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2016 S El Camino Real, San Clemente, CA, 92672
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Wednesday-Monday and 4:30-9 p.m. on Tuesday
The key ingredient in any one of Hapa J’s most popular dishes, the Kalua Pork Barbecue, is regularly served in more than 100 dishes per day, according to the restaurant staff. Commonly seen topping mountains of Hapa’s Fries (Man Style, of course) or piles of Hapa’s Nachos, this carnivorous delight is slow-roasted for hours on-site after a long soak in a simple marinade including only one special ingredient that owner Justin Shea “just can’t reveal.”
“Hapa” means “of mixed descent” in Hawaiian, and Hapa J’s is a true fusion restaurant. Combining Korean barbecue with traditional Hawaiian, alongside elements of Mexican and American comfort foods, it’s no wonder Hapa J’s supports a diverse following.
“We’re evolving and we try to give people what they want, and lots of it,” Shea said. “A lot of our best dishes were inspired by our customers.”
Having met while working in Hawaii, Shea and his chef brought Hapa J’s to San Clemente almost a decade ago and it has been a thriving community presence ever since.
Hapa J’s has a number of specials to enjoy. Island Happy Hour offers $2 off Mai Tai’s and $4 drafts from 3-6 p.m. on Wednesday-Friday. On Taco Tuesday’s, Hapa J’s is closed for lunch but offers Island-inspired tacos inside handmade corn tortillas and $2.50 PBR’s from 4:30-9:30 p.m. A catering menu is also available. —Photo and text by Danny Ritz