A night at Bahooka is like having dinner in Davy Jones’ locker. The restaurant’s booths look as if they were constructed from driftwood, while more than one hundred aquariums emanate a mysterious glow. It’s a bit of a hike east from Los Angeles to this part of the San Gabriel Valley, but I love to make it out there whenever the opportunity presents itself.
If you’ve seen the movie “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” then you’re already slightly familiar with this place. In the first several minutes of the film, Johnny Depp as Raoul Duke (Hunter S. Thompson) peels into the parking lot and uses a pay phone inside. (If you ask the staff, they might be able to direct you to Depp’s favorite table.)
Making his silver screen debut in that scene was Rufus, the giant, carrot-eating pacu fish by the check-in stand. He’s 35 years old! Here he is munching on his favorite snack — you can even hear him crunching away if you stand up close. I absolutely adore this guy and I’m certainly not the only one.
Bahooka’s first restaurant, which is no longer around, opened in 1967 in West Covina. This Rosemead location came about nearly a decade later. The name Bahooka supposedly means “shack,” but that’s not a reflection of its size. The restaurant is so large that it’s pretty easy to get lost in the labrynth of seemingly endless aisles.
The décor is flotsam and jetsam at its finest, with huge glass fish floats, several tikis, random street signs, and authentic nautical equipment the owner had picked up at a naval shipyard. I love the hefty anchor chains that go right through the middle of some of the tables.
Try to keep your mutiny conspiring to a minimum, or you and your dining companions might find yourselves eating with the other scurvy dogs in the brig!
Bahooka is known for its ribs, which are pretty good. The rest of the menu features teriyaki chicken (also on the plate above), steak, fish, burgers, sandwiches and lots of fried fare (shrimp, chicken strips, cheese sticks, zucchini, onion rings, etc.).
Crab rangoon is one of my favorite tiki menu staples, but the closest thing they have here are “crab puffs” ($10.75). An order comes with 20 bite-sized pieces and three sauces, though I thought they tasted best on their own.
I’m also partial to another deep-fried delicacy: the stuffed shrimp, which are filled with crab and cheese, then breaded and fried. Luckily there’s the best of both worlds with the $20 combination dinners, such as ribs plus two stuffed shrimp. (You don’t really want to consume more than two in one sitting, but I doubt you’ll get that far since it also comes with soup or salad and a starchy side like fries or baked yam.)
The drinks can be a bit too sweet and seem to disguise the rum rather than complement it. But they’re potent enough to do the job, and who am I to argue with Jonathan Gold? He deemed Bahooka’s Flaming Honey Bowl one of LA’s Best Cocktails, praising its presentation and nostalgia factor.
These sunken treasures are Bahooka’s first signature tiki mugs from Tiki Farm. They’ve since produced two more designs: a nautical style one (now sold out) designed by Book of Tiki author Sven Kirsten and the blue “Rufus” mug by The Pizz that was just released this weekend.
Before you seek out Bahooka on your own ersatz South Sea adventure, take a moment to print out the $5 off coupon from their web site. (Click on the menu link and scroll to the bottom of the page.)
UPDATE 2/15/13: It gives me great sadness to report that Bahooka is closing on March 10, 2013. Read more on Chris Nichols’ Los Angeles magazine post.
Bahooka Family Restaurant
4501 Rosemead Blvd.
Rosemead, CA 91770