The explosion of gastro pub grub wouldn’t be worth its weight in gravy without the low brow diners that built the foundation that sustains our love of comfort foods. And while I share The Food Network’s enthusiasm for Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, but I couldn’t help but notice that the Monday installment of Triple D Goes Hawaiian missed Maui completely.
Perhaps Fieri’s production company couldn’t fork out the dough for inter-island flights. In any case, since Fieri is apparently too high maka-maka for our little greasy spoons, I’ve taken the liberty of highlighting a few of Kahului’s finest dives to make up for triple D’s loss. (Note: I specifically left out Wailuku and other parts of the island for a later installment.)
* * *
312 Alamaha St., Kahului
You’ve probably driven by Jack’s Inn lots of times without ever stopping. Its location is super low-pro, sandwiched between Ace Hardware and Iwado Realty on Alamaha Street in the heart of Kahului’s industrial area. Its unassuming mirrored doors look like you could be entering an office but once inside you know you’ve come to the right place for ono banana pancakes, tasty loco moco and the fried rice special. Take a seat where you can.
The good food doesn’t stop with their breakfast eggs and bacon either; there are omelettes, a miso special, sandwiches, burgers and beef stew. If you want lunch, they start serving it at 5am and breakfast service lasts until they close at 2pm. Everything is really reasonably priced, averaging around $6 for a simple breakfast.
Be sure to check their specials board, which are packed with extras. Peach pancakes, kim chee hamburger steak and fried akule were just some of the extra goodies on the board the last time I visited. Oh, and when you’re pau, pay at the counter with cash because your plastic isn’t welcome here.
* * *
97 S. Wakea Ave., Kahului
The menu says they’ve been serving the greater Central Maui area since 1968. This Wakea Street landmark is next to the Ohana gas station and right behind the Queen Ka‘ahumanu Center. If you want something fancier you’re in the wrong place because Sheik’s hasn’t changed a whole lot in their 45 years and won’t anytime soon. The diner has plenty of old school charm with their linoleum tables, booths, vinyl chairs and louvered windows.
Some say their pancakes are better than Tasty Crust, but everyone agrees their saimin and fried chicken is the bomb. Their kitchen has plenty of options to please the whole family, and feeding them won’t break the bank here.
For instance, there’s the cheeseburger deluxe. It’s a simple handmade beef patty with American cheese, soft white bun, lettuce, tomato and onion for just $3.90. In fact, most of their 18 sandwiches are priced under $4.
The pile of fried rice is huge–Sheik’s menu boasts four scoops rice on that plate, which costs $9 and includes plenty of Spam and bacon along with veggies and egg. The gravy-topped and very meaty pork sandwich, served with mashed potato from their “special sandwich” selection, is also very popular and costs just $6.50.
Granted, Sheik’s isn’t the kind of spot where you experiment much with the menu but my recent visit yielded a try of their breaded teriyaki. It’s much as described in the name, where you take the familiar thinly sliced and sweetly marinated teriyaki, then bread the steak and pan fry it. Their version comes piled high with two scoops rice and one mac salad. The steak has a nice crisp texture from the breading and plenty of sweet soy flavor.
Sheik’s still has a fountain section–a nod to their 1960s roots–and their orange freeze is legendary. They also offer root beer floats and milkshakes for $4.25. And like Jack’s, this is a cash-only joint.
* * *
180 Wakea Ave., Kahului
Technically not a greasy spoon, Oyaku Tei is one of the last ohana Okazu type spots left in Kahului still offering great local breakfasts. The breakfast bento costs about $7 and is packed with teriyaki, Spam, Portuguese sausage, herbed omelette, hot dog, rice, furikake, and house-pickled daikon. It’s basically just grab and go.
The menu is mainly in Japanese, but the breakfasts include American basics and local foods like French toast, eggs, meat and a croissant sandwich, all priced between $6 and $7. With the Spam musubi, they sandwich a piece of Spam between a pressed loaf of rice and blanket it in seaweed for just $1.75. They also sell their housemade namasu, pickled mango and kim chee.
The dining room is really cozy, like eating at tutu’s house. Just settle in with your food, or take it to go. Sometimes I even share a table.
Their burger is excellent: Maui Cattle Company beef seasoned their way with a plain white bun that’s grilled to order. A plain burger costs $1.95 and adding cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion raises the price to $2.75.
You can pick up lunch anytime, and they open at 6am. The misoyaki butterfish sells out quickly so don’t be afraid to grab one at breakfast. Unlike many diners they also take credit cards and, on rare occasions, other forms of currency. I recently tried to pass a Fun Factory token here as a quarter, but the ladies just laughed and said their grandkids would happily take it.