The story: Sammy Kong Kee has won awards for his poke recipe (the traditional Hawaiian dish of marinated raw tuna), and while working at Butterfly restaurant along San Francisco’s Embarcadero he got the opportunity to touch on the flavors of the islands when he took control of the restaurant’s take-out window and opened up Sammy’s Aloha last year.
Why I went: The take-out window, which draws a long line on the weekdays and most Saturdays, is conveniently located at Pier 33, the same pier people leave for the popular Alcatraz cruises. Last weekend my friend Jeanne and I went to see the Ai Wei Wei exhibit on Alcatraz Island, and on our return we decided to check out Sammy’s Aloha, especially since we’re both originally from Honolulu. We wanted to see if the food was truly local grindz.
The vibe: In the back corner of the restaurant, the pop-up looks like a small deli take-out counter. There’s no lack of Hawaiian mementos, including a University of Hawaii warriors flag and references to Spam, the popular luncheon meat eaten widely in the islands. We got there early right before noon, so it was quiet and no line. There’s no seating but you’re allowed to sit outside at the few tables by the water.
The menu: There’s a lot of local favorites like the aforementioned poke (made different with the addition of salmon roe), kalua pork and “loco moco.” But it’s not necessarily presented the way you’d think (there’s no plate lunches here). The ingredients are more Asian-style with rice bowls, but more mainstream with sandwiches and salads. There are also Chinese steamed buns that are stuffed with kalua pork.
My favorite dish: While the most popular dish is the poke, served as a rice bowl or salad, I actually thought the poke lacked seasoning. It was fresh but it didn’t have enough salt, either from soy sauce or seaweed. But I really enjoyed my “Porky Boy” ($8), which is a kalua pork sandwich with kim chee in a brioche bun.
The last bite: Sammy’s Aloha definitely captures the vibe of Hawaii, and the food is fresh and tasty. But both Jeanne and I didn’t feel it really tasted like Hawaii. There’s a lack of authenticity, and I’m not sure if it’s because of the ingredients used or not used. Still, the food hits the spot and it’s convenient if you’re enjoying the city’s waterfront area.
The rating: 2 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Sammy’s Aloha Take-Out, Pier 33 along the Embarcadero (Inside the Butterfly Restaurant), San Francisco. PH: 415.864.8999. Open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Closed Sunday. No reservations. Major credit cards accepted.
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