āina graduated last year from a Bernal Heights brunch pop-up to a permanent brunch and dinner restaurant in Dogpatch. Their contemporary take on Hawaiian dishes (and Japanese, Chinese, and Korean influences), is creative and they make a generous amount of specialty ingredients in house.
We started with their take on spam musubi. Instead of tightly wrapping nori around a spam topped pad of rice, their musubi is served as a lettuce wrap, ssam style, with a house-made grilled “spam”, a length of rice, and lots of seasonings. The spam is a powerhouse of umami, juicy, and smokey. I liked the crunch of lettuce as an alternate to the traditional seaweed, and that they kept the flavor of seaweed in the form of afurikake seasoning. It costs $4.95 and was large enough to split as an appetizer, but I will want my own next time.
The Portuguese Sausage Hash, which came with fried eggs and rice, was great. They did a good job frying the brussels sprouts-- some bright green spots in the center, and crisp on the outside without too strong a carbonized brassica taste.
Their malasadas were a fantastic rendition of portuguese doughnuts and had a potent guava custard inside. Two of the three had a thin crisp outer layer around the expected cushiony layer-- I’m curious if that was intentional, either way great.
Do they have a haute loco moco on the menu?
Their kalbi loco moco is quite good-- short ribs, eggs, and gravy doesn’t fall too far from the tree. And unlike disappointing local takes on poutine I’ve had, it’s competitive with high and low end versions of the source material.
I’m curious to hear what people think about their dinner menu. Lots of interesting looking stuff, more so than some of the contemporary Hawaiian restaurants I ate at last year in Kauai and Maui, which didn’t use interesting ingredients I saw at farmers markets and were much more expensive.
I had dinner there on the 17th and was impressed. Service was very slow to get drinks to the table and to take our order. It was a good 20+ minutes before we ordered. I was antsy to order, but then realized I wasn’t in a hurry and chilled out.
We split the spam bao, lomi arctic char, charred octopus luau, shoyu cured beef short rib, on okinawan sweet potato focaccia, the cauliflower with forbidden rice and shiso verde from the binchotan section, and then ordered the Kiawe Wood Smoked Heritage Berkshire Pork, which is smoked pieces of a thick chop, with one piece on the bone.
Everything was delicious, colorful, with interesting textures and flavors, and beautifully plated. I normally would not order a smokey pork entree to finish, but I would go back just for that dish. The pieces were about the size of ribs, and were juicy and tender with a a light smoke flavor. I don’t like overly smokey dishes, and this one won me over.
They were out of the char sui pork ribs and poke when we were there.
I went for brunch the other day. We arrived at about 10 AM on Sunday, and they said that it would be about a 1.5 to 2 hour wait for a party of 4 people. They don’t take any phone numbers, so you have to be there when they call your name. This was a downside, but we knew we had at least an hour, so we headed to get a snack at Neighbor Bakehouse. Got coffee here as well.
We were back at the restaurant around 10:50 AM, and then we ended up getting seated at about 11:15.
Malasadas were very good, probably my favorite thing. Interesting to eat these just after the passion-fruit custard filled pastry from Neighbor Bakehouse, since style of the filling was similar. I think the filling at Neighbor Bakehouse was slightly better in terms of texture and brightness of flavor, though it was a different type of fruit. The malasadas had uneven amounts of guava filling — two of them had only a touch, while the third had lots of filling oozing out. This one was the best.
The taro french toast was my favorite dish. Not overly sweet, nice presentation, and a good flavor combo with the bacon that comes with it. Loco moco was a bit heavy but also pretty good. Two other dishes (eggs w/ mushrooms and Chinese sausage, and then a hash w/ chorizo) were both fine but sort of boring. However, the mushroom dish had some purple taro or potato w/ lots of garlic on the side, which was quite delicious. Eggs were cooked perfectly in all dishes.
I probably saw you in line, waiting in the rain (!) as I headed over to a lovely brunch at Piccino. I would love to try 'aina, but I just can’t with the lines.
Aloha! Thank you for your review and we are happy to hear you enjoyed Brunching with us!
I’m one of the owners at Aina (husband is chef Jordan) and we always look out for honest and constructive feedback.
I know wait times can be long on weekends - if possible, do come on Wed or Thurs for much shorter or no waits! We also recently introduced outdoor seating to help cut down on wait times a bit. Hope to have you back in soon to try dinner
Hi, I’m one of the owners of Aina - We would love to have you brunch with us, please come on Wed or Thurs if at all possible to avoid lines!
Went here for brunch on a Friday at around 2pm. Still pretty busy (they close at 2:30) but was able to be seated right away. I had the malasadas and the kalua pork belly.
The malasadas ($7) were delicious. Fresh, nicely fried and coated with “coconut sugar”. Interesting green colored guava custard filling. I think there may have been some matcha in it? Would explain the green color.
The kalua pork belly ($19) was also good. From the description on the menu: stone valley farms pork belly, slow poached eggs, short grain rice, miso roasted brentwood corn, herb salad, gochujang aioli. I believe the eggs were cooked with a sous vide circulator - the whites had that runny consistency and the yolk was kind of gel like. I think I prefer the egg whites a little more solid when it’s over rice though. They were sprinkled with what looked like furikake. The rice itself was shaped into two triangular mounds. Good vegetable mix. The piece of kalua pork belly was very good. Also may have been cooked sous vide. Very tender and flavorful with melting fat.
kalua pork belly:
Had an early dinner here recently.
Charred Octopus Luau. The octopus was slightly chewy, and came with tiny potatoes and coconut dips plus curry-roasted almond. It was decent. The meshed kale cream underneath the octopus was highly savory, but also very salty.
Kalbi Braised Short Rib. The fall-off-the-bone-tender ribs came with a slightly smoky sweet sauce with notes of chipotle. The dish came also had sour fermented cabbage and puffed black rice. Overall, a nice dish.
Overall I thought the meal was decent. But I also think I didn’t quite get the Polynesian flavours.