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More poi, please



Out in the vast tannish, cement-scaped land known as Academy Boulevard lies a little tropical oasis of sanctity and flavorful cuisine called Hawaii's Best.

As the name suggests, Hawaii's Best offers up authentic Hawaiian fare, which I can honestly say I never gave much consideration to before this experience. And I can honestly say that if not through the sheer power of advertising, I would never have known of the existence of this place. So I thank direct mail, once again -- a little coupon with all sorts of good deals on it, brought this place to my attention. Though I had no concept of "authentic Hawaiian fare," I knew the coupon was a keeper.

The coupon, however, rode around in the car with me until it accidentally got recycled. And not 24 hours later, I was in hellacious traffic and nasty weather, stacked up in a line of cars extending south of the Vickers and Academy intersection. That coupon flashed through my mind, as did Fantasy Island-like visions of a peaceful tropical setting and women in grass skirts. As soon as I could, I beelined it for the left-turn lane. I was cranky and hungry, and Hawaii sounded good.

Hawaii's Best is in that odd-shaped cluster of buildings on the northwest corner of Vickers and Academy. Don't let the very non-feng shui parking lot deter you, because you will see the sign long before you actually figure out how to park and find the restaurant.

On a rainy, dreary afternoon, the place was packed. No women in grass skirts, but lots of warm and sunny reds and yellows, and many pictures of different scenes from the homeland lined the walls. I got the second last table and was happy to be basking in the warm glow of the room and wonderful aroma of whatever was on the table to the left of me.

Hawaiian fare, as I soon discovered, is pretty simple but very, very flavorful. You get what's called a plate lunch -- a mega-amount of food consisting of a "main dish" accompanied by rice and the best homemade macaroni salad I've ever tasted.

For my main dish I chose Chicken Luau, tender little chunks of chicken cooked with luau leaves (from the taro plant) in coconut milk. Simple, yet oh so tasty. Not spicy, just nicely spiced.

On a return trip, which was on a sweltering, partly-cloudy day, I decided to go all-out Hawaiian. As good and refreshing as the pineapple bowl looked (fresh pineapple, mango and papaya topped with yogurt and grated coconut served in a pineapple bowl), I went for the Kalua -- pulled pork seasoned with Hawaiian salt, wrapped in ti leaves and then baked. (Incidentally, ti leaves are not only used for cooking, but they are also the leaves hula skirts are made of.)

Accompanying the food was a huge glass of refreshing Mango-Guava juice. Other juice selections include guava, pineapple, mango, lilikoi (passion fruit) or any combination thereof.

Hawaii's Best was founded by Steve and Lorna Anuhea McPeek. Both grew up in the islands, and while they have done an immense amount of traveling and have worked abroad, they've never lost their love or craving for Hawaiian food. Steve's real name is Steve Hauoloipauloamakalanimai McPeek. The middle name means "happily doing everything from God above." This I believe. Steve happily pours his love and talent for good cuisine into every dish. And I will happily keep coming back to eat every dish he dishes out.


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