About two months ago, a curious rumor apparently circulated through Kihei that the soon-to-open noodle house Wok Star was a multinational operation backed by big money. In truth, Wok Star, the tiny little café in Kihei Kalama Village, is clean, professional, efficient and delicious, but also as independently owned and operated as they come.
Wok Star is in the old Café James spot next to Life’s a Beach. While that operation ultimately failed in less than a year trying to compete with enormously popular Kihei Café less than a block away, Wok Star already seems to have found a niche serving eclectic Asian food from the early morning to midnight.
As you walk across the bamboo-lined patio and into the café itself—just a kitchen and counter floating wrapped in soft blue and black trim—it’s easy to see how some interpreted the hard work of owners Sarah Gray and Mark Musante as having international support. Ultimately, both Wok Star’s ambience and food are pretty simple, but the efforts of Gray and Musante pay off so well everything seems intricate and delicate.
Wok Star is, quite simply, a noodle house. The prices are low but the quality of the food—which samples from all over Asia—is high. I found this out when I ordered their Maui Fried Rice: a heaping bowl of jasmine rice with onion, pineapple chunks (not little cubes—chunks), celery, carrots, scrambled egg and bacon, all topped with bean sprouts.
“There’s bacon in this!” I told Gray while quickly shoveling spoonfuls into my mouth.
“Yes,” she said. “It’s supposed to have bacon.”
The operative phrase there is “supposed to.” I’ve eaten a lot of fried rice, but the idea of dropping actual bacon shavings into the rice was new to me.
Everything on the menu is like that, even though no item is more than $10. The Thai Red Curry has steamed vegetables that have simmered in coconut milk and red curry and jasmine rice—adding shrimp, which adds $4 to the dish, is a very wise idea.
The Indo Peanut Stir-Fri—a bowl of spinach, broccoli, sweet onions, bell peppers, egg noodles, cilantro and bean sprouts, all doused in a “special” Indonesian peanut sauce—is an unusual treat. Even something like the Teriyaki Udon, which is basically just egg noodles, broccoli, shitake mushrooms, onions and ginger in a plum teriyaki sauce, is exceptional, especially when topped with sliced beef ($3) and a few squirts of Sriracha.
On a recent visit, I saw one table order at least four servings of potstickers. This isn’t a mystery, once you taste the little fried appetizers, which come with chicken, shoyu vinaigrette and sweet Thai chili aioli.
But perhaps the tastiest surprise on the menu are the Jaffels—pressed sandwiches with a variety of fillings. Think of them as a poor man’s panini, though pressed in a dedicated Jaffel iron, which sears the sandwich’s edges.
The one with scrambled eggs, bacon, cheddar cheese, green onion and Maui crunch wheat bread makes a good breakfast, but the best by far is the Banana Jaffel, with peanut butter, sliced bananas and honey on Hawaiian sweetbread. Cut into triangles and dusted with powdered sugar, this Jaffel even rivals Wok Star’s Banana Lumpia dessert when it comes time for something sweet. MTW