In the heart of Wailuku Town, a new food truck is making a name for itself. Opened just last year, HI Thai serves up fresh Thai food with reasonable prices and authentic flavors. Since the truck opened last September, it’s since gathered a loyal following of folks who recognize the quality of the food.
On the corner of Market Street and Vineyard, the truck is nestled under the sprawling banyan tree, and patrons sit on picnic tables under strands of twinkly lights. Michael and Natesai “Sai” Johnston, the owners and cooks, started the truck just last September and have already gathered a steady following of foodies who appreciate the fresh fare. “We prepare everything fresh to order; we don’t have anything in warmers. Everything goes from raw to the frying pan, and we use as much fresh ingredients as possible. Every week we have local fresh fish; we don’t use frozen fish at all,” explains Michael. “And we use a lot of local and organic veggies.” The couple even uses some herbs grown in their own garden,
“Our most popular is probably Pad Thai Noodle; we make it exactly like it’s done in Thailand. We use plum sugar and tamarind, we don’t take any shortcuts. We serve it with the same garnish they do in Thailand. My wife is very strict about making Thai food Thai.”
I went with some friends in the evening before checking out the new Mystery Maui Escape Room next door to the truck (which, by the way, was also awesome). We ordered a sprawling mass of food, and everything was delicious. The spring rolls were fresh and crunchy, served with fresh veggies and a tasty dipping sauce. The Panang Curry came with perfectly sticky jasmine rice and a small salad with peanut dressing. The Drunken Noodle, Fried Rice, Pad Thai, and Panang Curry can all be ordered with a choice of veggie and tofu, shrimp, chicken or beef. There are plenty of options for veggie-loving foodies with vegan spring rolls & papaya salad. We ordered it a bit spicy for a medium-sized kick of heat, but there is the option for a mild level of spiciness too.
Michael’s favorite thing on the menu is the Pad Krapow, “which is like a garlic, onion and veggies stir fry with shrimp, beef, chicken, or tofu, and some holy basil, with a fried egg on top, and we serve it with jasmine rice. The people that are hardcore about this place know this dish.”
Michael grew up on Maui, graduating from Maui High in ’96. He went to the culinary program at UH Maui College and worked at restaurants all over Maui, such as Mama’s Fish House and Hana Hou. He met Sai in her native Thailand. “We fell in love pretty quickly,” said Michael, and she moved to Maui to be with him in 2011. She started out working at the Tuk Tuk Thai Truck in Haiku and was a baker at Mana Foods for several years before embarking on the food truck venture.
“She was raised by her aunt, who had her making curries from scratch when she was just a tyke. She was working in the rubber tree fields and cooking dinner as a little kid. She’s got the taste.”
“We bought the truck from Oahu, completely tore it down, repainted, and rebuilt it completely,” said Michael. Tom from Thai Me Up guided the couple with the logistics and legal matters, and they dove in and put their years of restaurant and cooking experience to the test. So far, the outcome has been great. “At this point, we’re not even a year in, so we’re just trying to figure out where to make time for everything. It’s the two of us with one helper, so it takes up a lot of our day. Maybe [in the future] another truck somewhere, or brick and mortar, but for now we’re just getting a good grasp on this one and moving forward. We’ll make good food, keep it consistently good, and add to the menu.”
For real-deal authentic Thai served by really nice people, HI Thai is your place. It’s reasonable, with good portions, and the ambiance is great. “It’s good food, man. If I was just a customer, I’d be stoked on this place.”
HI Thai Food Truck
91 North Market Street
Photos: Sean M Hower