This is going to be the most confusing write-up I’ve ever done. First of all, I’m not even sure what the hell this place is called. Let’s start at the beginning I guess? Kanak Attack has been in the catering (I’m not going to use their spelling of “katering”, deal with it) game for nearly two decades, and doing the food truck thing for a while now as well. They may have also had, or had something to do with, a restaurant on Broadway downtown way back in the day, if memory serves (which is always a dicey proposition as I approach middle age). They have a website, but it’s focused on the catering and makes no mention I could find of this restaurant, even though it’s been open for over a year now. They have two separate Instagram pages, one for catering and the other for the restaurant, and the latter does indicate that the restaurant is called Pineapple Express. Meanwhile, their signage has KANAK ATTACK in big freaking letters, and does not contain the word “pineapple” but rather a drawing of one in the middle, with “Express” in tiny script below.
See what I mean? They have an office next door to the restaurant proper, which I assume is also for catering, even though their website lists their catering office as being in Garden City and the kitchen for such as being downtown. So, since the catering, food truck, and primary name on the restaurant’s signage is Kanak Attack, and this specific venture is being referred to as Pineapple Express, I’ve decided to call the restaurant Pineapple Express by Kanak Attack. And yes, I know that makes it sound like one in a series of restaurants by an internationally-renowned Michelin starred chef, but nobody else is making this shit clear, and I had to make a choice because trying to suss it out was beginning to give me an OCD attack.
I wish I could say that’s where the confusion ends, but it’s not. See, I’m really big on comfort food, no matter what the cuisine in question is. Even when going out to ethnic eateries, my favorite dishes tend to be the kind of thing people would make at home or have as a big family meal, even if the restaurant elevates it a bit. In that regard, popular Hawaiian food is right up my alley. It’s all protein, starch, and sauce. To me, a plate of Kalua Pig with rice and mac salad is every bit as much comfort food as pot roast with potatoes and gravy. And just like your favorite robe and pair of slippers or leather corset with spiked heels, part of that comfort is in the consistency. You love that cherished article of clothing because it feels the same every time you slip it on, and it makes you feel the same every time. Comfort food is like that. Consistency is important in a restaurant’s output. You want your favorite dish to be the same way every time, just like the best soup your mom makes is the same every time. Unfortunately, consistency has been an issue throughout my visits to Pineapple Express.
I first crossed paths with Kanak Attack a couple of years ago at a food truck event. That day they were offering a kimchi fried rice burrito with pork belly as a special, and how the hell could I possibly resist that? It was every bit as amazing as it sounds and, even though I already had a Hawaiian eatery that I loved in Nampa, I was super jazzed to hear that Kanak Attack was going to open an actual restaurant in Meridian. I went soon after their opening, walked excitedly up to the counter, chose a Kahuna Plate (two entrees with choice of rice and side salad), followed the person assembling my meal from the steamer trays down the line making the necessary choices, snagged a Spam Musubi from the grab and go selection, paid my tab, and sat down to tuck in.
Spam Musubi is one of my favorite things in the world, but I’m not going to get into that right now because I’m saving it for my next post. This was a little different than any of the other versions I’ve had. First of all, I’m used to them being made to order. The ones at Pineapple Express are sold shrink-wrapped on heated shelves along with other appetizers such as Kalua Pig Egg Rolls. This didn’t put me off though, since it’s actually quite common to find this item sold just this way throughout Hawaii. Hell, you can grab them at 7-Eleven. Overall I’d have to say I prefer the fresh version, but this was a really interesting change of pace and gave me a new authentic experience, which I enjoyed since I’m not making it to Hawaii anytime soon. Also, the inside of the roll was sprinkled with furikake, another first for me. It added an extra layer of texture and flavor to the dish, which I also enjoyed.
As for the rest of the meal, it was kind of a mixed bag. I definitely appreciated the ecologically friendly plates and utensils, and their look certainly added to the vibe. I’ve noticed a lot of difference in mac salad from one place to another, so I don’t have a lot of expectations for the dish. That being said, this wasn’t my favorite version, but it’s not bad either. I had chosen to get the daily special fried rice as opposed to the standard steamed options, which that day was Loco Moco. Probably made from leftovers, but another fun change of pace. The last several times I’ve visited, the special fried rice was one with pineapple and Spam which is on their regular menu, so I don’t know if they do rotating ones anymore. The Kalua Pig, by far my favorite Hawaiian entree, was far too dry for my taste, which along with the smokiness made me think more of barbecue than of luau. On the other hand, the coconut shrimp were some of the best I’ve ever had, partly because they were cooked to order so they were fresh and hot, and partly because they weren’t covered in a half inch of batter or breading and deep-fried.
I’d enjoyed the quirkiness of the Loco Moco fried rice, so on my next visit I ordered the Loco Moco for takeout, with coconut rice this time. Coconut rice is pretty much always a win, and I’m a total egg slut so you have to know I loved this one. Crispy around the edges, no snotty white gunk, but with a nice, liquidy yolk. The actual Loco Moco, on the other hand, was disgusting. Not the meat part, even though it was more like a slightly squashed meatball or a Hawaiian version of meatloaf rather than a burger patty. That was different, but I could get my head around it. It was that brackish, blackish, salt varnish that was trying to pass as gravy. And don’t ask me about that stuff in the bottom right corner. I don’t know if it was moisture or oil from that sauce separating, because I took a couple of bites and gave up. For those wondering, though, coconut rice with a fried egg isn’t a bad snack.
I’ve been back a bunch of times over the last year, sometimes to try new stuff like the fried musubi you see above (which I don’t recommend, I don’t think the oily bread crumbs add anything positive to the dish), but mostly just to keep ordering the same dishes over and over because it never fails to amaze me that they rarely come out the same way twice. I’ve had the Loco Moco three times now, the second time much the same as the first, but the third considerably better and with something that actually resembled gravy and was far less salty. That time I was actually able to appreciate the odd meatloaf patty, which is incredibly flavorful, and don’t ask me why because I couldn’t begin to guess what all is in it. Subsequent orders of the Kalua Pig have been all over the place, and it’s actually pretty good when you can get a batch that isn’t dried out. On my most recent visit I got those amazing coconut shrimp to go, which unfortunately are a lot less amazing when they’re severely overcooked and rubbery.
So would I go back? I mean, I do keep doing so. Maybe I’d have better luck if I asked the staff for recommendations on what’s good that particular day. Maybe their food holding and turnover setup could stand a little revamping. What I do know is that sometimes I just have to have a Spam Musubi, and I don’t always feel like driving to Nampa for it. They’ve also just added a buffet concept on Fridays and are planning a second, slightly different restaurant downtown, this one serving weekday breakfast and lunch. So, business must be decent. When all is said and done, they’re not my favorite Hawaiian eatery in the Valley, but when they’re good, they’re pretty damn good. And of course, the convenience of them being so close to home is very nice. I just wish the quality of the food was less of a “you pays your money and you takes your chances” proposition.
Pineapple Express Links