Kana Girl's Hawai'ian BBQ 

My first introduction to Hawaiian cuisine came in my freshman dorm via a hot plate upon which one of my dear friends was frying slabs of Spam before flopping them on a bed of sticky white rice.

I was a bit skeptical of the canned meat, but she assured me it was daily fare among Hawaiians. While I still can't quite stomach the idea of Spam, I've learned to appreciate the distinct flavors of Hawaiian food, born from a mix of cultures and history that can only be found on the islands. Look closely and you'll find bits of Polynesia, Asia and middle America all thrown into a blender and set on frappe. The results are creations that are at once exotic and comfortingly familiar.

Even as universal as Hawaiian food can feel, it's still a surprise to find it in an off-the-beaten path strip mall in Meridian.

On a recent weekday afternoon, Kana Girl's Hawai'ian BBQ was packed with diners scarfing down huli huli chicken, mixed plates, chicken katsu and teriyaki chicken, all alongside the requisite sticky rice and mac salad (the staples of every Hawaiian meal).

The small space is light and airy, with little mementoes of the islands everywhere you look: from the decades-old Hawaiian newspapers framed on the wall and surfboards in the window to the "Proud to be Hawaiian" bumper sticker and array of Hawaiian travel and cultural books on the front counter.

Kana Girl herself took our order, her friendly, laid-back style proving that you don't have to be on an island to have an island mindset. The menu is surprisingly extensive, offering an impressive list of Hawaiian comfort foods including Spam musubi and ahi poke. Even more surprising was the page-long vegetarian menu next to the almost equally long gluten-free menu.

My favorite dining companion went with the beef and broccoli plate ($6.95), which despite the name, is a very different dish than the Chinese standard. This one uses a simple brown gravy, and even though some of the beef was a bit grisly, it was a satisfying accompaniment to the generous heaps of rice. The mac salad was the hit of the plate though, its slightly sweet heartiness making us forget about calories.

I went for one of my favorite dishes, the kalua pig--slow-cooked smoked pork so tender you almost don't have to chew. I opted to have it on a sandwich ($6.95), largely for the chance to try the handcut taro fries. Granted, at first the word "taro" made me flash to the bitter nastiness that is poi. But I'm glad I took the chance because the meaty strips of deep-fried taro were earthy with just a touch of sweetness.

I finished the meal with a real treat--manapua ($2.95). The brilliant red char siu pork that filled the sweet bun was so hot, steam came billowing out with each forkful. The creation was classic Hawaiian.

The only thing I could have wished for was to walk out onto sand-strewn sidewalk in a lazy island town. A Meridian strip mall may not have the same vibe, but it's a hell of a lot closer with Kana Girl's.

­--Deanna Darr loves ... you know, da kine.

Boise Weekly sends two reviewers to every restaurant we review. Read what our other reviewer had to say about Kana Girl's Hawai'ian BBQ.

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