From inside the packed restaurant, the sounds of a guitar and singing filtered onto the street. Occasionally, a woman danced the hula, charming adults and kids alike.
It was a cozy scene, and I was happy to see such a bustling atmosphere in downtown Everett.
Dean Shinagawa, the chef and owner of Kama'aina Grindz, has an impressive resume. He was the chef at the Tulalip Bay Restaurant at the Tulalip Casino. He grew up in Oahu, Hawaii, and Shinagawa uses that heritage and skills acquired through the years in his new restaurant.
The menu is varied, but small enough that it's not overwhelming.
We started off the evening with a fabulous appetizer of smoked gouda and sausage. The gouda was wrapped in a delightfully crisp wrapper, and I loved the way the crispiness mixed with the creamy cheese. The appetizer vanished quickly.
For dinner, I eventually settled on the island-style pho, which included chicken, basil, cilantro and a lemongrass coconut broth with noodles. The dish was served piping-hot, and beautifully presented.
The chicken went perfectly with the flavors of the broth. The broth had just the right spicy kick, balanced by the coconut. I can see this becoming my go-to comfort food. It's soothing but, oh, so interesting.
My husband ordered the special for the week, macadamia nut pesto grilled swordfish ($18) with crisp potato hash with garlic asparagus, cherry tomatoes, capers and balsamic vinaigrette.
This dish was fabulous. The fish was perfect and the macadamia nut crust was beautifully crunchy. Everything on the plate tasted good, right down to the little bits of sauce that were left at the end.
I may have swiped up some with my finger, even though that's something a polite person would never do in a restaurant. (Don't tell my grandmother.)
The restaurant's specials menu shows the lineup for the month. Upcoming specials include sesame seared moonfish, scallion-peanut crusted ono and blackened monchong.
The restaurant doesn't have a dessert menu, but they did finish the meal with a charming little bowl of sherbet.
I took my daughter back a few days later for a lunch out together.
I had to try the mini Spam musubi ($5), because it seems vital to the experience. Spam is, well, Spam. But at Kama'aina Grindz, it's well prepared like everything else. It's fried to a perfect crispness on the outside, the rice was delicious and held together and the seaweed went undeniably well with the whole experience.
I also had the fish tacos ($9). The three tiny tacos are served with fried mahi mahi, asian slaw, tomato relish and chili tartar sauce. They were perfect, with rich flavors and perfectly cooked fish. They felt like a decadent little treat, partly because of their endearing smallness.
Even with the size, with the musubi, I had more than enough for a full meal.
I also tried the tropical, unsweetened ice tea. It has a fabulous tropical scent and a nice, smooth flavor. I think I'll be back for more on hot summer days.
My daughter (nearly 3) ordered the crisp panko chicken ($6) with rice and edamame from the keiki (kids) menu. She declared it "good," but more importantly, she ate more than half of it, a good sign since she's been on a bit of a hunger strike lately.
If you're planning a trip to Kama'aina Grindz, and I think you should, consider dropping by for "Wine Down" from 3 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays. Appetizers are marked down by $2 and wine and beer are $1 off.
And it couldn't hurt to call ahead, especially on weekends, or to drop by for lunch when it's less crowded. It's clear this restaurant has been discovered.
2933 Colby Ave., Everett; 425-322-5280; kamaainagrindz.com
Specialty: Hawaiian inspired fare.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Alcohol: Beer and wine.
Vegetarian options: A few.
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