All in the ‘ohana

Coconut’s Fish Cafe

Good for: fast-casual Hawaiian-style seafood
Notable dishes: fish tacos, poke bowl

Coconut’s Fish Cafe

1420 16th St.
Sacramento, CA 95814

(916) 440-0449

In Hawaii, ’ohana isn’t just a word for “family,” it’s the idea that all the people you love are connected and everyone is accountable to each other. Restaurants run best when they follow the same principle—everyone working for a common cause and not just for themselves.

Coconut’s Fish Cafe, which opened in late May in Midtown, brings ’ohana to the mainland with both its menu and attention to service. It isn’t a typical lunch plate joint, though, like you find on the islands or at L&L Hawaiian BBQ.

Native Sacramentan Michael Phillips opened the first Coconut’s in Maui in 2009. It quickly became a favorite with the locals for high-quality, affordable seafood—not easily found in Hawaii, shockingly. Since then, he’s authorized several franchises of the Coconut’s concept and now helms the first California location with his daughter and son-in-law on board. ’Ohana, indeed.

Rather than the usual fried or stewed seafood, the focus is on healthy, fresh fish served Hawaiian style. Coconut’s uses wild- and line-caught Pacific seafood while sourcing locally for produce.

The biggest seller, both here and in Maui, is the fish tacos ($10.99 for two). Each taco gets its own plate, the grilled corn tortillas laden with seared mahi and ono, mango salsa, tomato salsa, cheese and the surprise hit ingredient: the house coleslaw.

The chunky slaw clears your sinuses with wasabi, but balances it with creamy coconut milk. Melted cheese is unusual with seafood, but it works here. The tacos barely contain all the flavors and textures, a nice change from simpler Mexicali versions.

Coconut’s sells four times more poke in Sacramento than in Hawaii, where it originated as a fisherman’s snack. Soy sauce, green onions and garlic mingle with large chunks of raw ahi to make a classic marinated Maui version of the dish, as opposed to made-to-order styles at spots like to Fish Face Poke Bar. You can get it as an appetizer ($10.99) or a bowl ($13.99) with brown rice and coleslaw.

The coconut shrimp ($8.99) make for another successful island-style dish. Judiciously breaded and well-fried medium shrimp match well with a spicy-sweet, Thai chili-pineapple sauce. The coconut isn’t overdone here, and adds a nutty richness.

There are lots of salads on offer, including a Super Green ($6.99) of kale and spinach with mango, macadamias and red peppers that’s exclusive to Sacramento. For $4 to $8 extra, you can add meat, seafood or a veggie patty on top. We chose grilled mahi and shrimp and pineapple vinaigrette. While the ingredients each tasted great on their own, the flavors didn’t quite come together. We’d try it again with a different combination.

Another indication of ’ohana at Coconut’s is the extensive keiki (children’s) menu. Portions are good for the price, including a triple-decker grilled quesadilla ($3.99) and fish and chips ($6.99). Ordered separately, the fries ($3.99) tasted so-so. They needed another minute of cooking and a touch more salt.

Be sure to try the beers from Maui Brewing Co. We especially liked the toasted coconut porter and the Bikini Blonde ($5.99 each) with hints of honey. As with the food, you order them at a counter and get prompt delivery even on busy nights. The servers seem genuinely happy to be there, which is refreshing. Wooden surf board tables and surf movies in the background lend a Hawaiian overtone without too much kitsch.

Midtown is bursting with new restaurants these days, but Coconut’s Fish Cafe offers a unique menu and manages to find the right balance of affordable, quick-casual and the personal touch of a family business.