For a batter-fried item, the shrimp ($8.95) are better; they're butterflied, which means they cook more quickly and retain more of their basic character. Better yet: the kalbi short ribs ($7.95), marinated and grilled, juicy and tender, from which we discreetly gnawed the last of the meat from the bones.
It's the small plates, the pupu starters, that give the most delight. Redondo Portuguese sausage musubi ($2.25) is like a piece of nori-wrapped sushi, except the treasure wrapped inside is a brick of garlic-chile sausage instead of fish. Fresh ahi poke ($5.25) cubes of ruby red tuna tossed with soy, sesame seeds, and cayenne offers immaculately fresh fish and enough chile heat to awaken the somnolent, while lumpia ($3.25), the Philippine treats that are something like a cross between pot stickers and flautas, have an almost phyllolike delicacy. Best of all might be the Portuguese bean soup ($4.25 for a gargantuan bowl, so not really a pupu), a jumble of kidney and white beans and macaroni tubes in a thick, spicy tomato broth scented with okra. It's like a vegetarian gumbo.
Eva's isn't luxurious or even especially pretty the primary colors have a kindergarten brightness but the whole experience of being there is so agreeable that we are reminded how much the simplest human touches count. The service staff are cheerful and knowledgeable, and they work to keep their restaurant tidy; all this counts for a lot and proves that true hospitality need not involve charging patrons exorbitant amounts of money. If you can't get to Hawaii, bundle up and come here instead. *
EVA'S HAWAIIAN CAFE
Continuous service: Mon.Thurs. and Sun., 11 a.m.9 p.m.; Fri.Sat., 11 a.m.10 p.m.
731 Clement, SF