Hula’s Island Grill has been a hot spot in the heart of downtown Santa Cruz for over 15 years.
Current hours are 11:30am-10pm every day except Monday (when they open at 4:30pm) for takeout and outdoor dining, with a return to indoor dining when state restrictions allow. The theme, décor, and menu are all Hawaiian-inspired, but they serve pan-Asian fusion flavors, as well. Bar manager Mike Saylor, a lifer in the industry, has been at Hula’s for over two years and says their mission statement is that “everybody who leaves, leaves happy.” GT talked to him about food, cocktails and navigating the pandemic.
What have been the most popular menu items lately?
MIKE SAYLOR: The rice bowls. We have multiple options, but I’d say the most popular right now is the Thai Chicken. It has jasmine rice that we cook in coconut milk, grilled chicken breast, black beans, avocado and plantains, and is finished with a spicy Thai sauce. Also, the Duke’s Luau Plate is a great traditional Hawaiian option. It has housemade pulled pork with a pineapple soy glaze, rice, and ginger coleslaw. Our signature pupu [appetizer] is our famous coconut shrimp rolls that come with a pineapple horseradish dipping sauce.
What are some standouts from the cocktail menu?
We’re famous for our Mai Tais—we sell more of them than any other cocktail and can go through up to 15 gallons on a busy night. My favorite cocktail is the Painkiller; it has a mixture of house-branded rums, pineapple juice, orange juice and coconut cream. It is finished with a sprinkle of allspice, which is my favorite. I really enjoy adding baking spice flavor profiles to cocktails.
How has the restaurant been faring amid the pandemic?
We got really lucky with our street seating; the city really pulled through and helped us out. Our owner Ian McRae went all-out and bent over backward to make our outdoor seating as welcoming and inviting as possible for the guests. It’s full most nights; sometimes we even have a wait. And when the time is right, we look forward to having people back at our bar top and getting back to a more personal interaction. We’ve also expanded the bar area inside. It’s very prime seating, and we’re very excited for the guests to see it when we can safely serve again indoors.
221 Cathcart St., Santa Cruz. 831-426-4852, hulastiki.com.