NO DINER is an island San Jose's Grub Shack offers a fusion of Pacific Rim and Hawaiian cuisines. // Photo by Alex Stover.
In the current trend of South Bay restaurants, there seem to be two working models: high-end, high-tech fusion kitchens that stress bold new flavors and cooking techniques to entertain foodies, and the smaller, authentic corner dives that pleasantly represent the flavors of an ethnically diverse valley.
Downtown San Jose’s brand-new Grub Shack, a most appropriately named restaurant, appears to be handling both models with hearty, tasteful success. Grub Shack had been operating as a catering business the past two years and just recently moved into its brick-and-mortar location near the corner of Santa Clara Avenue and Third Street, where it shares a wall and customer base with Freddie J’s Bar and Lounge.
The restaurant, which is still in its soft opening stages, serves a fusion of Pacific Rim flavors with Hawaiian favorites in mind, emphasizing simple yet hearty dishes.
Previously housing a mediocre cheese-steak shop, Grub Shack’s location has been spruced up by the new owners for a hipper, friendlier environment. The staff takes orders on iPads from across the bar where you can watch the kitchen prepare your meal. Artwork by Orly Locquiao of Humble Beginnings Tattoos and the sounds of Hawaiian riffs complete the Pacific Rim motif.
While experimentation rules as Grub Shack feels out a solid menu, a lineup of house favorites has begun to emerge.
The in-house-marinated Kalua pork appears quite a bit on the menu and is a sure item to try for first-time diners. The moist, tender, sweet pork is served up a number of different ways, from over rice to sliders and even tacos, all with a side of Grub Shack’s tasty chipotle aioli. For $7, the rice plate comes with two scoops of rice, a side of macaroni salad and a hearty portion of the pork.
They also serve the Hawaiian favorite Loco Moco: a hamburger with a fried-egg patty atop a large bed of rice with gravy and macaroni salad.
The Kalua pork tacos ($8) are messy but outrageously delicious: a plate of three tacos filled with crispy, stove-seared Kalua pork, each topped with a fried egg and salty pork cracklings—the breakfast or dinner of champions. The tacos are also accompanied by a spinach and mixed-green salad with cranberries, candied walnuts and goat cheese—a light, tasty and surprising companion to the rich tacos.
My favorite, and Grub Shack’s signature item, are the Kalua pork sliders ($7), which consist of three King’s Hawaiian sweet rolls sandwiching rich Kalua pork and a tasty dollop of the chipotle aioli. The result is a winning combination of sweet, spicy and salty.
If you’re making a visit over from Freddie J’s and have a serious case of the munchies (and possibly a group of friends who can help you devour them), the Kalua pork fries are a must. Just as it sounds, $7 gets you a large dish of French fries topped with a gut-busting portion of pork with sour cream, chipotle sauce and jalapenos to boot.
Another notable dish is Grub Shack’s lumpia, offered in several varieties, each for only a buck. I fell in love with Mama Ana’s lumpia, a tasty fried roll of carrots, peas, corn and other veggies, made by who else but the store’s Grandma Ana.
Other favorites such as Hawaiian poke and Spam musubi are also available, and the final menu is a work in progress—the fun part of a new restaurant.
Currently, Grub Shack is open for lunch from 11am to 2:30pm and again for dinner from 5 to 8:30pm. I would hope that as Grub Shack’s popularity grows, its hours will run later.
Don’t write off Grub Shack as a typical Hawaiian barbecue drive-in. Despite its not being quite ready for its grand opening, I like what Grub Shack has to offer for downtown: a tasty, pleasing menu, large portions and a potential solid spot for eats after a night at the bars.
93 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose