4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

Samoan Aloha

Place

Taste of Polynesia

6937 Federal Boulevard, Lemon Grove

Up here near the 94 College exit, a blue 1966 Valiant sits parked between a Frazee’s and a Weight Watchers place.

Only one man in this town has a sky-blue ’66 Valiant: my buddy Rod, the lifeguard. He’s parked outside a cream stucco wall, where a “Taste of Polynesia” sign is painted in big letters above the smoky glass frontage. He’s with his little white curly-haired dawg, Paco. Doing a crossword. He looks up.

“What’s a four-letter word meaning ‘tardy’ or ‘dead?’ ” he asks.

“ ‘Late.’ Okay, I’m late,” I say. Heck, he only sent this crazy e-mail this morning: “Talofa! New Polynesian eatery…Samoan…early days…Great buzz…1:30, okay? Be there!”

So hey, it’s 1:45. What’s 15 minutes in the scheme of things?

“ ‘Talofa?’ ” I say.

“It’s Samoan,” Rod says. “Same as the Hawaiian word ‘aloha.’ ”

We head on through the glass door. The inside’s bright: orange, yellow, cream, chocolate walls, with shelves of imported groceries, clothing, and glass flowers for sale. No sign of food to eat here till, at the back of the shop, we come to a counter where a woman and a younger man are tending a bunch of steaming chafing dishes beneath a blackboard menu.

“I heard turkey tail was the most popular thing,” says Rod.

“Turkey tail?” I say.

“Yes. Tail of the turkey.” He points to a dish loaded with tennis-ball-sized clumps of golden roasted meat. Must say, it looks delish. “Muli pipi,” says Raymond, the young man behind the counter. “It’s really popular in Samoa. Of course, we’re very careful about cleaning it. It sells by weight, $3.99 a pound.”

Great. But I wanna see what else they’ve got. Raymond talks as he points and lifts lids. “Baked taro, baked taro in coconut cream, $4.59 a pound; lamb ribs, $4.99; lamb with cabbage, $3.99; cabbage and corned beef, $4.99; taro leaves and corned beef, $3.99; chop suey, Samoan-style — basically, long rice noodles with chicken or corned beef — $3.99…” Two more lids. One has suafai, sweet banana soup with milk and tapioca; the other is a “soup” of papaya, coconut milk, and tapioca. Different sizes cost $3, $5, and $7. “People have them for breakfast, like oatmeal,” says Malia. She’s Raymond’s aunt. On weekends (Friday–Sunday), they also have fish, including oka (raw cubes of yellowtail with coconut milk), or poke with sesame oil and green onion ($5).

I look up at the board. You can buy things by weight. Like, for the “Samoan Mix Combo,” you just pile in anything from the chafing dishes and pay $4.79 a pound. Or you can order set-price combos. The Talofa Bowl — hey, that means “Hello Bowl” — gives you one item plus rice for $4; with the Minnie Hawaii you get two for $7; for $10, the Tonga Mix gives you three items, plus rice, plus a cooked green banana covered in coconut milk.

“Let’s get a Tonga each,” I say. “That way we can try all six.”

We check dinero supplies, order the Tongas, and then, what the heck, get some bread pudding — thin brown slices soaked in sweet condensed Carnation milk with vanilla ($3) — and some giant bread balls (three for $1). Plus, we order some pineapple pie (a whole large calzone-size pie is $4 or $1.25 per slice).

“I need two packets of lialia,” a Samoan customer named Leleai tells Raymond. “It’s this kind of long rice noodle for Samoan sapasui — chop suey,” she explains to us. “It’s very hard to get in San Diego. I’m a chop suey girl. That’s why we’re so grateful these guys opened. Otherwise, we have to go to Oceanside or L.A.”

Raymond’s mom Rita arrives. “We get customers from Samoa and Hawaii,” she says. “Also Tonga, Micronesia, Guam, Fiji, and even palangi — non-islanders — like you.”

Raymond is really stuffing our boxes full. Only one problem. No tables or chairs to sit down and eat at. “We’re working on that,” Rita says. “We’ll have them by June.”

“Let’s take it to my home,” says Rod. “I live just up the road.”

“Here’s the thing,” I say to Rod 20 minutes later, when we get to his place. “It doesn’t sound all that appetizing. Corned beef? Chop suey? Taro leaves? Turkey tail? Boiled green bananas?”

“Let me stop you right here, son,” says Rod. “Just taste.”

