The main difference between saimin and Japanese ramen is the preciousness with which the soup is served. Ramen shops usually are specialists that make only ramen and maybe a few appetizers. They obsess over the minutiae of fixing noodle soup. Conversely, saimin is served at roadside snack shops, diners, and any eatery that pleases.
We get ours with wontons, making it wonton mein. It has a mild broth with subtle fish aromas. The noodles are fat, chewy, round, and wavy. They soak up the broth as you eat, and that overcooks them quickly, completely changing their texture. The wontons taste much like those you’d find in a take-out Chinese wonton soup in suburbia. Although Sam Sato’s is one of the few places on Maui that really specializes in saimin, that’s not what you should come for.
Sam Sato’s best dish is dry noodles. These are unusually thick noodles tossed in a garlicky, buttery dressing and piled high in a bowl. The dressing’s ingredients are secret, which is why no one does it like Sam’s. The springy noodles are garnished with a few shreds of tasty BBQ pork and a scant handful of bean sprouts and scallions. A tiny bowl of broth is served alongside to slightly wet the noodles. You can request nose-stinging Chinese mustard on the side as well, which is meant to be combined with soy sauce for a noodle dip. No matter how you eat it, it’s an incredible bowl of noodles.
A satay-like “BBQ stick” is a popular add-on. The beef version of this skewer is so penetrated by marinade and so caramelized by fire that we close our eyes with joy at every bite. It is a a flavorful counterpoint to the subtle bowl of dry noodles. A bowl of noodles and a couple of skewers add up to Maui’s very best meal.
In addition to noodle supremacy, Sam Sato’s is often regarded as serving some of the Island’s best pastries, including sweet bean manju cookies. Like the noodles, the manju are unique, smaller and lighter than most. These crisp, bite-sized wonders are indeed delicious, but perhaps a bit starchy after finishing a mountain of noodles. We’d recommend order a small bag for the road when you pay at the counter.
Sam’s has been on Maui since 1933, having changed locations several times. Though it didn’t start serving noodles until decades later, now that’s its claim to fame. They’re made by the Iwamoto Natto Noodle Factory. Besides top-notch noodles, Sam Sato’s offers a full range of diner breakfast classics and some Hawaiian rice plates.