food truck fever hits maui: giving new meaning to ‘meals on wheels’

THREES_FTruckIn 1866, a rancher named Charles Goodnight figured out how to cook well while on cattle drives by outfitting a U.S. Army surplus wagon with kitchen amenities, creating the first kitchen on wheels. He mounted a wooden box to the back and stocked it with shelves and drawers where he could store pots and pans, tableware, utensils, and spices. A hinged lid opened up that became the cook’s workstation and a table to serve food. In the bed of the wagon, he stored dried beans, coffee, cornmeal, salted meat, biscuits, and other food items that were easy to preserve. To cowboys, “chuck” was slang for good, hearty food, so these wagons came to be known as “chuck wagons” (source:

Fast forward to 2008 when Roy Choi, a pioneer in the modern-day food truck movement, ushered in a “new wave” in Los Angeles, making street fare edgier and tastier. Choi and a partner launched Kogi—Korean for meat—with a small fleet of food trucks offering up Korean-Mexican fusion. Kogi originally didn’t have a fixed place of business, and announced its location via Twitter, which influenced the heavy use of social media marketing among food trucks. This year’s Jon Favreau movie Chef was loosely inspired by Choi and the food truck movement.

Here on Maui, it seems food trucks have suddenly popped up everywhere. These “nonstaurants” (non-traditional restaurants) provide a far cheaper alternative to opening a fixed-location outlet, and give businesses the flexibility of marketing their services to special events like birthday parties, weddings, and public gatherings.

The proliferation of food trucks in Kahului enables arriving and departing visitors the opportunity to grab a quick bite near the airport. The Like Poke and Friends Food Truck Oasis on Haleakala Hwy. near Costco is a little off the beaten path, and surrounded by industrial storehouses, but it offers a nice variety of tasty options, along with covered picnic tables at which to enjoy the bounty. Warning: it can be very windy there. A couple of miles away on Ka‘ahumanu Ave. is Maui Fresh Streatery—definitely worth a stop. Here’s a recap of our favorite Kahului food trucks.

Slightly Salty
Haleakala Hwy.
Monday-Friday 10:30am-3:30pm
Credit cards accepted
twitter: @slightly_salty

Slightly Salty’s gray-blue truck is decorated with black paint splatters, giving it a “bad boy” look. Chef Lanning Terrell serves up amazing high-protein fare such as pork belly sandwiches and tacos; crab balls; loco moco burgers; and shrimp with homemade pasta. I opted for the crab cake sandwich (crispy southwest style crab cake with homemade citrus aioli, fresh avocado, Kamuela tomato, Romaine lettuce, cilantro, and crunchy shoestring onion rings served on a brioche bun—$12). Gettin’ hungry yet? The crab cake was fried to perfection, the spice level perfect, the onion rings added a complementary textural element, and the aioli’s bright lemon finish hit all the right notes. Be prepared to go through several napkins with this knockout sandwich.

Haleakala Hwy.
Daily 11am-5pm
Credit cards accepted
twitter: @ThreesMaui
instagram: threesmaui

This mobile version of the highly successful restaurant in Kihei operated by Chefs Cody Christopher, Travis Morrin, and Jaron Blosser serves up mainstay items straight from their award-winning menu, like kalua pork quesadillas, bacon-wrapped hot dog, and hurricane fries. Their plate lunch is a steal at $10 (mac nut crusted chicken, coconut shrimp, hamburger steak, or fresh fish served with two scoops rice and coleslaw). I ordered the fresh fish (kampachi), and it was a generous portion of deep fried fish garnished with savory pineapple salsa. The sticky rice and crunchy coleslaw accompaniments make this an economical complete meal to go.

Sumo Dogs
Haleakala Hwy.
Monday-Friday 10am-3pm
Cash only

Sumo Dogs owners Ken & Krystle Silva claim to serve Hawai‘i’s largest gourmet hot dogs. I’m not particularly a hot dog fan, but was willing to give them a try. All are $8, and you choose from four selections: Upcountry Guava, Maui Mango, Liliko‘i Tropix, and Spicy Onion. Uber-friendly Ro suggested I try their best-selling Upcountry Guava Dog (sumo garlic sauce, Maui onion mustard, and guava jam). OMG, this was the best danged hot dog I’ve ever eaten! And the concept of inserting the dog into the bun (which was sooooo squishy and good) ensures a mess-free eating experience. I approached this dog thinking I’d take one bite and that would be it, but I ended up eating the whole thing! It’s positively addictive. Get the “frequent eater” card!

Like Poke?
Haleakala Hwy.
Monday-Saturday 10am-3pm
Credit cards accepted

Like Poke? operates out of a vintage-style quilted-steel lunch wagon. By the time I sidled up to their window, they were already sold out of raw delicacies such as shoyu ginger, shoyu wasabi, and spicy poke bowls. Undeterred, I ordered the ono katsu “classic” plate lunch for $11. These folks know how to put out food on the double—my order was ready before I’d even had a chance to sit down! Three sizeable pieces of deep-fried ono dressed with ribbons of a mayonnaise-based sauce (being a mayonnaise lover, this was good news for me) were served atop a salad of fresh, crunchy greens, and accompanied by the local requisite two scoop rice. I appreciated the green salad alternative to the usual mac salad, as well as the completeness of the meal. Like Poke? Yes, I like. Hopefully, I’ll be able to sample the poke next time. Got to get there early!

Da Lumpia Lady
Haleakala Hwy.
Tuesday-Saturday 10am-3pm
Credit cards accepted

Da Lumpia Lady’s compact pink and gray truck offers both savory and sweet lumpia fried to order. Four pieces are $6, and eight pieces will set you back $11. You can mix and match your order, which I did with a four-piece selection (two “hapa”—a mixture of beef, potato, green beans, and seasonings— and two “local”—a mixture of pork and carrots). There are two sauces available: “regular” and “spicy.” When I’m unfamiliar with someone’s cuisine, the word “spicy” scares me, so I ordered “regular.” This was my first experience with lumpia, and I found them to be sort of an Asian version of a taquito. Although not a full meal by any means, the lumpia made a tasty snack I’d eat again.

Maui Fresh Streatery
Ka‘ahumanu Ave.
Monday, Wednesday & Friday
10:30am until sold out (and they do!)

Maui Fresh Streatery’s bright red food truck can be found on Ka‘ahumanu Ave. next to the ‘Ilima Shell service station. It’s definitely take-out, but there’s plenty of parking. Chef Kyle Kawakami changes his entire menu every two weeks, and on the day I visited he was featuring Indian cuisine. Not my typical favorite, but I was game. I ordered Jhal Muri (Kolkata puffed rice and millet salad, a variety of fresh vegetables, garam masala, Maui Gold pineapple-mango chutney, and tamarind dressing, served on a bed of organic Kumu Farms field greens—$10). It was an explosion of flavors on my palate, and a demonstration of Chef Kyle’s extraordinary culinary talent. I can see why he sells out early every day. This is truly a mobile gourmet kitchen and, besides the innovative, always changing food, Chef Kyle’s engaging smile is reason enough for a return visit.

–heidi pool


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