Everett eatery serves up taste of Hawaii with a Northwest flair


hula dancer

EVERETT -- The men's vibrating voices wash over the Friday-night crowd like a warm wave. Barefoot women with hibiscus tucked behind an ear do a slow hula to the music, hips and hands describing the rhythms of the sea.

"You have to watch the hands. You watch the hips -- you get in trouble!" jokes Butch Calivo, a regular at Bobby's Hawaiian Style Restaurant, where diners sample raw octopus, poi and that most delectable of Hawaiian mystery meats -- Spam -- chased with a Bud Lite.

Outside, the rain may be dropping in cow plops on sidewalks, but inside Bobby's, it feels as if the sun is coming out, the air is turning lush with tropical perfume, and the spinner dolphins are beckoning beachgoers to come out and play.

The restaurant, in downtown Everett, is a favorite of Hawaiian locals and haoles who want a taste of the islands without the expense of an airplane ticket. The music, dance and food are all genuine Hawaiian, and the atmosphere feels like one big down-home family picnic, with kids and moms, and occasionally dads, joining in on the hula, and musician friends taking turns on stage, with ukuleles and guitars.

"One-two-three tap! Keep your back straight!" a silky dancer with long black hair advises hula newbies learning the "Hukilau," a Hawaiian fishing song.

In minutes, the hula instructor has customers circling their hips and pulling in big nets teeming with imaginary fish.

Owners Diana and Bobby Nakihei opened the restaurant three years ago. Their emphasis is on simple cooking and good times. "It's not stressful food -- it's easy," says Bobby, a mellow mountain of a man who was born on the island of Molokai, and went to culinary school in Honolulu.

The menu is inexpensive and unpretentious. Drinks are pop, beer, hard lemonade, wine -- no hard liquor. The dozen-plus dishes, served with scoops of rice and macaroni salad, include oven-roasted Kalua pork, Kalbi ribs, aku pok'e (raw tuna) and Hawaiian barbecue. "I like the barbecue sauce sweet," says Bobby, who cooks it up by taste, not measurements.

One of his specialties is laulau pork, made daily by wrapping chopped pork in a taro leaf and steaming for a couple of hours. He seasons the tender dish with Hawaiian salt. "People always say, 'Hey, man, what kind of seasoning did you put on that?' I say, 'Sorry, can't tell you. It's secret.' "

Poi, flown in fresh from Honolulu, is a staple on the menu, as is that canned meat that inspired the famous Monty Python skit: "Spam Spam Spam Spam. Lovely Spam! Wonderful Spam!"

Customers can order it in a simple scramble with eggs, or as Spam musubi -- rice covered with Spam and seaweed. "Some people smile when they see it on the menu and crack jokes," says Diana. "Then they eat it, and they say, 'Hey -- that's good!' "

Bobby and Diana, who live in Lake Stevens, grew up eating Spam, as did many of the locals who gather at the restaurant. The native customer base is sizable. The Puget Sound area has one of the highest concentrations of Hawaiians outside Honolulu.

The region's beauty, climate and mountains are a draw. But the biggest hook, according to Bobby, is the economy. "Here, people can own their own place," he says. "If you talk to most of the local people, they'll tell you they can never, in their wildest dreams, buy their own home in Hawaii."

The Nakiheis have decorated their long, narrow brick room with faux palm trees and tropical flowers, vivid paintings and photos of koi, papaya trees, outriggers, long sandy beaches and other island pleasures. Over the stage is a rainbow, painted in Crayola-bright colors. A tiny shop sells Hawaiian dolls, tapa cloth goods, crack seeds, Hawaiian CDs and heavenly chocolate chip/coconut cookies made by Kauai Desserts in Seattle. Bulletin boards announce Hawaiian community events and classes in hula, ukulele and Hawaiian language, held downstairs at Bobby's.

Diana and Bobby started live entertainment at the restaurant when they first opened in May 2000. The music and dancing run 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Entertainment's free and open to all ages, but the little place, just across the street from the future Everett Special Events Center, packs up fast. (They're planning to expand this year with a restaurant in the Great Wall Shopping Mall in Kent.)

Diana recommends reservations. The wait for walk-ins can be up to an hour, and is growing as word of mouth spreads on the hang-loose island jams.

It's worth the wait. The sweet tunes, smooth moves and happy-talk ambiance are the perfect antidote to a long week of Type-A mainland mania.

You can see it in the closed eyes, half-smiles and soft faces of transported customers. They could be in Everett. They could be on Kauai.

Like the locals say -- "No worries, man."


Bobby's Hawaiian Style Restaurant is at 1011 Hewitt Ave W. in Everett. Music and dancing 6:30-9:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. 425-259-1338

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