Though the nearest ocean is hours away by car, it’s possible to find a Hawaiian oasis at 1402 S. Craycroft Rd. north of the 24-hour gate at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.
The nondescript building houses Solid Grindz, a 2,000-square-foot restaurant of all things Hawaiian. “Grindz” is a slang term for food.
There you’ll find barbecue and island food options galore. Options for Luau Plates ($8.50 – $12) include the top-selling teriyaki chicken ($8.50) and Kalbi beef ribs ($9.75). Each plate comes with two sides – tuna mac salad, island beans, veggies and brown or white rice.
Co-owner Tap Gaoteote Jr. is from Samoa himself.
“My Samoan cousin and I used to tailgate and barbeque a lot,” said the 37-year-old Air Force reservist. “It was a passion.”
He enrolled in a weekly entrepreneurial class at Davis Monthan Air Force Base to learn the ropes of running a business. In 2013, he and co-owner Michelle Mejia opened a food truck.
Though the Solid Grindz truck still operates at the base, Gaoteote and Mejia opened a restaurant at the former location of Snow Peas Modern Asian Kitchen in September 2016. Solid Grindz had used the kitchen at Snow Peas for catering gigs, so they jumped at the chance to open a restaurant when they found Snow Peas’ owner was moving on. Gaoteote’s wife, Toni, helps manage the restaurant.
In a nod to Snow Peas, the menu still offers Vietnamese Pad Thai and fried rice ($8-$10.50) dishes on Thursdays and Fridays.
During a recent Saturday during lunch at Solid Grindz, families, dates and a couple of groups of people were scattered throughout the 1,800-square-foot dining area.
Four flat-screen televisions were airing a Yankees game while a couple of larger groups and families enjoyed their food.
Spam musubi and Bang Shrimp at Solid Grindz (Credit: Jackie Tran)
“It’s casual,” said Dana Espinoza, a 25-year-old manager. “You can come in with a huge party or by yourself.”
Whether it’s ribs or shrimp, many of the dishes practically demand that you to eat them with your hands. Luckily, a handy pail at each booth or table is full of napkins, flatware, and chopsticks.
Though traditional sushi isn’t on the menu, “we make spam with just about everything,” Espinoza said.
Take the spam musubi, their form of sushi. Spam is grilled with teriyaki sauce and paired with white rice that’s rolled in seaweed. Three pieces cost $5; two are $4; and one is $2.
“It tastes like sushi,” said Espinoza, adding that some regulars order six musubi for lunch. “But it might be a little heavier because of the spam.”
The Bang Shrimp ($9.75) is another popular dish. Ten panko-crusted shrimp are bathed in an addictive creamy house sweet chile sauce.
Solid Grindz plans to start importing some foods from Hawaii, such as ahi for poke and taro leaves. They also hope to bring in laulau, a native Hawaiian dish. The traditional preparation consists of pork or fish wrapped in taro or luau leaf.
They are planning to host Friday luaus that showcase different types of island food.
“We’ve developed such a good clientele on base, and they’ve told their friends,” said Toni Gaoteote.
Her husband agrees: “We’re finally starting to get into a groove.”
Solid Grindz is located at 1402 S. Craycroft Rd. and can be reached at (520) 867-8040. Keep up with Solid Grindz on Facebook.
Valerie Vinyard has written for newspapers and magazines for over 20 years, including a stint as a food writer and critic for the Arizona Daily Star. The Cleveland native has lived in Tucson more than 15 years, and still dines out daily.
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