By Ashley Bennett
Other than the likes of L&L and Ono Hawaiian BBQ, the IE has little to no Hawaiian influence when it comes to food. It probably has something to do with the fact that it’s difficult to define and even more difficult to make genuine here in the mainland. Preston Kealoha is experienced in the restaurant business, having previously worked at various restaurants in Hawaii. After moving back and forth between managing restaurants in California and Hawaii he found himself working at Honolulu Harry’s which has now transformed into Kealoha’s Taste of the Islands.
There’s a nice warm finish inside that distracts you from the fact that you sadly cannot be on vacation right now but at least you’ve forgotten that the 60 freeway is right around the corner. Of course Hawaiian restaurants always have a leg up on the competition when it comes to decoration. Kealoha’s could have ended up like the others, sporting cheesy leis and other stereotypical décor, but they takes the nicer route mainly utilizing Hawaiian flora. Thankfully, they don’t overdo it. Kealoha’s looks to immerse you into a Hawaiian inspired atmosphere not just with decoration, but through music, too. The restaurant is split into two seating areas, one with live music and one without. In the live section, a variety of live music performs depending on the night. Wednesday night, which is also Ladies night, featured a talented calypso drummer playing a few familiar tunes.
You can’t come here and not have some sort of specialty drink. For teetotalers, try the Berry Freeze Pleeze smoothie. It’s a refreshing concoction that’s perfect for any hot day in the IE (and you know those days are just around the corner). As for alcohol, many surrounding diners were taking a sip from the renowned Mai Tai drink in a tiki head. From the moment you walked into the door, you’re on vacation. Live a little.
Nothing will compliment that sweet drink than an order of the Coconut Shrimp. There’s plenty of food to be had with the healthy addition of vegetables, a ball of white rice and an ample supply of freshly breaded prawns, each shrimp delightfully crispy. At any other spot this dish might not seem so spectacular but what really made it unique wasn’t the amount of food or standalone taste; it was the inclusion of a sauce so sweet that I couldn’t imagine the shrimp without it: a pineapple plum sauce. You’ll receive a cup full of this extremely sweet and light sauce ready to transform your dish into shrimp candy.
Sweet isn’t for everyone though. Instead, try the opposite of pineapples and plums with the spice of Kealoha’s Revenge. Its presentation was so right; a mini-volcano of jasmine rice covering most of the plate and surrounded by grilled onions, celery, carrots and a mess of grilled shrimp (or beef or chicken if you choose). Right in the middle of the top portion of the rice volcano was a small dried pepper symbolizing ominous hot lava ready to burn your taste buds. The shrimp soaked up every bit of that fiery sauce, leaving every bite with a lingering pungent spice. No matter how much I knew it would result in an inextinguishable fire, I kept on eating. The only thing that can save you from this spicy meal are the “trees” at the “volcano’s” base in the form of cucumbers slices to help cool your mouth off.
After enjoying a successful meal (one I couldn’t fully finish), I felt ready to tackle dessert. Nothing could have prepared me for the massive amount of ice cream offered as The Kilauea Volcano. A massive cone of pineapple ice cream was covered in hardened, frozen chocolate and topped with bright red raspberry sauce and hot fudge. Once the frozen chocolate exterior begins to soften you can indulge in one hell of a dessert.
We’ve got everything from sushi to gourmet pizza and ever modern dish in between, but the Hawaiian look and feel is something we’ve been missing here. Kealoha’s has a lot of ambition and is guaranteed to impress so don’t let the disappointment of not seeing a Hawaiian vacation on your horizon get you down because the tastes of the islands are at your disposal at Kealoha’s.
Kealoha’s Taste of the Islands & Mai Tai Lounge, 12206 Central Ave., Chino, (909) 590-0604; www.kealohas.com. Mon-Wed, 11aM-12am. Thurs-Sat, 11am-1am. Sun, 11am-10pm. AE, D, MC, V.