Aloha! Not many small towns have a Hawaiian restaurant, but it’s just par for the course in San Carlos. This instantiation of our cuisine diversity is Noelani’s Island Grill, located on Laurel Street just north of Brittan Avenue. Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday as well as Sunday brunch, Noelani’s is a trip to the islands with great tasting food in a casual, fun atmosphere. The restaurant has a few distinct spaces — an outside lounge area (with a few tables) in the front, an outside deck in the back, a bar area inside (with a bar on one side along with high top tables), and a small main dining area. They get a lunch crowd, but normally there isn’t a problem walking in during the day, however reservations are recommended for evenings, especially Friday and Saturday nights. They also feature live island music Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights.
Their pupus (appetizers) include one of our favorite and most decadent ahi poke dishes, the Kaka’ako Nachos, but they also allow you to get your poke fix a few other ways (in spicy, shoyu, or salmon varieties). Other great appetizers include the Shaka chicken and Hawaiian short ribs, but if you really want to pretend you’re in Hawaii, go for the unofficial state delicacy of Spam either in a slider or as Spam Musubi. They also have a series of bowls that include ahi poke, Thai noodle salad, kalua pig, teriyaki chicken, and other meats. They offer plate lunches (true to Hawaii, including rice and potato/macaroni salad) of chicken, short ribs, pig, skirt steak, or garlic prawns (which are not peeled so they take a little effort to eat). They have a few other main dishes which include the traditional such as fish tacos or loco moco (hamburger patty with gravy and egg over rice — one of my favorites!) and fusion style dishes such as Miso Yaki Salmon or Kalua Pig Quesadilla (one of their most popular).
Customers also gravitate to their side dishes, which include different types of fries, the potato/mac salad, and of course rice. The Hurricane Fries seems to be particularly popular, which are french fries tossed in Sriracha, Wasabi Aioli, and Unagi Sauce (the same sauce used on the nachos and also available to order on the side — I recommend adding this to any dish you get!). They also have a few very rich desserts, but we almost never have room for them!
Noelani’s has an extensive drink menu (with Happy Hour every Tuesday-Saturday 3pm-6pm – $2 off drinks), including a small selection of wines and a decent list of draft and bottled beers. But you’re probably coming here for the nice selection of tropical mixed drinks, including the Mai Tai, Lava Flow, Blue Hawaiian, Loco Nut, and many others.
We have also been there for brunch, when they have a limited but very tasty selection, including egg dishes, breakfast musubi, and a few reasonably decadent choices such as banana macadamia pancakes and lilikoi (passionfruit) cream cheese stuffed french toast.
This is one of our favorite restaurants in the city, and a place we go at least as often as anywhere else. Having visited Hawaii about a dozen or so times, we’re drawn to the food and the fun at Noelani’s. If we had any constructive criticism, we would like to see more — specifically more fish dishes that you see in the islands such as Mahi Mahi, Ono, or Opakapaka prepared with traditional tropical flavors. And, although it’s the dish people love to hate, it would fun to see some poi as well. But, nonetheless, we always leave Noelani’s full and happy!
Mahalo for the ono food!