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Aloha Hawaiian BBQ

1831 N. Zaragoza Rd.
El Paso, TX
(915) 857-7900

Aloha Hawaiian BBQ on Zaragoza

The original Aloha Hawaiian BBQ is located in one of the many strip shopping centers along Zaragoza Road in the rapidly growing east side of El Paso. I always think it is a gamble for any restauranteur in El Paso to serve any type of ethnic food that is not Mexican, but judging from the steady stream of customers I observed, the Hawaiian barbecue concept seems to have caught on fairly well.

The Hawaiian style food here reflects influences from Asia and the United States, and I think it is one of the better styles of regional food I have found. Aloha specializes in "Hawaiian plate lunches," representing the type of midday or informal meals that would be served on the islands. The ethnic influences in Hawaii can be seen in the different entrées and side dishes that are served--Hawaiian barbecue chicken and pork, chicken katsu from Japan, macaroni salad from North America, and white rice from Asia.

When the west side location opened in 2007 I was surprised to find that it was a small fast food style restaurant without much of the décor that had given the east side restaurant somewhat of a feel of being in Hawaii. While I give ratings based on the food and not the ambiance, in this case I think the difference between the two restaurants is important. At the Zaragoza location the people at the counter (I assume the owners) got me started on the right track by recommending dishes, answering questions about the food, and even giving some free samples of different things. Several sauces were available at a sauce bar, and the employees explained which sauces went with different dishes. At the west side location I have found it harder to get help, and I did not even spot the sauce bar until my second visit (it is located somewhat inconspicuously near the back of the restaurant). The people at both restaurants help the customers as much as they can, but my experience at the east side made me partial to this location.

The décor of the Zaragoza location matches the "plate lunch" concept--nothing is fancy, and orders are served at the counter. I think they should invest in some nicer tables and chairs, but the Hawaiian decorations and music that was played over the stereo system with a moderate volume made dining in the restaurant a comfortable experience. Several sauces were provided to take to your table, and it was recommended that "Aloha BBQ Sauce" be used on the white rice for added flavor. I really appreciated the tips the employees gave me about use of the sauce, since it did a lot to enhance the meal.

Hawaiian BBQ chicken at Aloha
Hawaiian BBQ chicken with macaroni salad and rice

I ordered a "sampler" of different dishes in an effort to find the best ones. The Hawaiian BBQ Chicken, the specialty of the restaurant, was probably the best dish. I saw one reviewer describe the sauce as "addictive," and I thought the chicken was quite good as well. I do not know, though, if I would rate it above then barbecue chicken that is available at several of the city's Korean restaurants. Although I would say that the sauces may be better at some of the Asian restaurants, the tender, non-gristly chicken at Aloha was quite impressive.

The battered Mahi Mahi was quite a pleasant surprise. While not as fresh as I would have liked, it had an excellent flavor, and was among the best fish I have tried in El Paso. A small cup of tartar sauce was served with the fish, and although this was probably the best tartar sauce I had ever sampled, I thought the fish tasted better without the sauce.

A small serving of Kalua Pork came complimentary with all dinner orders (but I think this was only shortly after the restaurant's opening). This was a juicy, shredded version of Hawaiian barbecue pork that I thought was quite good. I have not ordered it as a dinner but I think it would be a good choice.

Chicken katsu and satay chicken
Chicken katsu and satay chicken

Chicken Katsu had thin strips of meat with a breading that tasted more Americanized than the tempura batter I find in Japanese restaurants. These two elements of the dish were not bad--only disappointing compared to some of the Japanese restaurants in town. The thin, sweet tasting sauce that came with the katsu, though, was something I really did not like with this dish. They did serve a good quantity of food, though, for a good price. I would also recommend a trip to the sauce bar to try some of the other sauces with the chicken.

Sometimes the restaurant offers a combination of items at a reduced price as a daily special. Such was the case when I ordered chicken katsu along with Satay Chicken, grilled chicken marinated in Thai spices served with peanut sauce. I enjoyd the satay chicken more for the fact that it was being served in El Paso than becaue this was one of the great quality versions I have had, but nevertheless it was good. One of its best features was the cabbage served underneath, since I do not normally like to eat dishes that are pure meat. The peanut sauce tasted like some of the ones I have tasted in Seattle that others complained were "Americanized." I have had the "real" Thai peanut sauce and thought it was much better, but I enjoy the "Americanized" one as well.

One reader commented that Aloha gives a good representation of the food served in Hawaii. For this aspect alone I think it is worth trying. To be more accurate, Aloha represents the type of food eaten by workers on sugar or pineapple plantations as they gather around for lunch. This is not haute cuisine, but everyday food that has developed uniquely on the Hawaiian Islands.

I can only wish for Aloha's success so that it may encourage more ethnic restaurants to open. Being the only Hawaiian restaurant in town it could probably get away with charging more, but I believe it serves good food at fair prices. One of the best things about Aloha is that it offers a lot of dishes I have yet to try. I suspect most of them are good (although I have my doubts about the grilled spam). If you want authentic Hawaiian food, though, you have come to the right place.

RESTAURANT DETAILS

RATING: 20

Cuisine: Hawaiian
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily
Accessible: Yes
Additional Location: 5004 N. Desert Blvd.
Smoking: No Smoking

Most Recent Visit
May 11, 2008

Number of Visits: 4

Best Item
Hawaiian BBQ Chicken

Special Ratings
Hawaiian BBQ Chicken:
Mahi Mahi:
Kalua Pork:
Chicken Katsu:
Satay Chicken:



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