So I do. And, one: the corned beef doesn’t taste much like corned beef. Combined with taro, it’s dee-lish. Two: the chop suey is great, a garlicky-veggie-chicken combo that goes with those soy-gingery rice noodles. “This is the best chop suey I have ever tasted,” says Rod. And, three: the turkey tail doesn’t suffer just because it came from the butt end of the bird. The banana’s a bit boring, but it’s meant to play straight man to the exotics.

We chow down and think aloud about what dishes we’d go back for. For Rod, its the sapasui (chop suey). Me, it’s the corned beef and taro leaf or the lamb. What a beautiful surprise this was. Thanks a lot, guys. Or, if I’ve translated the receipt correctly: fa afetai lava.

The Place: Taste of Polynesia, 6937 Federal Blvd., near College Ave. (College exit on westbound SR-94); 619-466-6199
Type of Food: Polynesian/Samoan
Prices: “Suafai,” sweet banana “breakfast” soup with milk and tapioca, or papaya, coconut milk, and tapioca soup, $3, $5, and $7 sizes; Talofa Bowl, one item plus rice, $4; Minnie Hawaii, two items, $7; Tonga mix (three items, rice, cooked green banana in coconut milk), $10; items include baked taro in coconut cream, lamb ribs, lamb with cabbage, cabbage and corned beef, taro leaves and corned beef, chop suey; roasted turkey tail ($3.99/lb.); fish on weekends include oka (raw cubes of yellowtail with coconut milk), $5 small, $8 large), poke with sesame oil and green onion, $5, $8
Hours: 8:00 a.m.–7:00 p.m., Tuesday–Saturday; till 6:00 p.m., Sunday; closed Monday
Buses: 856, 916, 917, 936
Nearest Bus Stops: College Ave. at Federal Blvd.

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all

Previous article

The Rabbit Hole’s Apple Cinnamon Fashioned: fall flavors

Still a spirit-forward drink
Next Article

Women at the Elephant Bar, Carlos Murphy’s, the Belly Up Tavern helped my career as doctor

Schizophrenia, overeating, death – what lay ahead after UC San Diego med school
Place

Taste of Polynesia

6937 Federal Boulevard, Lemon Grove

Up here near the 94 College exit, a blue 1966 Valiant sits parked between a Frazee’s and a Weight Watchers place.

Only one man in this town has a sky-blue ’66 Valiant: my buddy Rod, the lifeguard. He’s parked outside a cream stucco wall, where a “Taste of Polynesia” sign is painted in big letters above the smoky glass frontage. He’s with his little white curly-haired dawg, Paco. Doing a crossword. He looks up.

“What’s a four-letter word meaning ‘tardy’ or ‘dead?’ ” he asks.

“ ‘Late.’ Okay, I’m late,” I say. Heck, he only sent this crazy e-mail this morning: “Talofa! New Polynesian eatery…Samoan…early days…Great buzz…1:30, okay? Be there!”

So hey, it’s 1:45. What’s 15 minutes in the scheme of things?

“ ‘Talofa?’ ” I say.

“It’s Samoan,” Rod says. “Same as the Hawaiian word ‘aloha.’ ”

We head on through the glass door. The inside’s bright: orange, yellow, cream, chocolate walls, with shelves of imported groceries, clothing, and glass flowers for sale. No sign of food to eat here till, at the back of the shop, we come to a counter where a woman and a younger man are tending a bunch of steaming chafing dishes beneath a blackboard menu.

“I heard turkey tail was the most popular thing,” says Rod.

“Turkey tail?” I say.

“Yes. Tail of the turkey.” He points to a dish loaded with tennis-ball-sized clumps of golden roasted meat. Must say, it looks delish. “Muli pipi,” says Raymond, the young man behind the counter. “It’s really popular in Samoa. Of course, we’re very careful about cleaning it. It sells by weight, $3.99 a pound.”

Great. But I wanna see what else they’ve got. Raymond talks as he points and lifts lids. “Baked taro, baked taro in coconut cream, $4.59 a pound; lamb ribs, $4.99; lamb with cabbage, $3.99; cabbage and corned beef, $4.99; taro leaves and corned beef, $3.99; chop suey, Samoan-style — basically, long rice noodles with chicken or corned beef — $3.99…” Two more lids. One has suafai, sweet banana soup with milk and tapioca; the other is a “soup” of papaya, coconut milk, and tapioca. Different sizes cost $3, $5, and $7. “People have them for breakfast, like oatmeal,” says Malia. She’s Raymond’s aunt. On weekends (Friday–Sunday), they also have fish, including oka (raw cubes of yellowtail with coconut milk), or poke with sesame oil and green onion ($5).

