The slogan at A.K.’s Café is “Eat Better,” and they mean it in more ways than one. They’re talking about the quality and flavor of the food, sure; but the tagline also hints at the Wailuku eatery’s other mission: providing Maui with a healthy dining alternative.
Select items on Chef Elaine Nakashima’s menu are labeled with a small heart icon, indicating smart options for those dealing with health issues like obesity or diabetes, or simply people looking to improve their diet. Unlike some places that claim to have healthy choices but on closer inspection offer little that isn’t fried and greasy, A.K.’s menu is littered with those telltale hearts, which adorn no less than 20 items from starters to salads to the main course.
The question, of course, is do the two things—good tasting and good for you—overlap? The answer is a resounding yes.
One prime example of this happy convergence is the grilled veggie mushroom wrap, a mixture of fresh ingredients that lowers your cholesterol just looking at it and that passed muster with our resident vegan. A few other examples of items from both the lunch and dinner menus that you’ll still love in the morning: baked chicken with lemon basil and garlic; an Asian noodle stir-fry with tofu; grilled mahi complemented by cucumber relish; a seafood pasta with shrimp, scallops and lobster; and, you guessed it, fish tacos. If there isn’t something in there that calls your salivary glands to action, you surely don’t like food.
Despite the commendable emphasis on wholesome fare, we don’t want to give the impression that A.K.’s has forgotten about those of us who crave, say, a good juicy burger. Or how about a pulled pork sandwich, overflowing with tender, delicious meat, against which a mere bun stands little chance. (Keep your napkin handy with this one, you’ll need it.) Other worthy options for those with looser dietary restrictions include the fish and chips—which met and exceeded this connoisseur’s high standards—the grilled chicken nachos and the ribeye with onions. Recommended starters include a trio of mini burgers with fries and the ultimate pupu platter, which includes a crab cake, sautéed mushrooms, short ribs, coconut shrimp and chicken wings.
As you’ve no doubt deduced by now, one of A.K.’s greatest strengths is the diversity of its menu. The phrase “something for everyone” has been worn past cliché, and worse, it often indicates a menu that’s so overstuffed it loses focus. Not so here. A.K.has managed to pull inspiration from a desultory array of culinary corners while maintaining cohesion and, more important, quality.
The last thing that should be noted is affordability, no small consideration in these lean economic times. Though a few items—the steak, the seafood pasta—top out around $20, folks looking to spend less will find no shortage of choices. This is the type of place where you could take a date, eat multiple courses, get drinks (and naturally give the friendly waitstaff a well-deserved tip) and easily wind up spending under $40. Their happy hour special—which knocks a buck or more off bottled beer, mixed drinks and pupus and runs from 5-6pm Tuesday through Saturday—makes things even more wallet-friendly.
So we return to that slogan—“Eat Right”—and realize that, while it seems simple enough, it’s truly a multi-faceted (not to mention spot-on) representation of what the folks and the food at A.K.’s are all about.
Here’s to their health—and yours. MTW