Honey walnut shrimp is one of my litmus test dishes when dining at Chinese restaurants. There are so many different ways it’s served, and nearly all of them can be appreciated. I could write an article just on honey walnut shrimp, but instead I’m going to tell you about a fairly new Chinese restaurant in Wailuku called Dragonfly that keeps impressing me with its dishes, but first drew me in with its honey walnut shrimp.
Located in the same basement parking lot as Tokyo Tei, the little restaurant has nail shops and Korean bars for neighbors. Like most of the restaurants that dot Lower Main in Wailuku, the spot is casual and unpretentious. They have tables and booths, and quite a spacious dining room with a little bar off to the side for cocktails. Proprietor Annie Guan moved from China about three and a half years ago, and this is her first restaurant. Guan named it “Dragonfly” because the dragonfly is considered good luck in many cultures.
“One of the first things I did was check out the other restaurants and how they served their Chinese food,” says Guan. “I went to Dragon Dragon and ordered their honey walnut shrimp to see how I can make my better. Their shrimps were small so I use really big shrimp, almost tiger shrimp size.”
Their menu leans toward Szechuan cuisine. Diving into a platter of their honey walnut jumbo shrimp, size matters, but taste matters more. Dragonfly’s shimp are delicately fried and slathered in a thick honey aioli. The texture of the shrimp is always plump and juicy, and the cooks just ever so lightly batter it. I like that the Dragonfly version doesn’t hold back on their thick sweet but savory sauce–it’s what sticks those crunchy walnuts to each bite. The walnuts add a crunch, and another layer to the dish’s complex textures. At Dragonfly, they serve the shrimp on a bed of Romaine lettuce. The lettuce brightens and lightens the dish, though you may find that it disappears suddenly. Dragonfly also serves a honey walnut chicken, the first I’ve ever seen.
Guan recommended her Egg Foo Yung, saying it’s a little different than I’d probably seen before. And it is–you get plump pillows of light-as-a-feather egg, with vegetables throughout and a rich brown dipping sauce. Mine had asparagus, peas and onions all packed into the pillow. It’s a great dish if you’re avoiding meat.
Mu Shu Pork is another fun dish to order. If you’ve never had it, it’s a Northern Chinese dish, basically a burrito you roll at the table. The wraps are these thin kind of dry crepe called a pancake, which you fill with a mixture of shredded pork, bamboo shoots, cabbage and black Chinese fungi. They are filling, messy and very tasty.
Guan has recently been expanding her menu. She’s added classic crispy won tons, crispy dumplings and manapua that comes in chicken or char siu. She also has cream cheese won tons. But I had to try the manapua–they make it to order and it takes about 15 minutes for them to steam it. They are perfect meat-stuffed pillows. Dragonfly got the dough just right: lightly sweet, but still absorbing all of the jus from the pork and chicken fillings. I don’t think I’ve found handmade manapua, also known as bao, anywhere on Maui before.
I’m also partial to the veggie dishes that round out the richness of the mains, and Dragonfly offers many. Szechuan eggplant is my current favorite–the eggplant is cooked perfectly and it goes with everything. They’ve also recently added Chinese sautéed greens like choy sum, baby bok choy and spinach.
Of course, Dragonfly also offers classic noodle dishes, fried rice, beef, chicken and pork. Steamed fish, duck Szechuan and tofu in several ways is also on the menu. If you come by for lunch, they have a list of 28 plate lunch specials–15 of them go for $9.95, which includes rice. Others go for $10.95 and the shrimp dishes are $14.95. They open at 10am and the kitchen is open pretty late for Wailuku, while the bar goes till 2am.
1063 Lower Main St
Wailuku, HI 96793