The classic Hawaiian plate lunch follows simple, loose rules. Meats are scooped into styrofoam alongside rice and macaroni salad. Common variations are fish plate lunch specialists, and Hawaiian BBQ versions. Some of our favorite varieties are the Japanese versions. The Japanese style is often known as Okazu-ya (Japanese for “with rice”). They are typically casual cafeteria counters, and sometimes known as Japanese delis. They offer teriyaki, katsu and udon noodles served with Hawaiian flair. Ichiban Okazuya is an old, and beloved example of the Hawaiian-Japanese deli on Maui.
The crowd here is blue collar, and we found ourselves lined up behind construction workers and elementary school students getting their afternoon meal. Even at busy times, the family that has been running this place for over thirty years is very sweet and willing to help guide you through their unique options for plate lunch sides and mains.
The vegetable choices may be the best part of the plate, and it’s hard to find good veggies on usually gloppy Hawaiian lunch plates. Picked daikon and carrots, with nori make a cool, refreshing choice. Stewed potatoes, burdock and lotus in a sweet sauce, nishime, are comforting. Which one to choose, may depend on the weather in Wailuku. For plate lunch purists, mac salad is available, but we can’t fathom choosing it again over the excellent veggies. Local favorite, chicken long rice, was another memorable side. This resembles the Korean noodle dish jap chae, but with the starch (not rice) noodles already chopped up into pieces. This warm noodle salad has large pieces of tender dark meat chicken and shiitake mushrooms. The flavors are savory and rich with absorbed broth.
The garlic sautéed mahi mahi is average, and the Korean chicken tastes like take-out General Tso’s. Neither were offensive, and their lack of impact left us to focus on the thing that the restaurant does very best, Japanese-style Tonkatsu cutlets. Pork or Chicken are given the schnitzel treatment, but with Japanese panko breadcrumbs and an unusually dark fry. The dark brown color brings out the sweetness in the bread. The crust stays crispy and the meat within is moist and juicy. If you have a sweet tooth you can punch it up with a drizzle of the Tonkatsu sauce served alongside, but we thought that the katsu was good enough to be enjoyed without any sticky condiments. A katsu with perfectly steamed rice and the pickled vegetable salad made for one of our favorite plate lunches ever.