Word of Mouth: Anchorage’s favorite Hawaiian joint

In Hawaii, hearing someone mention “‘ono grinds” is music to the ears of a local as it probably means some good eats are nearby. “‘Ono” means delicious and “grinds” means food in Hawaiian slang.

With two locations on Fireweed Lane and Mountain View Drive, Hula Hands is dishing out delicious Hawaiian barbecue that won’t force you to rack up frequent flyer miles.

Opened by Hawaii native, Bill Hoopai, Hula Hands provides an authentic, island experience to the patrons of West Anchorage and Mountain View: two of the more diverse parts of town. However, Hula Hands has become a favorite of Anchorage residents regardless of cultural background.

Good food is a universal language that people of all cultures understand, and Hula Hands is extremely fluent.

While the location on Mountain View Drive is the original location, the one I frequent nearly twice a week is the location on Fireweed Lane; both locations are, for all intents and purposes, the same on the outside and inside.

On the outside, Hula Hands on Fireweed Lane is humble, quaint and unapologetically itself, a characteristic most buildings on this side of town seem to have.

The inside has its charm as well. Soft, island music tickles the ears upon entry as the commanding smell of grilling meat penetrates the nose.

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Words do not do Hula Hands justice when describing the atmosphere; everything from the back door being open to let out smoke from the grill, to the bathroom signs with surfer dudes and hula gals, to the “Whatchu’ wan’ order?” I am greeted with warmly upon settling in. All of it feels like home.

Hula Hands isn’t fancy. It isn’t meant to be. But Hula Hands’ cultural nuances are as rich as they come.

Hula Hands’ menu features several island favorites: spam musubi (spam over rice wrapped in seaweed), saimin (noodle soup) and loco moco (fried eggs, gravy and a hamburger patty over rice). All of these options are absolutely delicious — I have had them all. However, Hula Hands’ plate-lunch menu is the real prize here.

Being a Hawaiian barbecue restaurant, Hula Hands features several items that one could find at a luau as options for their plate-lunches.

On the plate-lunch menu, Hula Hands offers different combos: iki (mini), waena (regular), nui (super), nuunui (mega) and halala (super mega). With each combo size, you are given the choice to choose from a list of entrees featuring the likes of kalua pig, pulehu chicken and more. Each combo is served with varying amounts of scoops of rice and their famous macaroni salad.

The iki ($10.25) and waena ($12.50) combos are easily the most popular choices here as the portion sizes are already very generous.

Kalua pig, steamed rice and grilled pulehu chicken thighs — the ultimate Hawaiian plate-lunch!
Kalua pig, steamed rice and grilled pulehu chicken thighs — the ultimate Hawaiian plate-lunch!

Here are some of my favorite entree items that are available to choose from:

Pulehu chicken: grilled, marinated chicken thighs. The marinade is sweet, similar to teriyaki, but more savory. They are grilled to perfection as, oftentimes, each piece will have charred bits that add to the taste of the already juicy, umami chicken thighs. These are easily my favorite item.

  • Kalua pig: a luau staple. At Hula Hands, they roast their kalua pig portions in-house. Kalua pig is similar to pulled pork except it is packed with deep, smoky flavor, while retaining all of the juiciness from the pork fat that has rendered out during the cooking process. This is a must-try for newcomers to Hawaiian cuisine.
  • Chicken katsu: A Japanese favorite turned Hawaiian favorite; they are deep-fried chicken cutlets breaded in panko breadcrumbs. The panko breadcrumbs are light, so they offer a crispy bite that works perfectly in tandem with the juicy cutlet inside. Accompanied with the katsu is katsu sauce: a Japanese sauce that is delightfully tangy, the perfect compliment to cut through the deep-fried chicken.
  • Teriyaki beef: the name is self-explanatory! These are grilled strips of beef that have been marinated in a sweet, savory teriyaki sauce.

For those who would like to see the rest of their menu, it is available on their website.

The staff at Hula Hands are delightful as well. Whether you are a regular or first-timer, all patrons at Hula Hands are treated like family.

I have introduced many of my friends to Hula Hands, perhaps since I love it so much that I take personal pride in the restaurant. There has not been a single instance where one of those friends did not rank Hula Hands on their list of favorite, local restaurants.

Hula Hands’ food is simple to its core; it plays on the primal, human instinct to consume delicious, mouthwatering food as it is served it to you on a plastic plate beside a bed of rice.

Whether one chooses the location on Fireweed Lane or Mountain View Drive, Hula Hands provides an atmosphere whose comfort is only matched by its food.