Shannon Wianecki | Photography by Jason Moore | Sara Smith
My grandfather, who survived both the Depression and WWII with a healthy appetite and sweet tooth intact, recently sent me a ten-dollar bill accompanied by this note: “Treat yourself to dinner somewhere cheap.” Cheap was underlined twice. Indeed. With prices skyrocketing and the dollar dropping, we could all use a little resourcefulness when it comes to dining out. As I gratefully slid the sawbuck into my wallet, I wondered: what kind of meal could Alexander Hamilton buy me on Maui? Would it satisfy my gourmet palate? You bet. Shake that ten spot out of your piggy bank—we’ve found ten thrifty feasts for you to choose from.
Teriyaki salmon: $7 at Ichiban Okazuya
2133 Kaohu St., Wailuku • 244-7276A
A throwback to plantation days, the one-room kitchen on Kaohu Street dishes up some of the island’s tastiest deals. With just three parking spaces and no seating, the atmosphere may be Spartan but the food is fantastic. Heaping plate lunches are cooked to order with rice and your choice of side dishes. My favorite ensemble: pan-fried teriyaki salmon with steamed vegetables and earthy seaweed salad. If you’re extra hungry, toss a tempura shrimp or two on top—while staying under budget. The small containers of fresh kim chee beside the cash register will set you back another fifty cents. For an easy picnic, take your feast up the road to ‘Iao Valley.
Eggplant Szechwan: $8.45 at Honokowai Okazuya
3600-D Lower Honoapi‘ilani Hwy., Lahaina • 665-0512
Locals flock to this standing-room-only restaurant in a Honokowai strip mall. Its popularity is understandable the moment you step inside and get a whiff of the braised eggplant simmering in a sweet-and-spicy marinade. Wonderfully warm and filling, the eggplant Szechwan is served in a Styrofoam clamshell loaded with rice and your choice of macaroni salad or steamed vegetables. Never mind if there’s a wait—the friendly staff process lunch and dinner orders to feed a veritable army with skill and smiles to boot.
Fish taco plate: $10 at Las Pinatas
395 Dairy Rd., Kahului • 877-8707
Bright piñatas swing from the ceiling of this humble Mexican restaurant beside Kinko’s in Kahului. Owner Steve Hargrove mans the busy counter, greeting diners with a grin. When new customers order the fish tacos, he makes a point of advising them: they’re unlike any they’ve had before. In fact, they’re green! Coated in a mixture of cilantro and jalapeno, these uncommon emerald beauties are a spicy version of heaven. They hardly need any help from the salsa fresca bar—though feel free to douse your beans and rice. Bonus: if you order just one taco you can wash it down with a Negro Modela (or other Mexican beer) and stay true to your budget.
Wakamae ramen: $7 at K Jo Tei in the Main Street Promenade
2050 Main St., Wailuku • 243-7676
Without a sign to alert them, passersby might miss the culinary find within Wailuku’s Main Street Promenade: K Jo Tei ramen shop. Steaming-hot broth flavored with roasted pork trimmed of its fat, green onions, and nutrient-rich wakamae seaweed is ladled atop fresh ramen noodles. The cafeteria-like environment leaves little to the imagination, but the wholesome flavors of this savory soup will transport you. It’s best with a squirt of hot sauce or some fresh kim chee on the side.
Baked penne NY: $8.75 at Penne Pasta
180 Dickenson St., Lahaina • 661-6633
Mark Ellman’s pasta place has what many of the others on our list don’t: affordable food and atmosphere. Take a seat at one of the outdoor café tables and watch the world pass by on historic Dickenson Street. Dig into the baked penne NY, a meat-and-cheese lover’s delight. Tender chunks of braised beef and noodles are drenched in tangy pomodoro sauce and tucked beneath a cover of melted Parmesan, provolone, and mozzarella. Delish! A gratis olive appetizer adds a gourmet touch.
The Italian Grinder sandwich and salad: $8.50 at Café Marc Aurel & Wine Bar28 North Market St., Wailuku • 244-0852
Those who desire an air of sophistication while dining on the dime should head to Café Marc Aurel. The cabernet-colored walls, art-house music, and classy stemware reveal the owner’s European sensibilities. The latest addition to Aurel’s evolving menu is an array of gourmet sandwiches and wraps. Each comes with an evocative name (the Mistress, the Teacher, the Revolutionary) and a side salad. As you stab forkfuls of baby lettuce, you can envision yourself a character in a Milan Kundera novel, fending off Eastern Bloc oppression in the most fashionable way. While we’re not entirely sure what “the Grinder” evokes, it’s a divine sandwich: sopressata, Black Forest ham, provolone, roasted red pepper, marinated zucchini, and a Parmesan-pesto mousse atop a baguette.
Pork adobo burrito: $8.55 at Cilantro
170 Papalaua Ave., Lahaina • 667-5444
Cilantro offers so many delicious options under $10 that choosing amongst them can be an agonizing exercise in restraint. Menu standouts: mouthwatering slow-roasted chicken, adobo-spiced pork, house-made corn tortillas, authentic salsas made from nine types of chiles, and a fantastic jicama slaw. Try the adobo pork burrito, a mammoth meal, stuffed with black beans, rice, roasted chiles, onion rajas, and chipotle con queso. Succulent and packed with flavor, the pork is sure to satisfy—though you’ll want to plan a return visit to sample the Mother Clucker flautas with jalapeno jelly and the jicama slaw.
‘Ahi sandwich: $9 at Pa‘ia Fishmarket
100 Hana Hwy., Pa‘ia • 579-8030
How does the Pa‘ia Fishmarket do it? Day after day, the fishmongers plate up thick slabs of ‘ahi, moist ono, and the occasional wahoo or opah. Their phenomenal fish burgers sell for less than you’d pay for the ingredients at the grocery down the street. Inside, the bench seats can be a little grimy, and the eclectic nautical décor a bit dusty, but that doesn’t stop the sun-kissed crowds from lining up around the corner for the best fish sandwich on Maui. Don’t bother looking at the menu—what you want is a sesame bun piled high with cabbage slaw, grated cheddar, tomato, and a generous fillet that spills over the edges. The ‘ahi burger is best ordered rare.
New York Sandwich: $6.95 at Casanova Italian Restaurant & Deli
1188 Makawao Ave., Makawao • 572-0220
Casanova Deli’s New York sandwich is a masterpiece of house-made meatballs, sautéed onions, and melted mozzarella. Slathered in marinara sauce, it’s served warm on a toasted baguette with a few kalamata olives and pickle slivers as garnish. Pull up a stool outside and enjoy your simple Italian lunch while taking in the relaxed pace of Makawao town. With your leftover change, you can even spring for a shot of espresso.
Mahi mahi tempura: $11.75 at Da Kitchen
425 Koloa St., Kahului • 871-7782
2439 South Kihei Rd., Kihei • 875-7782
Da Kitchen, a perennial ‘Aipono Award winner for best plate lunch, knows how to feed the hungry masses. Try the fish tempura plate: three large pieces of fish lightly coated in panko batter, fried, and served with (what else?) potato-macaroni salad and two scoops of rice. Technically, the meal is more than $10, though it’s hefty enough for two—making it double the value. Slide into a booth, douse your fish tempura in house-made tartar sauce or Asian hot sauce, and you’re in business. Just don’t fight too loudly over that third piece.
Well, Grandpa, as it turns out, Alexander Hamilton isn’t a bad date after all.