Kalua pig with macaroni salad at Onomea, a Hawaiian restaurant in Brooklyn
“Aloha!” chirps the answering machine at Onomea, a seductive new Hawaiian eatery in Williamsburg. The greeting might conjure grass skirts and luaus.
But Onomea is a different Hawaii: The vibe is Jack Johnson surfer-cool, not Don Ho kitsch.
Spam musubi features the canned meat that is a staple in Hawaii.
The menu’s equally hip, with respect paid to the culinary traditions of owner Crystalyn Costa’s home state. Spam musubi ($ 5) — yes, it’s made with canned lunchmeat — might seem Bushwick-ironic. But in reality, “everyone in Hawaii” eats the rectangular faux-sushi rolls, Costa says. Our skepticism crumbled after one bite: The soft, subtle pairing of mild meat and zingy rice works beautifully.
So does ahi poke ($ 15), Hawaii’s spin on sashimi. Shaped into a pretty ruby-colored disk, chunks of yellowtail tuna soak up their marinade of green onions, chili peppers, sea salt, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Costa, who also serves customers, had given us chopsticks; we wished for a spoon to slurp up the tangy residue.
Mural of Hawaiian islands on the wall at Onomea
Main courses sound intimidating, such as the inelegantly named Kalua Pig ($ 15). But the smoky slow-cooked pork paired with shredded cabbage was downright dreamy, especially when you add the superb egg-fried rice ($ 1.50), an upgrade you can substitute for white. A scoop of slightly peppery macaroni salad rounds out the dish; the combo’s called a plate lunch in Hawaii, Costa explains. Most mains come with the lightly mayonnaised mac, and it’s worth a visit just to get some.
Slightly less successful, Shoyu chicken ($ 13) presents two fat drumsticks sweetened with a Hawaiian version of teriyaki sauce. Dry meat mars the dish, though the honeyed skin makes a decadent partner for rich vegetable-fried rice ($ 1.50).
Shoyu chicken at Onomea
Whatever else you order, don’t skip Onomea’s haupia ($ 5). A kind of coconut flan, it’s firm, light, just sweet enough, and covered in chewy coconut shavings. An edible cloud, it even eclipses a rich Tahitian vanilla gelato ($ 5).
As if Costa hadn’t charmed us enough, she ground and brewed a strong coffee ($ 5) from Kona beans from Hawaii — a rare treat.
Tuna poke, a reimagining of a Hawaii traditional dish, at Onomea
Onomea, she explained as we were leaving, means “the best place” in Hawaiian. Even if this wasn’t the only Hawaiian joint in the city, she might actually be right.
IN SHORT: Here’s Spam you’ll actually want: New York’s only Hawaiian restaurant puts a hip spin on traditional recipes from owner Crystalyn Costa’s home state.
DON’T MISS: Spam musubi ($ 5), Ahi poke ($ 13), Kalua Pig ($ 15), Haupia ($ 5)
PASS ON: Don’t pass on anything here — it’s all made with heart, and worth discovering.
SUGGESTION: Grab the sole window table for a picture-perfect view of Havemeyer St. — and unparalleled Williamsburg people-watching.