Often visitors ask me about restaurants "off the beaten track." I invariably like to tell them about some of my favorite haunts in Wailuku, Maui's capital.
Far from the posh and trendy oceanfront establishments in the tourist areas, Wailuku is the "real Maui," showcasing a spectrum of ethnic cuisines.
The foods are authentic, and easy on the pocketbook. This time around, Dining Scene will take you on a tour of a few new places in town. Take note, there are many more great choices.
Elizabeth (left) and Dyana Sanchez work at their dad’s Amigo’s Express van, serving Mexican specialties at Banyan Tree Park in Wailuku.
The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo
Those who crave authentic Mexican fare are flocking to the new Amigo's Express van, parked at shady Banyan Tree Park in the heart of Wailuku.
Amigo's Express: Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays to Fridays at the Banyan Tree Park on the corner of Vineyard and Market streets. Call 357-8001 or 344-8771.
Cafe Central: Targeted to open Feb. 11 in the recently closed Dad's Donuts on the corner of Vineyard Street and Central Avenue, it will specialize in sandwiches, salads and plate lunches. Order takeout or dine outside.
Maui Bake Shop & Deli: Open 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. from Monday through Saturday at 2092 W. Vineyard St. near Church Street. For takeout or more details, call 242-0064.
Ohana Karaoke Cafe & Grill: It's open daily for lunch and dinner from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. You may BYOB and sing away. Soups and noodles may be served until 5 a.m. Location is 740 Lower Main St., #D. For further details, call 242-8886.
Vineyard Food Co.: Hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays to Fridays. Location is 1951 Vineyard St. Call 243-FOOD (3663).
The van is an expansion of the Amigo's Mexican restaurant empire, stretching from Kihei to Kahului to Lahaina. It's owned by business partners Gilbert Sanchez and Ricardo Casanova, and it offers a few tables under the giant shade tree.
"We have $1 tacos on both Mondays and Tuesdays," says Sanchez, whose daughters work in the van. "Then we have $5 specials the rest of the weekdays. You get a burrito plate Wednesdays, enchilada plate Thursdays, and nachos Fridays."
In addition, the daily menu also includes plates of chile rellenos, tamales, quesadillas and tostadas.
Ohana Karaoke Cafe & Grill
Those who have frequented the old Hale Lava, then Norm's, then Fran's location won't recognize the place. The building has been gutted and refitted with cushy new booths, bars, floors and walls and now it's open as Ohana Karaoke Cafe & Grill on Lower Main Street.
"Our soft opening was December 29," says owner Eliza Park, a native of Korea who spoke through her landlady and interpreter. "We serve Korean and local food for both lunch and dinner."
Mark Joslin's construction group did a top job on the look of the restaurant, which has five private karaoke rooms - some large enough to accommodate graduation, bridal and birthday parties.
"We'll soon have free Internet, full bar, sports events on satellite TVs," she says. "We serve lunch and dinner, but we can stay open all the way until 5 a.m. to serve soup and noodles to people."
Most of the entrees include sides of kim chee, seaweed, namasu, bean sprouts and other delicacies to munch.
"Americans love our bi bim bap," Park says. "It comes with steamed rice, bulgogi beef and fried egg on top. Kalbi chicken or beef plate is also very good and so is the meat and fish jun."
Adventurous types will also find steamed stingray, ox-blood soup, intestine stew and natto-bean soup.
In the back of the building, the Waterfall Lounge will soon be up and running again with a whole new fine-tuned look by the Mark Joslin group.
Maui Bake Shop & Deli
Situated street level in the 100-year-old former Yokouchi Family Building, Maui Bake Shop & Deli reopened last May bigger and better than before.
French master baker Jose Krall and his Maui-born wife, Claire Fujii-Krall, appeal to those who crave European cuisine as well as baked goods. Formerly with Mama's Fish House, Sous Chef Martin Jeoffrey helps out in the kitchen.
You may order breakfasts such as crab Benedict all day long and even real French fries at 9 a.m., if you like.
Brie en croute is served with apricot jelly and a small salad. Monte Cristo sandwiches are classic. And, beef bourguignon will get you craving more.
"I also do a salmon puff pastry in buerre blanc with a side of rice pilaf for $15," says Jose. "People who come here are looking for value. And, we can give it to them because we own the building."
Vineyard Food Co.
Last but not least is the Vineyard Food Co., which had a soft opening last August in its unassuming building, kitty-corner from Four Sisters Bakery. Parking may be tough, but it's worth it. The little lunch deli is under the umbrella of Catering From Soup to Nuts, so it does off-site catering for all manner and sizes of functions.
But you may just grab a soup such as cream of asparagus, and a sandwich such as the Kuau with tempura mahimahi and lemon-caper aioli. Combos with half sandwich, small soup and garden salad are $7.50.