but the feed is NOT for those who are worried about their calories..
but for me and my family.. its a HOME away from home Meal that tastes right ..And they can be contacted on 415 467 1870
South Pacific Island Restaurant
2803 Geneva Ave, Daly City, CA 94014
My Polynesian friends tell me to add mayo to food to make it Polynesian : ). Really, there isn't much. There is a grocery store in Menlo Park, Valley Produce and one in Palo Alto, Islands Grocery on East Bayshore. I haven't been, but they exist. I think the latter has a Tongan restaurant in it, but not sure about Samoan.