I’m pretty peeved that Kahana offers excellent Chinese delivery and Wailuku does not. In fact, China Boat in Kahana is a magical place. Literally.
Since 1987 China Boat has been a mainstay for Chinese cuisine in West Maui. It was good, but then a year and a half ago Kai and Grace Chen came to manage the restaurant and breathed new life into the menu. The Chens came here from the Huntington Beach, California, after running a restaurant there for 20 years.
China Boat got a facelift, the old carpet went out and a new tiled floor went in. Fresh paint adorned the walls. Of course, none of this would matter if they didn’t have wonderful talent in the kitchen. Head chef Kai Chen restructured the menu, combining Szechwan, Mandarin, Cantonese and Japanese style cuisines, while Grace Chen managed the front of the house.
“The trend we noticed in Chinese restaurants is to have all the cuisines in one place,” Grace said. “Szechwan is known for spicy flavors, Cantonese the black bean sauce, Mandarin is famous for Peking duck. We can do any of the sauces on any different meats. The menu is versatile.” Such a large undertaking could be a risk, if not done right, but here they pull it off well, with more than 120 items available on the menu.
I started my tour of China with calamari and lettuce cups off the appetizer menu. The fried calamari was supreme–no tiny legs here. These were calamari steaks, cross-hatched, flour-dredged and fried. They’re served with both spicy chinese mustard sauce and a sweet and sour sauce. These crispy seasoned seafood curls are tender as butter. The minced chicken with bits of green onion were cupped in iceburg lettuce wraps and came with a sweet dark sauce, which we drizzled over the whole business before scarfing it down.
The outside of the restaurant is almost hidden from the roadside with tropical fauna. You have to keep an eye out for their modest sign that simply says, “China Boat Restaurant,” with another, smaller sign reading “lunch specials $7.99″ hanging below. They have plenty of parking. Once indoors, their large dining room windows offer green jungle views all the way around. It’s very pleasant inside.
You will likely be greeted and seated by Grace, with the rest of the staff all very friendly and helpful. We were dining with children, and were surprised to find a resident magician called simply “the boss.” The boss poured water into newspapers, pushed pins into balloons that didn’t pop and made objects vanish–the kids were enthralled, but some of his tricks were actually amazing even to the adults in our group. Even more delightful, the kids exclaimed that their chicken fried rice was the best they ever had, and they devoured every morsel. Kids tend to be the toughest critics, so I was impressed.
One of my favorite dishes is candied walnut shrimp, a deep batter fried shrimp smothered in a creamy honey-mayonnaise sauce and candied walnuts. Here they pile the dish over steamed broccoli; the two flavors accented each other well. My second favorite had to be the vegetarian szechwan garlic eggplant, a spicy dish of garlic, onion, carrot and a wonderful sweet soy based sauce with a braised asian eggplant.
The cashew nut chicken was another superb dish. The cashews and water chestnuts gave it lots of crunchy texture, and the stir fried sweet green bell pepper, chicken and zucchini were flavored with crumbs of garlic and soy sauce throughout the dish.
Their noodle selection is also exceptional with seven different styles of noodles to choose from. We tried the lesser found Singapore rice noodle, which comes yellowed with curry spice. These hair thin rice noodles clung to the char siu pork and shrimp, and are served with cabbage, aromatic onion and carrot. They could be a meal unto themselves, or for gluttons like us a perfect wheat-free starchy side dish. I did not get to try the Peking duck or the whole fish, Japanese cuisine, or any of the udon dishes, but I will be back to try it.
China Boat features daily lunch and dinner specials that change, so give them a call for details. They have a big private dining room for parties, and they have a catering menu available, too. If you dine between 5pm and 6pm you can enjoy 15 percent off. Food is fresh and they use no MSG.
4474 Lower Honapiilani Rd.
Lahaina, HI 96793
About Jen Russo
I write lifestyle and culinary columns for MauiTime. I love being a Maui girl and adore my big family. Dedicated food taster, blogger, internet fanatic, and Maui and Hawaii specialist.