Hawaii is a true meeting point of East and West, with almost equal numbers of European and Asian descended residents. While outnumbered by Filipinos and Japanese, there is a significant Thai population in the state, and plenty of Thai restaurants. We got a good tip that there are some unique Thai eats at a favorite local lunch food truck complex, and were eager to sample some Thai-Hawaiian.
“Plate Lunch Plaza,” also known as the “Kahului Food Truck Oasis,” itself is an attraction. Right after you turn from the airport you’ll see a parking lot behind chain-link fence across the street from the Maui Costco. Here you’ll find Japanese ramen, poke, acai bowls, and other local favorites. Thai Mee Up has the largest and busiest rig.
The unusually elegant truck food is courtesy of a chef who spent decades honing his craft at Mama’s Fish House, Maui’s most famous and extortionately priced restaurant. Several times Thai Mee Up has received accolades heralding it the best food truck on Maui.
Crispy garlic shrimp aren’t a typical Thai dish, but they have classic flavors of Thailand: basil, lemongrass, ginger, garlic and chilies. These flavors were applied to a Hawaiian lunch favorite, butterflied garlic shrimp. The shrimp are piquant and delicious, and a dish we’d happily recommend, even if they weren’t exactly as crisp as promised.
Fried spare ribs taste more Hawaiian than Thai: sweet and drenched in soy marinade. Frying ribs often leads to dryness, but these remain juicy, even if they don’t have much of a crust. Accompanying papaya salad is fresh and tasty, but it lacks the fishy punch or chili bite of authentic Thai papaya salad. It tastes sanitized.
We’re suckers for pad thai, but after ordering it here, we actually feel like suckers. It is, like most pad thai in Hawaii, soggy and too sweet. Considering the quality of the shrimp and the ribs, this was especially disappointing. Perhaps those with Hawaiian tastes, which tend towards sweet and saucy, might enjoy it. Locals do queue up for it.
Hawaiian flavor leanings explain the lack of Thai chili heat in much of the food. Hawaiians don’t much like burn. For those who hanker for it, there is a bottle of ominously named “chili pepper water” at the truck’s counter. It adds heat but not much else to distract from the food. Noodles aside, Thai Mee Up serves great food.