aina San Francisco, California
aina was recommended to us multiple times so we made it a must hit on this trip to San Francisco. This popular brunch spot specializes in Hawaiian cuisine with local ingredients and it is clear SF has embraced it.
No reservations are taken for the brunch service so we knew an early arrival was key. aina opened at 9AM and we got there at 8:45AM to an already long line. We tried to count heads to the number of tables to see if we would make the first seating and it was a close call. As we slowly made our way to the front of line and witnessed the tables filling up, I was worried we would have to wait and it would interrupt our plans for the rest of the day.
Fortunately, we grabbed the last table (it was outside) and with warm beverages in hand, we were fine to sit outside.
Looking at the menu, it became clear the decision on what to get was going to be challenging- I cannot recall a time where I was stuck between more than two options on what to get- everything looked amazing.
Since we did not know what a lot of the traditional Hawaiian terms for the dishes meant, we were Googling images to help us decide and we were even more impressed with what we saw.
We decided to get the a few appetizers to split and then three entree dishes that we were all most excited to try so we didn’t have to miss out on trying anything- the benefits of eating as a group and sharing!
To start, we got an order of the Malasadas (portuguese style doughnuts, coconut sugar, filled with guava custard) and the Spam Musubi (boston bibb lettuce, stone valley farms whole hog spam, kimchi, short grain rice, egg yolk furikake).
We started with the Malasadas and yes, they were every bit as amazing as they sound! Light dough filled with tasty guava custard- I can understand why these are so popular here. And because we adored them so much, we ordered another round of Malasadas to end the meal!
Unable to resist the urge, we had to try the spam dish. While we ordered the spam dish more as a novelty, we were blown away by how flavorful it was prepared. Spam gets a bad rap but not here!
For my entree, I ordered the Chicken Katsu (chicken, rolled omelet, vadouvan carrot purée, udon noodles, aïoli, katsu jelly, grilled seasonal greens).
The chicken was thin and encrusted with flavorful batter that gave a crispy texture. And the sides of the noodles and omelet were equally tasty. I could have easily had an entire dish of just the noodles.
My brother ordered the Kalua Pork Belly (stone valley farms pork belly, slow poached eggs, short grain rice, miso roasted brentwood corn, herb salad, gochujang aioli).
The pork belly just melted in your mouth! I don’t know what it done to make pork belly so amazing every time. This dish also had two poached eggs over rice to complete the meal.
Kevin ordered the Kalbi Loco Moco (slow braised kalbi short rib, smoked honshimeji mushroom jus, sunny side up eggs, heart of palm pico de gallo, cilantro, short grain rice, pea tendrils).
The meat was so tender and rich- everything you want out of short rib. Another accompaniment of two eggs (sunny side up this time) over rice as the side dish. We enjoyed every ounce of food that was put in front of us. Well worth the wait and the accolades that it has received.
It was clear why the demand was so intense- Everything was beyond incredible and easily one of the best brunches we have ever had. As we finished our meal, the line for a seat still ran down the street. We were so happy to have made it here and highly recommend for your dining pleasure!