Café O’Lei in Wailuku is the kind of place you normally find in a big city: long and skinny, tables set up on the sidewalk, dishes prepared with a kind of urban sophistication. It fits in beautifully in Wailuku Town, which is in the midst of a long revitalization effort.
There’s a Café O’Lei in Kihei, but the new one in Wailuku is quite different. The biggest reason is that it’s located on the first floor of the new Lokahi Pacific Pono Center in Wailuku Town. Four small apartments and nine offices are available for rent on the second and third floors, respectively, to low-income people. In addition, the majority of the spacious Café O’Lei kitchen is open for hourly rent to those who need access to commercial cooking equipment but can’t afford their own.
That leaves Café O’Lei chefs Michael Bumanglag and Saul Siasat with a comparatively tiny space to work in, but they somehow manage to put out a surprising variety of really creative and tasty dishes.
Mahimahi takes up a good chunk of the menu. There’s Blackened Mahi, served atop white rice with a ginger butter sauce and a tangy papaya salsa. And they’ve got Tempura Mahi and fries, which is basically a high-end fish ‘n chips. Occasionally they’ll offer specials like Mahi with lilikoi butter sauce or Mahi with lemon caper butter. All come with a “petite salad” (a smaller version of their Caesar salad) and are outstanding.
The café’s salads are colorful and creative. The Hot Vegetable & Tofu Salad is nearly a work of art: plenty of stir-fried vegetables and tofu chunks, served with baby greens, peanuts, chilis and a sesame vinaigrette that boasts a good kick. The Curry Chicken Salad is a huge array of chicken chunks covered in curry sauce, julienne vegetables, sprouts, baby greens and papaya salsa. On a rainy day, skip the salad and go for the French Onion soup, which comes with lots of onions and cheese and is served in a big bowl that’s topped with a delicious pastry that’s baked right on top.
Even the café’s more pedestrian offerings like the Roast Breast of Turkey sandwich and the Bill Eby Burger are unique. The turkey sandwich is packed with meat, greens, sprouts, avocado and tomato slices served on wheat toast. The burger is a monster, covered in cheese and grilled onions and comes with fries. But my favorite, the Crisp Boneless Chicken, is a delight—a chicken breast or two, fried, and topped with a wonderful Thai sweet chili sauce.
Café O’Lei is only open for breakfast and lunch, but owner Dana Pastula says they should extend their hours for dinner in March, after they get a liquor license.
For more information on some of the services Lokahi Pacific offers, call 242-5761 or visit www.lokahipacific.org. MTW