Haiku town teems with international flair, from the Euro windsurfers to the rainbow of food trucks that have popped up through the years. Tucked inconspicuously down a side road of Haiku town, Sala Dang Thai Kitchen fits right into the eclectic mix. Located near the old Haiku Cannery and across the street from Colleen’s, there are two little signs that point the way to the private-feeling spot amongst the banana trees. Because it’s a little off the beaten path, the restaurant is quiet and calm at lunch and dinner.
The restaurant is situated in an old plantation house, and you can dine inside near the contemplative Buddhas or on the covered lanai. A string of Christmas lights and wild chickens roosting in the treetops add to the ambiance of a Haiku nightlife, as does the resident cat, Coconut Milk, that saunters through the grounds.
Sala Dang also delivers fresh, quality fare with gracious service. It’s a local family business that began as the Tuk Tuk Thai food truck in the Haiku Cannery. Scott Dalton and his wife, Dang, run all aspects of the business.
“We both knew how good Dang’s food was, she’s wanted a restaurant since she’s been on island,” says Dalton. “We outgrew [the truck], and a new opportunity presented itself.” Three years ago, they moved across the street, and changed the name to Sala Dang Thai Kitchen.
Dang is originally from Issan, located in northeastern Thailand, and has lived on Maui for 26 years. Her first gig on Maui was at the Grand Wailea’s now-closed nightclub, Tsunami, where she cooked the club’s famous nachos.
Together, the couple has created a cozy restaurant that fits the Haiku vibe. “It’s home style, comfort food, simple food–the way Thai is meant to be,” says Dalton. “Naturally simple.” Dang is motivated by places that give generous portions, which is where the heaping plates come from. “She’s inspired her to give good value to hardworking people in Haiku,” says Dalton.
The menu has a good selection, but it isn’t overwhelming with choices like Thai restaurants can sometimes be. The portions are large. There are curries, stir fry and noodle dishes and soups which can be ordered with chicken, beef, fish or pork options as well as clam, veggie or tofu. The bulk of the ingredients are from Maui, and their freshness is clear. Local basil, papaya and crisp vegetables make for quality dishes.
The Pad Thai, served with a good measure of tamarind, is excellent. The Coconut Ginger Soup is also a winner, and it’s full of fresh vegetables. The Evil Prince Curry is very deserving of its name (in a good way). And the spring rolls are delicious. Our dishes were served mildly spicy, which was good for us, but those preferring it spicier need only ask.
The best way to eat here is family-style, with a yummy Thai iced tea to complement the spices in the meal. The restaurant is BYOB, with no corking fee, which is easy with Fukushima’s or Haiku Grocery just down the block. A good brown ale or IPA goes well with Thai food.
Like many places in Haiku, the service isn’t always fast, but that adds to the authenticity of the place. “We’re not professional, corporate restaurant people, so we’re discovering things as we go,” says Dalton. Depending on the day, you’ll either have the place to yourself at a table or it will be totally crowded with locals and tourists. Last time we were there, there was a large group of around 20, so it’s a good choice whether you’re a couple or a birthday party.
Sala Dang is a true mom-and-pop Thai restaurant. Whether a post-hike spot with friends or a charming, offbeat date night, Aunty Dang’s kitchen has a sweet local vibe and a full plate at a fair price with gracious service.
Like many of those who have come to Maui, Dang has brought the flavors of her homeland and uses the fresh local ingredients of Haiku to enhance her fare. “We’re cooking from the heart, and I hope that comes out in the food,” says Dalton. It does.
SALA DANG THAI KITCHEN
824 Kokomo Rd., Haiku
Photos: Sean M. Hower