Bahooka Ribs & Grog – Rosemead, CA

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.).

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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
626-285-1241

Bahooka on Urbanspoon

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Tiki at the LA County Fair: Part Three

It’s that time of year again: The Fair! (Actually, it’s the end of that time of year because it’s done on Sunday.) This marks the third installment (see part one & part two) of my annual ode to the LA County Fair.

Where else will us city folks get to see an adorable pile of piggies?

And get our daily servings of fruits and vegetables (in fried form?) That’s deep-fried zucchini strings, mushrooms, artichoke hearts and avocados here.

Or watch strapping young lumberjacks compete head to head? Maybe I need to start tuning in to timber sports on ESPN…

And then there’s always the tiki sightings! Like this snazzy fellow propped up to help sell (what else?) jacuzzis and barbecues.

New for this year was an “official” tiki lounge behind the Longboard Bar at the racetrack. However it was only for concert ticketholders so I wasn’t able to verify if there were any actual tikis in there.

And just like last year, we actually stumbled upon yet another tiki cake in the arts & crafts building. I love the sugar sand! Good times all around.

Trader Vic’s – Scottsdale, AZ

Last month Mr. Hockey morphed back into Mr. Baseball when he went to Cubs fantasy camp at their spring training grounds in Mesa, AZ. I flew out there to cheer him on…and drag him (and various other members of our families) to a couple tiki spots, like Trader Vic’s in neighboring Scottsdale.

When we first walked in, I was impressed by the huge Japanese fish floats hanging over the reservation stand. (Or as Mr. Baseball might so eloquently put it: Nice balls!)

According to my trusty Tiki Road Trip guide, this branch opened at the Hotel Valley Ho in 2006. The previous Trader Vic’s in Scottsdale operated for almost 40 years (1962-1990) before shuttering.

There are some traditional design elements, like tall tiki columns, tribal masks, and a glass-enclosed Chinese oven, but it also feels very modern with the floor-to-ceiling windows and industrial touches like exposed ducts and cement.

One nitpicky detail I noticed was the shade of the Maori candleholders on the tables was a lot lighter compared to the one I picked up at the Trader Vic’s warehouse sale.

We headed to the bar and took a couple low-slung seats around a drum-inspired table. We were still able to enjoy the perpetually fair weather, though, because the lounge area opens up to the outdoors where there’s a fountain and swank fire pit

At Trader Vic’s Scottsdale, there’s double happy hour: Monday through Saturday from 4 p.m.-6 p.m. and 9 p.m.-11 p.m., and all day on Sundays starting at 4 p.m. Bar bites are $5, beers $3, glasses of wine and six classic Vic’s cocktails (Mai Tai, Bahia, Zombie, etc.) are $6.

The food and drink menus seem to be pretty standard across most Trader Vic’s. However, each of them has a different signature drink. The Cactus Bloom was a bubblegum pink concoction made with tequila, Pisco brandy, lemoncello, fruit juices and prickly pear syrup. My companions opted for the Gun Club Punch and Zombie (middle & right).

Also unique to this location were the happy hour offerings. Unfortunately I wasn’t a big fan of the Char Siu Bao: two giant snowball-sized steamed buns with barbecue pork, chili-garlic sauce and pickled daikon. The shredded meat inside was kind of dry, and there wasn’t enough sauce to overcome it.

I kept stealing bites of what Mr. Baseball ordered: the Chinese Oven Roasted Maui Burger with sweet potato fries. The Hawaiian flatbread (more like ciabatta) and sambal cream cheese were a very tasty twist. I noticed a lot of people ordering it. And of all the $5 “tidbits” available, I think it gives you the most bang for your buck.

It may not be the most tiki of all Trader Vic’s, but I thought the Scottsdale location still had a lot of style. The hosts and servers were super nice, and big bonus points for having such a great weekend happy hour.

Trader Vic’s Scottsdale
Hotel Valley Ho
6850 E. Main St.
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
480-248-2000

(UPDATE: Trader Vic’s Scottsdale closed July 30, 2011)

Trader Vic's on Urbanspoon