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Dec 16, 2013 06:53 PM

Taste of Aloha In Arbutus

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.

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.

My wife 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.

Arbutus is just off I-95 where it intersects with I-195 and I-695. You probably won't happen to pass Taste of Aloha, but the directions are easy to follow. 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.

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  1. The original comment has been removed
    1. Interesting -- sounds like DC's Hula Girl food truck. Hope to try it next week when I have to make a drive to Balto.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Bob W

        Ok, tried Taste of Aloha on Saturday. This is really a nice addition to the local cheap eats scene.

        I wanted to go for the real deal, so I got spam musubi and saimin with kimchi dumplings. The spam musubi was better than I expected, the spicy hawaiian sauce drizzed on top probably helped. The saimin was really good. Think udon noodles. The broth was very complex and interesting.

        I know I won't be in Arbutus very often, so I encourage people in the area to try and support this place.

        1. re: Bob W

          Am excited to hear about a close-by,new restaurant has come about. Am anxious to try it out. Maybe, initially, going in for some take-out, but in the future dining in. There aren't very many dine-in restaurants in the Arbutus/Halethorpe area. Does Aloha have a liquor license. Love wine with dinner.
          But I do love Gianni's and even the Loaffer's Restaurant on the Caton Avenue area. No gourmet, even less the gourmet. Just local stop in and eat some typical pub-type grub. But it is good and worthwhile (good wings. burgers and veal parmagiana). Fried green beans and/or pickles are a treat.

          But, back to Aloha, it is nice to have another dining out local option. FoiGras

      2. We went to Taste of Aloha last weekend. I was pleased with it. We got the Spam Musubi, a plate combo of Chicken Katsu and Kahlua pork (with rice and macaroni salad), and the Kanak Attack Burger. Oh, and an order of the lychee-cupcakes with kiwi-cream cheese (?) frosting.

        We were pleased with everything, although the Spam Musubi was the stand-out for me. They are similar to japanese maki rolls, but they had a good, slightly-spicy/sweet sauce on top. And yes, spam, which I thought was good in this. I ate all the rolls, and then tried to eat dinner on top of that, but I was pretty stuffed. Everything was good though. The Kahlua pork was pulled pork, smokey and moist, with pieces of cabbage mixed in. The chicken katsu was also like the japanese version of the dish-- a breaded and fried chicken breast, with a side of sauce. Really well-done though-- good crunchy breading on the moist chicken. I wasn't crazy about the macaroni salad, but I'm not familiar with Hawaiian food at all, and I was raised on amish macaroni salad. Maybe it needed a little more salt? It wasn't bad-- just didn't wow me. Rice was more like a sticky rice, not a fluffy rice.

        The burger was well-seasoned, with a fried egg on top, and jack cheese, sauteed onions, and grilled pineapple. They were out of the pork that is supposed to come on top, but my partner wanted the burger anyway, so just got it without the pork on top. He is someone who eats the plainest of burgers, so I was surprised that he got this burger, but he was raving about the addition of the pineapple on the burger.

        The cupcakes were good, too. And I took the last two, so I guess they are pretty popular. Make sure you check their twitter feed/facebook in case they are sold out of something that you are going there for.

        The restaurant itself is very small. You order and pay at the counter, and then they bring out the food to you once it's ready. They confirmed that they do make all of the sauces in-house. It's plastic cutlery and paper plates, and I didn't see any alcohol offered-- dunno if you could BYOB, but I'm sure you could call/tweet/facebook and ask-- the owner seems pretty responsive on social media.

        Dunno if I would eat in again-- it's pretty close to my house, and the dining room was a bit cold (although, everywhere is a bit cold right now, to be fair :) )

        I will certainly come back here again, even if just for take-out, and get the musubi again, and I'd really like to try the poke.

        3 Replies
          1. re: macsak

            Ha, I even thought I checked that :) Thanks.

          2. re: aaamanda

            japanese/local rice is sticky

            sounds like a pretty good place, though
            how did the owners end up in dc/baltimore?

          3. A dozen inveterate Baltimore chowhounds decided to get together and try out Taste of Aloha last night for a special "Welcome to Spring" dinner. We just about filled up the dining room. In fact, we did fill up the dining room, since we pushed all the tables together!

            I've never been to Hawaii, so I came in with a completely open mind and empty tummy, and left with a great admiration for the food, and looking forward to returning soon!

            HowChow's right that it's pretty bare bones for now. No liquor license yet (canned sodas and juices like POG are available - unknown if byob is ok), and the planned kitchen expansion is a few weeks away. But we had a really fun and tasty meal. Two kinds of poke' - spicy tuna and tofu, two kinds of wings - a spicy Hawaiian version, and a hoisin marinated version, both came out with crispy skin and were accompanied by an excellent blue cheese dip. There was flavorful and moist Kalua pork with sticky rice and house made kimchi vegetables, spam musubi, marinated grilled pork sliders (my favorite dish of the meal) beef sliders, an off-menu laulau banana leaf wrapped steamed fish served on a bed of seaweed and julienned vegetables, and for desserts a trio of excellent mini cupcakes and a platter coconut haupia.

            Around the table, (including several who have been to or lived in Hawaii), we called our favorites and it seemed like every dish had at least one person who liked it best. Kudos to the chef and his staff for welcoming us so warmly and working so hard to cover our large group while still doing a brisk take-out business all evening.

            And thank you to HowChow for alerting us to this suburban Baltimore gem of a spot. Now, if only we can get some Hawaiian weather going up in these parts...

            1 Reply
            1. re: crackers

              Not a whole lot to add to Crackers'post, I was one of the inveterate dozen and agree with everything above. I'd never had Hawaiian cuisine before so had nothing to compare, but I thought overall that it was Interesting, cheap, good food and the owner is really nice, there's a good vibe there. Hopefully they will allow BYOB as I think a nice cold beer would be delicious with the slider and the Kalua beef (my favorites, although there really wasn't anything that I didn't like). Thanks HowChow and the Bmore hounds...

            2. The original comment has been removed