Bobby’s Hawaiian: Say ‘aloha’ to serious comfort food

  • By Krista J. Kapralos Herald Writer
  • Wednesday, October 15, 2008 1:22pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

EVERETT — Bobby Nakiehi wants you to feel good.

Pay no attention to the gray Pacific Northwest weather outside, or the calorie count in the comfort food that is the specialty at Bobby’s Hawaiian Style Restaurant.

The goal is to transport diners to the islands, and Bobby and his staff do it so well that they earned a spot on The Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” show about a year ago.

The restaurant, which pops out as a colorful surprise on the rather shady western end of Hewitt Avenue, isn’t the place to fuss over place settings, food presentation or variety. Here, it’s about meat, barbecued fresh and thrown onto a platter. A few scoops of macaroni salad or white rice make the meal. It’s good, cheap comfort food served in helpings large enough to stave off gray-day hunger pangs.

The staff (mostly Bobby’s family and friends) keep the main room warm enough to make it easy to order a Mai Tai or Island Girl before the food arrives. One server shows off a tattoo of the Hawaiian islands inked prominently between her thumb and index finger – just in case anyone needed a reminder. The staff is so friendly that concerns about cholesterol begin to seem ridiculous. When food is this much fun, why worry?

Before digging into barbecue, an array of appetizers offer tastes of Hawaiian classics. The cuisine’s Asian influence is apparent here, with piping-hot lumpia (similar to pork egg rolls) served for $7.95.

Spam musubi ($2.50), a sushi-style roll stuffed with that 1950s staple, leads Bobby’s appetizer menu. It tastes exactly how it sounds: rice and a slice of warm Spam wrapped in seaweed. If you’re hungry, it hits the spot.

And according to the staff at Bobby’s, offering just one Spam specialty is a serious display of restraint. The canned meat became a beloved island staple during the early lean years, when the federal government offered it as food rations to Hawaiians. Now, the people at Bobby’s can list endless ways to prepare it.

“Whatever you want, we can do it with Spam,” one staff member said with a wide grin. “In Hawaii, if you offer me a steak or Spam, I’ll take the Spam!”

Lomi salmon ($4.50) — raw salmon, chopped with onion and tomato — is a perfect segue between courses. The fish is firm and the vegetables are fresh. Other small choices include poi ($4.50), which is taro mashed until it’s almost liquid, and macaroni salad ($1.50), a Bobby’s specialty that is heavy on little more than starchy elbows and mayonnaise.

Mochi chicken ($7.95) is a best-seller at Bobby’s. It’s an ever-so-slightly upgraded version of chicken nuggets, with real chicken and a thick, deep-fried coating. The chicken is cooked well, without a hint of dryness. Thin slices of beef ($8.95) are barbecued in a light, sweet sauce. They’re tender enough to cut with a fork. Kalbi ribs ($10.50) are high on bone and low on meat, but boast a great smoky flavor.

Bobby doesn’t bother with healthy offerings. If it’s fried or covered in gravy, there’s a place for it in Bobby’s kitchen. Fried ahi tuna ($13.50), hamburger steak with gravy ($7.95), and loco moco (hamburger patties served with eggs, $8.95) are all offered.

Just about everything on the menu can be had all together, on a combination platter. That’s how the staff at Bobby’s say they like it, before ruefully rubbing their protruding bellies. They work it off hauling food to and from catering events and singing at the restaurant on weekends, when hula dancers weave their way between tables.

There’s nothing fake about Bobby’s. He offers serious comfort food, and leaves no chance that anyone will go hungry. When the staff bursts into the dining room, carrying supplies back from a catering job, they don’t hide away in a staff lounge. Instead, they take a load off alongside the restaurant’s customers, and laugh loudly while deciding what to have for dinner. When they discover a first-time visitor, they shout the news to one another.

Then they’ll make sure you don’t leave without trying the Spam.

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