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Hula Girl, Owner Mikala Brennan's Former Hawaiian Food Truck and Pop-Up Now a Restaurant in Shirlington


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Hula Girl Truck is parked, temporarily, in the space previously occupied by Pulpo, on Connecticut Ave in Cleveland Park. (Not literally. The truck is not actually in the restaurant.) The restaurant will be open Tuesdays through Sundays until mid March, according to the staff.
 
A short menu of plate lunch staples--kalua pork & cabbage, huli-huli chicken, teriyaki beef/pork/tofu--anchors the menu. Served with two scoops of rice and your choice of mac salad or green salad. We started out with a fresh, slightly spice and gingered poke, served with sweet potato (or maybe taro, but I don't think so) crackers.
 
The prices are decidedly not in the Rainbow Drive-in range--plates run around $16--but portion sizes are extremely generous. Our party of two adults and one preschooler ordered one kalua pig and one huli-huli chicken, and went home with leftovers. The huli-huli chicken is baked in the wood-fired oven, and comes out sticky and smoky and moist and delicious. The kalua pork is shredded and served with cabbage (and I could have used more of that cabbage!). 
 
We were seated under a poster of Leonard's Bakery in Honolulu, famous for its malasadas; little Portuguese yeast donuts covered in sugar. Apparently Hula Girl will be adding malasadas to the menu next week, and will be expanding other menu options also.

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Bummer that Pulpo is gone, I really liked that place.

Hawaiian cuisine doesn't do much for me, but I may give Hula Girl a try.

My exposure to native Hawaiian cuisine is somewhat limited, but if you've been to Hawaii, the quality of raw ingredients there - particularly produce - is extraordinary ... *so* much better than in the Caribbean.

And, as promised in Post #1, Hula Girl's website says they're "off the road temporarily."

Note, however, that their website was copyrighted in 2011, and @hulagirltruck has over 4,000 followers and almost as many tweets, so they've been around the block a few times (sorry).

And this tweet indicates that they're actively searching for spots in Alexandria and Arlington, so we probably haven't heard the final "mahalo."

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We did, eventually, get those malasadas. :)

Also--a technicality--"native Hawaiian" usually means, in Hawai'i, people of Hawaiian ancestry. Hula Girl serves what I'd call "local" food; local is the unique culture of Hawai'i that emerges from the blend of Hawaiian, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Portuguese, haole (white) and other people who populate the island.

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The exact opposite of what usually happens to me, happened to me tonight when I walked into Hula Girl. Usually, I may have a bias (a bias, not a prejudice) before I go to a restaurant, but as soon as I walk in that door, the bias gets vaporized.

Tonight, I had absolutely no idea what to expect from Hula Girl, and no preconceived notions. However, when I walked in, I was immediately assaulted by four words: "loud, bright, sports bar." I assumed the position, with my non-expectations significantly lowered based on what I initially saw - if it wasn't for the surfboards on the ceiling, I wouldn't have even known I was in a Hawaiian-themed restaurant.

My bartender may well have been an owner. I say this not because he might have been Polynesian, but because he went the extra mile with his extraordinary friendliness and courtesy. More on that later, but if everyone who works at Hula Girl is this customer-oriented, then they've done some serious staff training, because this guy was great.

I began my simple meal with a can of Maui Brewing Company Mana Wheat ($6). I'd never had this beer before - I'd never seen this beer before - and although it seemed to have some characteristics of mass-production, I still enjoyed it. At 5.5% ABV, it pours like a Blonde Lager, with hints of grain on the nose - I don't think I'm imagining this just because it has "wheat" in the name, but I'm not going to rule that out either because mass-produced beers can add things that play with your mind (they produce at least 75 beers, so I'm assuming their production is on the high side).

Looking over the menu, there wasn't all that much that seemed Hawaiian to me, but there was some. The one thing I remember the most about the food in Hawaii was the shockingly great quality of their produce, and unfortunately, that's just not something that's easy to replicate in Shirlington. So instead of chasing leprechauns, I decided to go "Hawaiian-themed," but also to remember where I was: I got the Steak Teriyaki ($16).

The dish consisted of two square cuts of very tough, well-marinated steak, two scoops of good, short-grained rice, and most importantly, a side salad (you have your choice of a green salad or a mac salad) that correctly balanced out this very simple dish of meat-rice-salad. The rice mixed well with the teriyaki sauce, but most importantly, the salad consisted of romaine which has the crunchy texture you want with this dish, and not "leafy greens" which would be soft and flaccid. While nothing in this dish was great, the combination worked, and the crispy lettuce brought it all together. This was something like you'd expect as a blue-plate special, and you'd walk out pretty pleased.

