There is such a happy "Aloha!" vibe inside Poi Dog Snack Shop, the casual new brick-and-mortar cafe on 21st Street for Kiki Aranita and Chris Vacca's popular Hawaiian food cart, that I have a vacationlike urge to sample every one of the exotic plate lunches on its island menu.
There's the properly minimalist tuna poke bowl glazed in spicy masago mayo, a tender kalua roast pig with cabbage, some delicious Okinawan doughnuts, and even a cute slice of griddled Spam belted onto a rice cake with a strip of nori for a musubi.
But in the end, Poi Dog's future claim to fame may be its ability to cook the best chicken nuggets ever. They're technically called Mochi Nori chicken, an updated riff on a common Hawaiian street food fried in rice flour (that's the "mochi") that Aranita and Vacca elaborated with a little furikake seaweed seasoning (the "nori") in the batter.
The meat itself gets extra flavor and moistness from the marinade, amped with ginger, soy, and mirin, but it's that crust, tweaked with a little corn starch, that gets the flaky ridges I can't resist.
A spicy togarashi mayo tarted up with yuzu citrus is the finishing touch that puts it over the top. But one caveat: Poi Dog's default is to squiggle that sauce all over the top, covering every morsel.
I prefer it on the side so I can taste just how delicious and moist and crackly each little nugget of chicken really is before I give a final E 'ai kaua! toast and make them disappear.
-- Craig LaBan
Mochi Nori chicken, $10, Poi Dog, 100½ S. 21st St.; poidogphilly.com