Matiki Island Barbeque
Photo by Sasha ContrerasWhether tucked between two bread slices or served alongside rondures of rice and macaroni salad, the beef at Matiki Island Barbeque is among the most memorably delicious piece of cow you'll ever chew: ruddy, soft, not burnt at all, a veritable luau on your palate. The beef sizzles with teriyaki sauce; owner Mel Liufau ladles it on while grilling the beef over an open fire in a communion of heat, meat and condiment. More intoxicating, however, is the beef's smell—so soothing it brings to mind Tom and Jerry cartoons in which a scent transforms into a pair of ghostly arms that entice dazed felines to risk life and tail for a bite.
Matiki's is unusual amongst local Hawaiian eateries, relying solely on its beef and other entrées to attract natives and haoles alike. Island décor is limited to tablecloths and curtains of a retina-searing yellow. There are women bedecked in grass skirts or sarongs, but they're just preteen dancers taking a break from the nearby Nonosina Polynesian Dance Studio. And a big-screen television does occasionally screen some of Nonosina's performances, but you're more likely to see Shaq slamming over a hapless defender here than a Samoan fire dance.
Matiki doesn't have to impress with bric-a-brac. It's got the burger-and-fries of Hawaii, the plate lunch: your choice of meat, two scoops of rice and one scoop of macaroni salad placed inside a Styrofoam container, abundant enough to feed an outrigger canoe crew. You can get a version of the plate lunch with steamed vegetables, but that Matiki beef scent would tempt even Morrissey. Just as satisfying is the grilled chicken, doused with teriyaki sauce like its beef brethren but cut into larger slices and smokier. (Only disappointment at Matiki: no chicken sandwich). Also excellent are nicely charred kalbi ribs indistinguishable from those prepared in Garden Grove's Korean District and manapuas, steamed buns filled with Chinese-style pork chunks so sweet they could hawk 'em at See's.
But no Hawaiian restaurant is worth patronizing unless it serves kalua pig and lau-lau—both Matiki specialties. The kalua pig is served only on Fridays and Saturdays, but its fatty, stringy charm makes the stresses of the other days melt away. The lau-lau, however, is seemingly as appealing as a dip in Mauna Loa. My mother once saw this slab of pork wrapped with black, gooey taro leaves and said it looked like a cow pie. I agreed with a silent nod; my mouth was busy chomping through a third helping of the salty lau-lau, the taro leaves painting my lips black, the melding of pork and taro transforming this ultimate culinary ugly duckling into something fit for gods.
Matiki Island Barbeque, 3070 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 821-5228. GARELLANO@OCWEEKLY.COM
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