I look up at the board. You can buy things by weight. Like, for the “Samoan Mix Combo,” you just pile in anything from the chafing dishes and pay $4.79 a pound. Or you can order set-price combos. The Talofa Bowl — hey, that means “Hello Bowl” — gives you one item plus rice for $4; with the Minnie Hawaii you get two for $7; for $10, the Tonga Mix gives you three items, plus rice, plus a cooked green banana covered in coconut milk.

“Let’s get a Tonga each,” I say. “That way we can try all six.”

We check dinero supplies, order the Tongas, and then, what the heck, get some bread pudding — thin brown slices soaked in sweet condensed Carnation milk with vanilla ($3) — and some giant bread balls (three for $1). Plus, we order some pineapple pie (a whole large calzone-size pie is $4 or $1.25 per slice).

“I need two packets of lialia,” a Samoan customer named Leleai tells Raymond. “It’s this kind of long rice noodle for Samoan sapasui — chop suey,” she explains to us. “It’s very hard to get in San Diego. I’m a chop suey girl. That’s why we’re so grateful these guys opened. Otherwise, we have to go to Oceanside or L.A.”

Raymond’s mom Rita arrives. “We get customers from Samoa and Hawaii,” she says. “Also Tonga, Micronesia, Guam, Fiji, and even palangi — non-islanders — like you.”

Raymond is really stuffing our boxes full. Only one problem. No tables or chairs to sit down and eat at. “We’re working on that,” Rita says. “We’ll have them by June.”

“Let’s take it to my home,” says Rod. “I live just up the road.”

“Here’s the thing,” I say to Rod 20 minutes later, when we get to his place. “It doesn’t sound all that appetizing. Corned beef? Chop suey? Taro leaves? Turkey tail? Boiled green bananas?”

“Let me stop you right here, son,” says Rod. “Just taste.”

So I do. And, one: the corned beef doesn’t taste much like corned beef. Combined with taro, it’s dee-lish. Two: the chop suey is great, a garlicky-veggie-chicken combo that goes with those soy-gingery rice noodles. “This is the best chop suey I have ever tasted,” says Rod. And, three: the turkey tail doesn’t suffer just because it came from the butt end of the bird. The banana’s a bit boring, but it’s meant to play straight man to the exotics.

We chow down and think aloud about what dishes we’d go back for. For Rod, its the sapasui (chop suey). Me, it’s the corned beef and taro leaf or the lamb. What a beautiful surprise this was. Thanks a lot, guys. Or, if I’ve translated the receipt correctly: fa afetai lava.

The Place: Taste of Polynesia, 6937 Federal Blvd., near College Ave. (College exit on westbound SR-94); 619-466-6199
Type of Food: Polynesian/Samoan
Prices: “Suafai,” sweet banana “breakfast” soup with milk and tapioca, or papaya, coconut milk, and tapioca soup, $3, $5, and $7 sizes; Talofa Bowl, one item plus rice, $4; Minnie Hawaii, two items, $7; Tonga mix (three items, rice, cooked green banana in coconut milk), $10; items include baked taro in coconut cream, lamb ribs, lamb with cabbage, cabbage and corned beef, taro leaves and corned beef, chop suey; roasted turkey tail ($3.99/lb.); fish on weekends include oka (raw cubes of yellowtail with coconut milk), $5 small, $8 large), poke with sesame oil and green onion, $5, $8
Hours: 8:00 a.m.–7:00 p.m., Tuesday–Saturday; till 6:00 p.m., Sunday; closed Monday
Buses: 856, 916, 917, 936
Nearest Bus Stops: College Ave. at Federal Blvd.

Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Keeping Up With Commander Cody

“He poured a much-too-large line on my hand”
Next Article

Here’s what vegans were lining up for in Encinitas

The new game in plant-based meats is pork… and imitation spiced ham
Comments
1

thanx for da post brutha...wasnt aware that my folks had a spot out here that served some true "LOCAL LUNCH PLATES"...by the LBS. ! thats some funny ass sPit.im glad you enjoyed the food,but was truley impressed wit the spelling of all the dishes. nice work brutha ! FA AFETAI LAVA

June 1, 2009

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Drinks All Around — Bartenders' drink recipes Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Outdoors — Weekly changes in flora and fauna Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Street Style — San Diego streets have style Surf Diego — Real stories from those braving the waves Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close