Since this past November, ‘aina, the intimate Hawaiian eatery on the corner of 22nd and Minnesota Streets, has featured an exciting addition: a six-course tasting menu—served at the chef’s counter, which seats only six guests at a time—cooked on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights by Chris Yang, the restaurant’s young chef de cuisine.
Chef’s Table: ‘aina
900 22nd St., 415-814-3815
The top of the menu promises a “mo’olelo,” or story, woven into chef de cuisine Chris Yang’s $80 chef’s table prix fixe. That might sound like standard PR boilerplate translated into Hawaiian, but ‘aina delivers the goods. Available only at the intimate six-seat countertop, the prix fixe gets you the chef’s undivided attention for the night as Yang waxes nostalgic about his grandma’s tea-smoked duck, or the misoyaki butterfish that made him want to become a chef, or the history of Hawaiian cowboys. The menu changes from night to night, and chances are, at least two or three dishes will linger in your memory—perhaps the charsiu-style duck manapua buns, which come topped with a slice of Grandma’s pride and joy.
Runner-up: Mr. Pollo
KALBI LOCO MOCO
900 22nd St. (near Minnesota St.), 415-814-3815
’Aina calls itself a “modern Hawaiian eatery,” but it could just as easily be described as a cure for the common brunch. While you’ll find doughnuts, eggs, and French toast at the sunny Dogpatch restaurant that chef-owner Jordan Keao opened in April, there’s nothing rote about them: The French toast is made with taro Portuguese bread, and the eggs—well, the best way to eat them is in the kalbi loco moco. In Keao’s version of the Hawaiian staple, they sit sunny-side up on a heap of braised short rib and short-grain rice. Throw in some furikake, pea tendrils, heart of palm pico de gallo, and some hon-shimeji mushroom jus, and you have yourself a brunch to remember. $19
900 22nd St. (at Minnesota St.), 415-814-3815
Small wonder that brunch lines formed at ‘aina the day it opened in April: The permanent iteration of Jordan Keao’s pop-up casts a ray of Hawaiian sunshine on the monochromatic brunch universe. Yes, you’ll find eggs and French toast at the friendly Dogpatch spot. But these eggs come sunny-side up with braised kalbi short rib, rice, smoked hon-shimeji mushroom jus, and pea tendrils in an inspired version of loco moco, and the French toast is made with taro bread from Hawaii’s Punalu‘u Bake Shop. But it’s abundant deliciousness, not novelty, that makes ‘aina a winner. And for that, we say mahalo.
Runner-up: Brenda’s Meat & Three