Dining in Paradise at Da Tiki Hut in Tacoma

When you settle into your seat at Tacoma’s Da Tiki Hut, you may already be dreaming of the hearty meats and colorful drinks on the menu, but you may also get slightly distracted by the tiki masks smiling above your seat or the little waterfall bubbling nearby — complete with its own pirate skull and treasure chest.

For almost ten years, this charming eatery has been dishing up fantastic cuisine for hungry customers, drawing influence from the many distinctive tastes of the Hawaiian Islands. But if you haven’t been recently, you’re in for a treat! During the pandemic, the restaurant underwent a massive makeover, transforming from a cozy cafeteria-style setting into a wonderfully whimsical paradise.

Tacoma Da Tiki Hut
The sea monster at Da Tiki Hut was crafted by local artist Gone Tiki. Photo credit: Kiernyn Orne-Adams

A Tropical Ambiance at Da Tiki Hut

Steve and Tamara Lerma, the owners, let their creativity run rampant during this makeover. Steve carved some of the small wooden figures around the space, while Tamara devoted herself to picking out various flowers, parrots, and monkeys (all fake, of course) to help turn the space into a tropical fantasy. As Steve puts it, “Every booth is different.”

Back in 2014, the Lermas kept things a bit simpler as they transitioned from a food truck model to a brick-and-mortar establishment. It wasn’t until the pandemic that they decided to increase the decorations as part of a more extensive renovation while in-person dining was forbidden. The result is a playful world of island icons and nautical influences, where the mouthwatering meals still remain a huge draw.

Tacoma Da Tiki Hut
One of the many intricately decorated booths at Da Tiki Hut in Tacoma. Photo credit: Kiernyn Orne-Adams

Delicious Hawaiian Food in Tacoma

Steve emphasized that the items on the menu are as deeply diverse as the land where they originated. “It’s a cultural blend of food,” Steve explained, citing a history that stretches from Portugal to Japan to Cuba, influenced as much by the voyages of Columbus as the presence of military bases.

The results include classic regional treats like Spam and macaroni salad, mouthwatering kalua pork, chicken katsu, and the mighty Loco Moco, made with hamburger steak, fried eggs, and gravy. And be sure to save room for the desserts, from the pineapple upside-down cake to subtly sweet and brilliantly purple ube mochi cake.

And then there are the drinks with something mild, wild, and everything in between. The specialty here is classic tiki bar drinks, including Mai Tais and the Blue Hawaiian. But they’ve also been branching out into new creations, including some holiday-specific beverages, while also offering an excellent selection of beers. And for non-drinkers, there are also a variety of delicious mocktails, such as the fruity and zesty Strawberry Crush.

Of course, the decorations only add to the fun. “We started playing with the designs, and this is what we ended up with,” Steve said, adding, “My wife put the sunshine to it.” They even included local artists in the process, such as Gone Tiki, who carved the sea creature that watches over the bar. With Hawaiian music gently playing over the speakers, the whole effect is intoxicating and utterly relaxing. As Tamara puts it, “This is its own space.” Steve added, “When you come in here, you lose track of time.”

Tacoma Da Tiki Hut
The Strawberry Crush mocktail is one of many beverages on offer at Tacoma’s Da Tiki Hut. Photo credit: Kiernyn Orne-Adams

Da Tiki Hut’s Strong Community Connections

While the restaurant may be a world unto itself, the Lermas are certainly no hermits. They have always focused on community involvement, from the food truck permanently parked at Joint Base Lewis-McChord to the many events they cater around town. The couple have also maintained strong connections to the region that inspired them, hosting several fundraisers to benefit families affected by the recent fires in Maui. These are full-fledged public events featuring live music, T-shirts for sale, and plenty of great food for purchase.

That sense of goodwill has always been a part of the restaurant’s creed. During the pandemic, they served free meals to the community and donated additional food to shelters in the area. Tamara explained, “It’s not about the recognition. It’s about the deed.”

The Lermas will undoubtedly keep busy in the upcoming months. Da Tiki Hut is preparing for a 10th-anniversary celebration this summer, as well as another Maui fundraiser. And on the day-to-day level, they are forever trying out new flavors and dishes. Only the tiki sauce and the macaroni salad have remained unchanged, as they are family recipes. The rest of the menu is a place of delicious experimentation, from the smoked meats to the cocktail mixes.

Be it food, drink, or decor, the motive is always the same at Da Tiki Hut. As Steve puts it, “We keep playing with everything.”

Da Tiki Hut is open from 3 to 9 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and is closed on Sundays and Mondays. For more information, you can follow the restaurant on Facebook or check out their website.

Da Tiki Hut
4427 6th Avenue, Suite 101, Tacoma