So I don't get people's hopes up, I want to reemphasize that the steak was very tough, albeit flavorful, and it stood up well to the teriyaki sauce. The short-grained rice was good enough to almost tempt me into ordering the Spam Musubi afterwards, which was only three dollars, but I decided to exercise some restraint and be content with what I ordered - there's always a "next time," and to my surprise, Hula Girl - based on this one meal - merits a next time. Nothing gets a rave, but it was solid, and my bartender displayed a level of service that makes me want to come back. He was going out of his way to access the tough-to-reach corner of the bar and pour my beer for me, despite my protests, and he was wonderful.

It's not possible to "rate" a restaurant based on a single beer and a steak teriyaki lunch plate, and I suspect Hula Girl will never be great, but it could be a solid addition to Shirlington, and there's nothing about tonight that will keep me from returning. It was crowded, and that made me happy.

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So, ignore the note on the website about how they don't take reservations unless you are 8 or more.

I got there on a Friday night at 7:15, and there was a 30-40 minute wait for a table for 4. And there were a ton of names on the list with times associated with them. The hostess gave a blank look when I said that the website said reservations were only for 8+. But that was the last service snafu for the evening; in fact they had a table for us in 20-25. And there's a bar area with lots of area for standing and waiting for your table, or you can wander through Shirlington - they take your cell number and call you when the table is ready.

Cocktails look more interesting than they are. Our group tried several - the Mai Tai, the take on the French 75, Spicy Hula, and Hwy 72. All of them were either unbalanced, or just didn't come together. They have a decent beer list - go with that instead.

We were able to work our way through a good amount of the menu. Most things I'd definitely order again. Portion sizes were ample - we had four big eaters at the table, and 4 apps, 4 mains, and 2 desserts had us absolutely stuffed.

Apps:

Spam Musubi - glad we tried it, but wouldn't order again. The spam is too thinly cut and is hidden against the rice and nori.

Ahi Poke was excellent - the tuna was tasty and cubed to just the right side, and the fried chips on the side the perfect textural foil.

North Shore Shrimp - about a half dozen really big shrimp grilled with shells on. Perfectly cooked, and enough garlic to keep the vampires at bay.

Shishito Peppers were well cooked but nothing unique.

Entrees

Kalua Pork & Cabbage - tender, but a bit bland. Definitely needed the sauces provided on the table.

Loco Moco - homey dish, but didn't really come together - the gravy didn't work for me. But the burger itself was really good so I would definitely consider ordering a burger.

Waialua Root Beer Sticky Ribs - definitely an order again dish - we fought over these.

Huli Huli Chicken - tender, flavorful, well grilled. Good with the accompanying sauces but didn't need them.

Sides we had the Mac Salad (it's supermarket mac salad - so if you like that kind of thing, it was fine), Onion Rings (excellent), Kimchi (not very spicy or fermented-sour, but very good), Pickled Daikon/Carrots (very good), and Fried Rice (also very good).

We tried the fried donuts (fine, but nothing special), and the Kona Coffee pot du creme (I'd order this again), and a couple of mugs of very mediocre Kona coffee.

It's not a drive-across-town restaurant, but a very solid pick in Shirlington. As long as you expect the modern Hawai'ian food that you see on the islands today, and not native Polynesian Hawai'ian food, you won't be disappointed.

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Looking forward to trying!

Interesting in Hawaii, that there is this sort of extreme state of food. I felt I was either getting super fresh poke, brown rice, kim chi, and other amazing greens or greasy spoon nonsense like loco moco. Anyway, that place is just awesome ... It just makes you happy. Look at the yelp reviews - basically everything is 4-4.5 stars!

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We ate here this weekend, as my SIL was checking out the Shirlington hood in her search to see if there is a neighborhood she would prefer in the area over her own.  We got a pitcher of mimosas with POG, and that was very good.  There was a ukulele player at brunch, we were seated very close, and it was a bit loud to talk over, but it was fine.  There was also a woman patron by us who took her shoes off, got up and started hula dancing, it was definitely an entertaining brunch.  We started with the spam masubi.  I thought the spam was a nice thick slice, and the rice was about perfect in texture, I liked this dish.  I got the ahi poke.  I really liked the dish, all the ingredients were really fresh.  I love kimchi, but I thought the flavor of the kimchi was maybe a bit out of flavor with the other elements in the bowl- cucumbers, carrots and daikon shredded, etc which had a much more fresh taste and then the sauce the poke was marinated in.  But it was a good poke none the less.  Hubby got the kulua pork, which I thought was really good, so tender with nice flavor, but maybe a bit too much salt, he ate the whole thing though, which was a huge serving, so he obviously didn't mind the salt.  I thought this dish was really flavorful without any table sauce, so maybe they have adjusted the recipe.  SIL got chicken terriyaki which I didn't try.  Our server was very quiet, which was hard to hear with the music, and a bit timid which just didn't seem to go with the vibe of the place, but it was fine, we got everything we needed when we needed it.

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