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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Happy Hour at Don the Beachcomber, Huntington Beach

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Watching the Ken Burns documentary “Prohibition” got me thinking about the Noble Experiment’s influence on tiki. Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt (a.k.a. Don the Beachcomber) was a part-time bootlegger and opened the first tiki establishment as the bar business was booming after Prohibition ended. Jeff Berry’s fantastic book “Sippin’ Safari” even says one of the reasons Don made his original cocktails with rum was that it was cheap because the rumrunners had so much leftover stock.

Long story short, none of the original Don the Beachcomber restaurants are still around but his name and spirit have been carried on in Huntington Beach for the last two years. (There are also two unrelated DtB restaurants in Hawaii). This one also happens to have an awesome happy hour available in the Dagger Bar Sunday through Thursday from 4 p.m.-7 p.m. and all night on Mondays.

Don’s signature drinks are $3 off ($5 off the Rum Barrel) and there’s also deals on beer and wine but why would you drink that here?! (Unless your name is Mr. Baseball.) A few of our favorites include Don’s Own Mai Tai (above), Lapu Lapu and Hurricane (one of nine cocktails they recently added to the menu).

There’s also a great selection of discounted “happy hour pupus.” The garlic fries ($3) are potent—just how I like ’em—and the coconut shrimp skewers ($8) are good, too.

The spam roll ($5) is a fun novelty, however I don’t see it making it into our regular ordering rotation. But it does make me want to try making my own spam musubi at home.

Hands down the winner of the bunch is the brie quesadilla with kalua pork ($7) topped with chipotle mayo. I think I might have to get this super flavorful dish every time now, though there are still more tempting appetizers I’ve yet to try, like the sticky ribs and ahi poke tacos.

Sadly, I wasn’t as crazy about the pineapple upside down cake ($9). The cake was kind of dry. (That’s not to say we still didn’t clean that plate though.)

Don the Beachcomber also has several signature mugs available for purchase. From left: green Don the Beachcomber “short neck” (they also have it in brown), green & yellow versions of Don the Beachcomber “long neck” designed by Crazy Al, white rum barrel, and coconut mug.

Don the Beachcomber
16278 Pacific Coast Hwy.
Huntington Beach, CA 92649
562-592-1321

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Hand Pulled: The Complete Shag Print Collection

I’ve been a fan of the artist Shag (Josh Agle) for a solid decade now, so I was excited to hear that the Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana was hosting Hand Pulled: The Complete Shag Print Collection.

This retrospective features all the prints Shag has released from 1999-2011, including every serigraph, etching, giclée and off-set print—more than 250 in all.

So much Shag, as far as the eye could see! The bright colors really popped against the simple black frames and white walls.

For me it was a bit of a trip down memory lane as I got to see in person some of the images that first turned me on to Shag, like the Paul Frank partnership “Sylvie and Jules” which dates back to 2000.

The space off to the right housed Shag’s collaborations with Disney. In 2003, he was commissioned to do a series for The Enchanted Tiki Room‘s 40th anniversary and it proved so popular that he’s also produced designs for Disneyland’s 50th anniversary, Haunted Mansion’s 40th anniversary, the Disney Cruise Line and just recently, Disney World’s 40th anniversary.

Some highlights from the exhibit included this promotional poster for Madame Guignol’s Macabre Theatre on the left. So often there’s something sinister lurking in the tableau, but here it takes center stage (literally).

I also loved seeing the details in the Villain Suite, a series of four etchings from 2001. Here we have “Kitty Q” and her cohorts.

Special for this show’s opening, Shag and Harveys produced two styles of seatbelt bags that apparently sold out instantly.

Be sure to browse through the gift shop, because that’s where you’ll find this special piece. Besides being one of Shag’s earliest paintings (his 6th or 7th), “Ray’s Mistake” from 1996 pays tribute to Ray Buhen and his signature drink from the Tiki-Ti. Shag even touched up the originally gold frame to make it look more like bamboo. (You can even buy it if you have a spare sixteen grand.)

These are the last few weeks to catch the exhibit as it ends on August 14. Shag will be making an appearance and signing merchandise at the closing reception on Saturday, August 6 at 6 p.m. The gallery is located in a lovely courtyard in the Arts District, which has an Old Town feel and merits a visit on its own.