The tiny wind-beaten neighborhood of Paukukalo sits between the ocean and the Wailuku Industrial Center. It’s a modest grouping of homes on the sea that boasts a really great corner store, Tom’s Mini Mart, which serves as both heartbeat and nurturer for the ’hood.
Paukukalo is known for its surf. With lots of hungry surfers and working class families in the area, Tom’s really serves up the goods. While you won’t find that missing ingredient for your cookies on their shelves, you will find every snack available and many mealtime essentials.
Tom’s has a great hot food menu featuring two entree specials Monday through Friday. These are offered plate lunch style for $6.50 with a scoop of rice, corn and macaroni salad. You can also order a hobo, a mini plate, for $4.50 or a combo for $7.50. If it’s a popular dish you can expect it to be sold out by as early as 11 a.m. that morning.
Tom’s chicken katsu is some of the best on the island. Their inventive chicken char-siu is delicious, blending the red sweet honey-roasted style of preparation with juicy chicken meat. Their chopped steak plate is full of tender seasoned beef and plenty of sauteed onions. And their mac salad is good to the last drop of mayo.
If you get there late and miss their daily special, don’t despair. Chili is their main standby; a bowl goes for just $2.50. They also have chili-dogs for $2.5o, along with hot dogs, manapua and nachos. Their pre-made sandwiches are also great, joining fresh bakery bread with ham or turkey, lettuce, and cheese for only $3.
Tom’s opens early and does a brisk business in the morning. Locals come in and pick up their coffee and lunches before they head to work. Surfers stop by for a little pick-me-up before and after their morning sessions.
But my favorite time to head over to Tom’s is after lunch. They have what I believe is the best shave ice on the island. When prepared correctly, shave ice can rival some of the fanciest desserts in flavor and texture. For $1.75 you can get a 16-ounce cup overflowing with powdery ice, topped with three flavors of syrup. You can also add their sweetened condensed cream topping for 75 cents, order it with two scoops of ice cream under the ice for $1, or add azuki beans or ling hing mui sprinkles.
Tom’s is more than a local corner store. They always put out their seasonal decorations and show their holiday spirit. They cook and serve meals with a lot of pride. That means a lot in a small and humble neighborhood. Going there is more like visiting your Aunty’s house to pick up some goodies and talk story than stopping by a convenience store. Oh, and they are closed on Sundays, ’cuz Aunty needs a break, too. MTW