Hawaiian Aye

If you want aloha, you're better off at Tita's Hale'aina than at Roy's

Back in the Bay Area and hungry for a little aloha, I took my goddaughter Nora to our local Roy's, finding its SOMA location less incongruous in the city than the concreted-in ones on a supposedly tropical isle. In fact, the high-ceilinged room was quite soothing and elegant, though I was disconcerted by the strong whiff of truffle oil and the bright headlights that swept the room from cars turning onto Mission from Anthony Street. Nora tried the bargain-priced ($30) three-course Hawaiian Fusion Sampler: shrimp stick, Sichuan baby back rib, kalua pork lumpia; roasted macadamia whitefish in lobster butter sauce; chocolate soufflé. I ordered a poketini, massive chunks of spiced deep-red raw ahi with a dab of sour cream and caviar; misoyaki butterfish in soy vinaigrette; and a tiny raspberry chocolate tart with raspberry Bavarian cream. The food was competent but not convincing, the sauces sweet and sticky. We most enjoyed the Frenchy desserts -- and seeing the excitement in the bar when Barry Bonds hit his 661st homer. "He just passed his godfather," I said. "Pass your godmother the salt."

A night later and Nora and I find ourselves in Tita's Hale'aina. The menu looks a lot like Aloha Mixed Plate's (though we have a view of 17th Street, not the sea, yet nicely framed with flowers and a palm tree planted on the sidewalk, and it's raining), but we are delighted when our King Kamehameha combo is even more knowingly cooked than the Ali'i Plate. "This kalua pig," we tell our waitress, "is better than any we had in Hawaii." "That's because it's cooked with love," she says. It is smoky and succulent, with fresh green curls of cabbage. And it rests next to a nice chicken thigh cooked adobo style with vinegar and garlic, a charbroiled Korean-style pork rib, a sturdy chunk of fish, lovely lomi lomi (kind of a salmon ceviche), excellent macaroni salad, and two scoops rice. Nora is surprised to get teriyaki beef when she'd asked for teriyaki meatloaf, but the thin-sliced tri-tip is chewy and satisfying -- and our server gets us a big taste of the tangy meatloaf and doesn't charge us for it, once she hears that Nora has never tasted meatloaf in her otherwise eventful 14 years.

We're very happy with our dinner. Even more so when we finish with malasadas, yeasty Portuguese doughnuts that look like beignets, cooked to order, and a pie called Tita's Delite, our favorite haupia pudding gilded with macadamia nuts and plopped down in a chocolate coconut crust. "I'm going to eat here again for sure," I tell Nora, "on my own money."

Lei Abouts: Tita's Hale'aina doesn't have a 
view of the sea, but it's authentically 
Anthony Pidgeon
Lei Abouts: Tita's Hale'aina doesn't have a view of the sea, but it's authentically Hawaiian.



Ahi poketini $14

Chocolate soufflé $9

Tita's Hale'aina

King Kamehameha combo $14.95

Teriyaki beef $10.95

Teriyaki meatloaf $8.95

Malasadas $3.75

Tita's Delite $4.50

Roy's, 101 Second St. (at Mission), 777-0277. Open Monday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday until 10 p.m.; and Saturday from 5:30 to 10 p.m., Sunday until 9 p.m. Reservations accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: difficult. Muni: 10, 15, 76. Noise level: moderate.

Tita's Hale'aina, 3870 17th St. (at Noe), 626-2477. Open Tuesday through Friday from 5 to 10 p.m., with a Friday lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Saturday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Monday. Reservations accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: fairly easy. Muni: 24, 33, 37, F, K, L, M. Noise level: low.

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We walk out to that marvelous fresh scent you get right after the first rain. "That's called 'petrichor,'" I tell Nora, "which I just learned from my Word-a-Day e-mail." "I love it," she says, feelingly, and I hear a well-fed sound in her voice.

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