Hapa J’s – San Clemente, CA – Home of the Man Fries!

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I first heard about Hapa J’s a few years ago through Tiki Farm. Back when the tiki mug company was still located in San Clemente, they organized a few dinner and drinks nights at the nearby restaurant. I hadn’t been able to make any of those events, but we decided to stop by on a drive back to LA from San Diego.

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Orange County native Justin Shea opened this Hawaiian-inspired spot in 2009 with chef Aaron Lee at the helm. They had met while they were both working at the Moana Surfrider Resort in Waikiki. The restaurant was named in honor of Shea’s son, Jaedon, whose heritage is part Asian/Pacific Islander (a.k.a. “hapa”).

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I was a bit taken aback when I saw this quote from an OC Weekly review printed on the menus: “Absent is Roy Yamaguchi’s corporate polish and Don the Beachcomber’s tiki kitsch — This is a Hawaiian restaurant in the real world.”

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It’s true, this is not a tiki bar. (Of course, I think it would be even better if it were.) Rather, the decor is sleek and simple, though I would have liked to have seen a bit more island flair.

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The best ambience seems to be in the lounge, which is on the left when you enter. I liked the high ceilings, dark purple beams, red lotus lanterns and string lights. I imagine it’s also a nice setting during the day with all the natural light let in by the windows lining the three walls.

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The food is described as a “fusion of Hawaiian, Asian and American cuisine,” with plate lunches, burgers and rice bowls for lunch and some fancier fare like macadamia crusted mahi mahi added at dinner. Most of what our party ordered was from the all-day starters (pupu) section, like the spicy Asian-style chicken wings ($9.75).

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Poke is a point of pride at Hapa J’s as they took home first prize at the 2011 I Love Poke Festival in San Diego. The ahi poke trio comprises three varieties: spicy tobiko, shoyu and sesame. It hit the spot as I’d wanted something light and fresh so I wouldn’t feel so bad about diving into this next dish…

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MAN FRIES! Probably the most notorious thing on the menu, these are the yukari-seasoned Hapa Fries ($6.75 + $6 for Man-style) loaded with cheddar and jack cheese, kalua pork, special wing sauce, ranch, barbecue sauce and green onions. The massive portion size can easily feed four people, but don’t be afraid of bringing home leftovers because they were even more flavorful the next day.

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The kalua pork quesadilla is one of my favorites at Don the Beachcomber, and Hapa J’s version ($11.75) topped with avocado sour cream sauce and chipotle aioli is also really good.

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The bread pudding ($7.75) made with King’s Hawaiian bread and white chocolate sounded and looked delicious. Unfortunately the menu neglected to mention that there’s also macadamia nuts in it, which would be good to know for people who have allergies. (Like me!)

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There are a few tiki-ish drinks among the cocktail options. While it may have a tough-sounding name, the Gravedigger is actually a sweet, rainbow-colored concoction of coconut rum, melon liqueur and pineapple juice, topped with Stroh 80 rum. The Rossy Boy Mai Tai tastes like a Hawaiian-style version; purists can request the off-menu “Old-School” Mai Tai which more closely resembles what Trader Vic intended.

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Happy hour is Wed.-Sun. from 3 p.m.-6:30 p.m. with $2 off pupus (which include nearly all the dishes above), $3 drafts and $6 Mai Tais. There are also various specials throughout the week, such as Taco Tuesdays (with homemade corn tortillas) and Aloha Fridays ($3 Primo drafts all day and a Luau Plate with lomi salmon, huli huli chicken, haupia and more for $20).

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With so many real tiki bars in Southern California deserving of business, it’s hard for me to put Hapa J’s too high on my return visit list. On the other hand, those Man Fries are quite the temptation…

Hapa J’s
2016 S. El Camino Real
San Clemente, CA 92673
949-276-6657

Related Posts:
Reviews of Tiki Bars in San Diego, CA
Happy Hour at Don the Beachcomber
Reviews of Tiki Bars in Orange County, CA

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The Mother Lode of Mai Tai Mix

Tiki Chick reader and all-around-cool-dude Mark contacted me a week or so with an intriguing offer. His father—a longtime regular of Trader Vic’s—was moving out of his house and they had a small stockpile of cocktail mixes to unload. They happened to be right in my neighborhood so I headed over and hauled off more than a dozen bottles of mai tai mix, orgeat and rock candy syrup (oh my!).

He also very generously sent me on my way with this fogcutter mug. Over the years,  Trader Vic’s has produced several versions of this mug, and you can get a glimpse of their most recent ones here.

Thus far all the tiki mugs I’ve amassed have been modern specimens (remember now, I’m a newbie!), so it’s neat to have one that’s practically as old as I am. Thanks again, Mark! Now I just need to go out and get some good rum…

Tiki & Baseball at Wrigley Field

Wrigley Field marquee

One of the big things Mr. Baseball and I planned for our Chicago trip was a Cubs home game—my first! Much to my Southside-born-and-raised family’s chagrin, I had a wonderful time. I know most people love the brick and the ivy, but I was enamored with the marquee…

Dixieland band in front of Wrigley

And the brass band playing Dixieland music. There was even a banjo player!

The manual scoreboard

Mr. Baseball took me around Wrigleyville for a bit beforehand. We went to the batting cages above Sluggers and drank some Goose Island’s 312. I figured that and Bud/Old Style at the park would be the extent of the day’s beverage selection.

Wha?!

I went to the concession stand to pick up some classic snacks like Cracker Jack (it was invented in this town!) and a hot dog, and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I scanned the board. They serve Mai Tais here?!

Mai Tai at Wrigley Field

So, of course, how could I not get one, right? And there’s a baseball embossed on the souvenir cup, to boot. (It’s laughable that it’s billed as “The Original World Famous Mai Tai.” I think Trader Vic would have something to say about that…) The Mai Tai was made with Fresh Island mix—pretty tart and not that great, but I suppose it was worth it for the sheer novelty.

Outside Wrigley Field

I was so tickled to find another serendipitous convergence of baseball and tiki. Even better, the Cubs beat the Brewers so we got to sing the “Go, Cubs, Go” victory song by Steve Goodman. Good times.