If you drive along Kahului Beach Road, you’ve surely noticed that the dirt lot near the small boat ramp has become a food court by the sea, filled with lunch trucks offering take-out options. Each one has its specialties so no one is stepping on anyone else’s toes; the only overlap are the hot dogs and sodas that each carry.
The regulars are Tommy Lau Hee Chicken Hekka, the Shrimp Truck and the $6 Plate Lunch Truck. There is a loose decorum and mutual respect that I can appreciate. These chefs are hard working, and all plates are made to order. The best day to come is Saturday when you can also find the tamale lady, smoked sausages, pasteles and various other vendors. More often than not there’s fresh fish for sale, just caught from the boats going in and out of the harbor.
The Shrimp Truck features shell-on shrimp, de-veined and sauteed on the spot. Plates run about $12, which gets you a huge amount of shrimp. I have not been able to finish one yet, even when sharing with colleagues. The shrimp are fat but not jumbo, and juicy, sweet and very fresh. Plates are offered in a variety of butter-based sauces; Hawaiian scampi is the basic, and hot and spicy, spicy pineapple and lemon pepper round out the offerings. The crab salad served here is a mac salad with crab and pairs well with the shrimp. Plates also feature two scoops of rice.
The shrimp is cooked perfectly, and a plate takes about five minutes from the time you order. Shrimp are served over a bed of cabbage with a lot of sauce; beware of spillage in the car. They do wrap it all up in a bag, but the bags are not spill-proof. Pulling the shell off is also a messy proposition, and made me wish for a shell-free option. The Shrimp Truck comes out Tuesday through Saturday and starts the day around 10:30am.
Tommy Lau Hee is famous for his chicken hekka, a fact that he bills right on his banner. The line at his booth back up the assertion. Monday through Saturday, 9:30am to 4:30pm, he cooks up his two specialties, chow fun and chicken hekka. You can get them in one-pint containers for $5 or a quart for $10. Chicken hekka is a sweet, soy-based soup-ish type of dish similar to sukiyaki, with roughly cut chicken pieces (no bones in Tommy Lau Hee’s version), long rice, tofu, shitake mushrooms, bamboo shoots and aromatics. It’s considered a comfort food on the islands. The tradition behind it (and genesis of the name) is throwing in the pot, “whateveh da heck(a) you have in da pantry.”
Tommy Lau Hee’s chow fun is simple and delicious, lots of pepper on the wide-fat noodles with ground beef, but otherwise plain. He offers some specials, like Wednesday and Thursdays when you can get a rib plate with corn and rice for $8, and also has mini plates of all his specials for a couple bucks less.
Mondays and Tuesdays are bargain days, with chili and hot dogs for $6, mini for $4. Fridays and Saturdays feature beef stew.
The $6 Plate Lunches truck means business. They offer steak, chicken, pork or pork ribs in a basic plate that comes with iceburg lettuce green salad with your choice of dressing and two scoops rice. They sell out, and the few times I’ve been by after noon, the first thing they tell you is what they have left. Judging by the fact that I haven’t made it early enough to try it, the steak must be good. For a dollar more you can get two meat choices on a plate, and for $8 you can get a shrimp combo or short ribs, or a third choice of meat. Their barbecue has fantastic char, and everything has its own sauce, sweet teriyaki style. The meats are pre-cut into chunks, not bite-size but workable with a fork. The chicken is boneless, thigh pieces tender and crisp with caramelized barbecue char from the sweet teriyaki.
On Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday they have pork Adobo, and Fridays feature chicken Adobo, too. You can call in orders for pick-up at 283-8544.
On Saturdays, the food court is crowded with extra vendors. You can pick up green chili and cheese, chicken or pork tamales for $2 each or dozen for $20. The spicy red sauce that comes with them is incredible. The tamales are fresh and warm, little pockets of corn masa wrapped in corn husks and steamed in their foil wrappers. Whatever you don’t eat is easily heated up in the microwave or re-steamed. We like them for Sunday breakfast with fried eggs. Add the smoked sausage and pasteles and fish and it’s open season for bargain-hunting gastronomes.
Got a hot food scoop? Contact Jen Russo at 808-280-3386 or fax to 808-244-0446.