Poke Hale Grindz is a testament to the age-old expression, if you want something done right, do it yourself. Anthony Vargas Jr. and his family cook fresh home-style dishes every day for locals and tourists alike in this 100 percent local shop in Wailuku.
From the outside Poke Hale Grindz looks like your everyday convenience store, but inside is a full functioning kitchen, with an organization and cleanliness that rivals some full-time restaurants. Vargas was in the back, hard at work, whisking two massive bowls of banana bread that he was about to put in the oven.
“My motto is don’t expect everything the same twice, because it’s home cook right!” he said.
Vargas, a Maui native, worked in many kitchens on the mainland while growing up but says his culinary prowess comes from the family recipes and traditions passed on from his sixth generation Hawaiian family. His grandfather, is the source of many of his kitchen skills.
These recipes have helped Vargas and his family stand out in the community and provide breakfast lunch and dinner to their loyal patrons from 6am to 7pm, everyday but Saturday (6am to 5pm) and closed on Sunday. They offer items like smoked meats, house-made beef jerky, old school tempuras, bok choy, cookies and cream cheese brownies. And when I arrived, the lunch menu included spam and eggplant, baked chicken, fried rice with steak and pork bok choy, and that’s not even including the poke.
Poke Hale Grindz has become famous for their five-star reviews of poke on Yelp and Facebook, and has been known by many as the island’s best poke. The success comes from the fresh island ingredients and the “build your own poke” counter. At the back of the shop are sheets with all the available ingredients. You select what you want, or choose pre-set classic combinations, then pass the sheet through the window where Vargas makes each bowl.
While we were chatting in the kitchen a couple walked in and gave Vargas their orders. Vargas began mixing the fresh fish with raw Hawaiian salts.
“We’re small but our standards are high,” Vargas said. “The other day I had a customer who’d been eating Poke his whole life and had never tasted the real Hawaiian salt. It should still be crunchy when you bite it.”
Poke Hale Grindz has a wall of return customers’ orders behind the poke counter. These can be quickly made when a familiar face walks in, adding to the family atmosphere.
Recently Vargas and his family won a fishing tournament on Lanai, one Vargas has been competing in all his life. After, the prize Marlin was smoked. I got to try some, and it was some of the most delicious fish I’ve ever tasted. Their winning hand-crafted spears hang above the counter, a great piece of art created by Vargas’ brother.
“We want people to feel welcome,” Vargas said. “Nobody is outside of the family!”
POKE HALE GRINDZ
372 Waiehu Beach Rd., Wailuku
Photos: Sean M. Hower