Coconut-Shrimp Croquettes
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Duke’s La Jolla

1216 Prospect Street, La Jolla

Living in San Diego, I get a lot of out-of-town visitors, so there’s a need for places that are nice but casual with decent food and an atmosphere that pushes the San Diego dream. Some of the places I keep in my back pocket include Puesto at The Headquarters and Cannonball in Mission Beach. I’m adding Duke’s La Jolla to the list.

Patio at Duke’s La Jolla

Patio at Duke’s La Jolla

Duke’s is a Hawaiian-themed restaurant chain that recently opened near La Jolla Cove. The patio has a million-dollar view of the water, especially if you get one of the tables near the edge. In Hawaii, Duke’s is the sort-of family friendly yet slightly upscale eatery where the vibe is relaxing and helped by fruity tropical cocktails. That vibe is well maintained at the La Jolla restaurant, even though the design is more modern and less Tiki Hut. A good call, by the way.

Food-wise, it’s pretty good — especially if your cousin from Wisconsin is treating — but you have to factor in that magnificent view into the cost. We started out with the Coconut Shrimp Croquettes ($12), which are breaded fried balls of shrimp served with a sweet chili sauce. There are four in each order, and they were packed with shrimp. The coconut flavor was light, and the sweet chili sauce was more sweet than hot.

My wife and I enjoyed a vegetarian version of the Rocket Salad ($8). It usually comes with arugula, Maui onion, bacon, red and yellow beets, goat cheese, and a white balsamic vinaigrette. We substituted avocado for bacon and were happy with the mix of flavors and the freshness of the ingredients, especially the way the beets played with the bitterness of the arugula and the tanginess of the cheese.

My wife liked the Vegetarian Red Curry ($15), which had flavor but wasn’t too hot for her (she’s not a hothead like me). She also appreciated the use of Brussels sprouts, which isn’t always found in curry but worked well here. It was a decent-sized portion.

I ordered the Kalbi Short Rib Tacos ($15), which came with an Asian pear salsa and kimchi on top and a side of Spam fried rice. I liked the flavor but felt the meat was slightly overcooked. I also thought the portion was a little small. “You’re paying for the view,” my wife reminded me.

I asked for a side of kimchi macaroni salad ($6). That was a good call. The mayo in the dressing cooled the spiciness of the kimchi, and it was a great accompaniment to the Spam fried rice, which was slightly sweet and salty.

My son saw steak on the kids’ menu ($14) and immediately knew that’s what he wanted. It was a perfect medium rare. My son loved the first bite so much that I insisted on having the second. I liked it. He later decided it was a little salty. I didn’t agree.

They do a good margarita ($13) that is salty and sour, and the Black Salt Bloody Mary ($11) was nice and spicy thanks to green chili vodka. My wife wasn’t enamored with the Coconut Mojito ($12). I think the idea is good, but maybe it would help if they put coconut in the simple syrup rather than using coconut rum.

We had to have the Hula Pie, which is part of the Duke’s mystique. It’s like Mud Pie but with macadamia nut ice cream instead of coffee ice cream. It’s good, but I’d rather have dessert at Bobboi Gelato a few blocks away.

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