The taste of Aloha spirit in Tahoe

Fresh papaya and lime juice. | Priya Hutner

Hawaii. Wild. Warm. Tropical. Snorkeling in the crystal-clear waters off the shores of the Big Island, swimming with dolphins and mantas in Kealakekua Bay, and generally slowing down and enjoying island time is one of the simple pleasures in life.

I’m partial to the Kona side of the Big Island; I’ve enjoyed much of what the island has to offer including Hawaiian cuisine. While poi isn’t my favorite, I love taro.

Picking fresh mango, papayas and figs off the trees for breakfast or preparing a delicious salsa for fish tacos is one of the many rituals I love while chilling on island time. Dragon fruit with fresh-squeezed lime, lilikoi, custard apple, lychees or its cousin the rambutan are tropical fruits that are refreshing, delicious and nutritious and scream summer. Many of these fruits can be found in our local supermarkets, although I’ve yet to find the elusive custard apple — due to the fact it’s best to eat one almost immediately after it’s picked.

Hawaiian cuisine can be found in a number of places throughout Tahoe. The Poké craze is still trending and served on many menus around the lake. The latest place to crop up is Poké on the Lake inside Sticks Market at Donner Lake. It’s the perfect delicious lunch to grab and go to enjoy on a dock. We might not find Spam sushi in Tahoe — Hawaiians are the second largest consumers of Spam in the world — but Jax at the Tracks in downtown Truckee offers a Hawaiian twist on its breakfast menu: a Spam and egg sandwich on a Hawaiian roll. It also serves a Hawaii burger.

In Tahoe City, Jake’s on the Lake prides itself on its Aloha vibes with a number of Hawaiian dishes including Hawaiian Hamachi Crudo, Poké roll and Kahlua Pork Belly.

South Lake Tahoe has a number of restaurants that are serving up some Hawaiian culture. Chicken in a Barrel BBQ, the Tahoe franchise of the Hawaiian chain, serves traditional Hawaiian barbecue. Don Harvard runs the family business. The meats are prepared with a dry rub and smoked in large barrels on the premises. The menu includes a signature Hawaiian grass-fed cheeseburger topped with teriyaki sauce and grilled pineapple, as well as a Hawaiian coleslaw side. Harvard experienced this traditional Hawaiian roadside barbecue on a trip to Hawaii. It inspired him to purchase the first franchise on the mainland.

Chicken in a Barrel BBQ and smoking barrels. | Priya Hutner

Another local restaurant serving up Hawaiian cuisine is Kalani’s Restaurant in Heavenly Village. The Hawaiian fusion menu and island atmosphere nestled in the mountains brings the Aloha spirit to the alpine setting. Poké Rok and Freshies Restaurant & Bar also offer a number of Hawaiian dishes. If you’ve not tried Hawaiian shaved ice it’s the perfect treat to beat the summer heat. Check out Tahoe Pops at The Ice Shack at Ski Run Marina.

Hawaiian food is a melting pot of flavors and cultures. Taro is a main staple in the diet as is fresh fish. Over the course of Hawaii’s history, different cultures arrived on the islands bringing fruits, vegetables and animals. When the Polynesians arrived, they brought sweet potatoes, yams, coconuts, kukui nuts and breadfruit. Asian influences in Hawaii come from China, Japan and the Philippines. Many dishes that are considered traditional Hawaiian food didn’t originate in Hawaii such as chicken long rice and Lomi-Lomi salmon but now are deeply ingrained in the culture.

Lau Lau is made with pork wrapped in layers of taro leaves and cooked in an underground hot-rock oven for hours until it turns soft. The dish has a smoky flavor and the meat is tender and juicy.

If you are looking for a classic contemporary Hawaiian dish go no further than the Loco Moco. This meal consists of steamed rice topped with a juicy hamburger patty and gravy, topped with a fried egg.

Luaus are ubiquitous in Hawaii. Interested in creating your own Hawaiian luau in the mountains for your next summer party or barbecue? Make sure to include Kalua pig, Lau Lau, long chicken, fresh mahi mahi and ahi and don’t forget the poi. Desserts such as haupia, a coconut pudding; mochi, a Japanese rice cake; coconut cake and guava cake are also served.

So grab your Hawaiian shirt or grass skirt, put on some music by Iz Kamakawiwoʻole or Jake Shimabukuro and enjoy the flavors and cuisine of Hawaii in Tahoe.


Hawaiian Loco Moco Recipe |
Courtesy Priya Hutner
Serves 4

1 C mushroom, sliced
1 small onion, diced
1 T olive oil
2 C beef stock or bone broth
1 t Worcestershire sauce
1 t soy sauce
Salt & pepper to taste
1 T cornstarch
¼ C water

Burger patties
1 small onion, diced small
1 T olive oil
1 lb. ground beef
⅓ C panko
1 egg
1 t Worcestershire sauce
1 t salt
1 t pepper

2 C Japanese rice, cooked
4 eggs
3 scallions, sliced for garnish

Prepare gravy
Heat ½ tablespoon olive oil in a pan and sauté onions until translucent. Add mushrooms and sauté for 5 minutes. Add stock or broth, Worcestershire and soy sauce. Simmer for five minutes. Mix cornstarch and water; add to gravy slowly stirring until gravy thickens.

Prepare patties
Mix ground beef, onion, panko, egg, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper together. Form into patties and grill or sauté until desired doneness.

Fry eggs over easy. First add rice to bottom of plate. Place patty over rice, ladle gravy over steak and top with over-easy fried egg. Garnish with scallions.