Spam musubi—a bastardized form of sushi consisting of seaweed paper, a block of sour sushi rice and a juicy Spam slice doused with barbecue sauce—is probably the only appetizer in Orange County that can shatter a car window. At the sparse, clean Mahina Hawaiian BBQ in Garden Grove, the Spam musubi is about the size of a chalkboard eraser and four times as heavy. It's a dense, sweet-sour-spicy-smoky monument best eaten in nibbles—actually, it's the only way, lest you feel logy the rest of the week.
The first flavor from the spam musabi to salute your mouth is the seaweed paper: toasted, bitter, even tarry. It offers little resistance: your teeth cut through it quickly—and into the distinct sweetness of the soft rice cube and the Spam, a salty, gamy slice of the canned classic. Thick barbecue sauce smeared in the crevice between the rice and Spam spurts across your mouth; it provides another wrinkle of sweetness and earthiness to the already rustic Spam. A sip afterward of any of Mahina's Hawaiian Sun fruit punch drinks washes down the Spam musubi with a sugary, apt cadenza. The interplay between the Spam musubi's ingredients is quite intricate, but the sheer bulk of the Spam musubi barrels over any nuance. You can go leaner with the barbecue chicken musubi, but that's like substituting lard for grease on your hamburger.
Mahina serves an array of delicious standards: shredded kalua pork so thin it looks like fabric; teriyaki beef and chicken grilled to succulent zeniths; breaded shrimp, pork and chicken platters that crumble in your mouth like a rain of soft butter; bowls of steaming, succulent, soy sauce-slathered meat. There is loco moco, a mound of fried rice and hamburger steak topped with two over-easy eggs and drowned in gravy. The slightly peppery chicken curry is an antidote for the fall gloom. And all meals arrive with two scoops of rice, one of macaroni salad and sumptuous steamed cabbage leaves per the Hawaiian plate lunch tradition.
But it's the Spam musubi—the supreme example of the island's mishmash diet of indigenous, Japanese and postwar Americana cuisine—that will never leave your mind. Or, perhaps, your intestine.
MAHINA HAWAIIAN BBQ, 12546 VALLEY VIEW ST., GARDEN GROVE, (714) 890-0198.