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.