By Vanessa Wolf
Another day, another west side food truck.
This week’s adventure brings us to the Shark Pit, located at the end of the Sugar Cane Train route in Ka’anapali.
The eight-item menu is short and to the point, and there is but one rule where the two or three daily specials are concerned: be early or be sorry.
We goofed on that front – twice – and started with the Paniolo Crunch Burger ($9) from the main menu.
All the burgers are made with 100% grass-fed Kauai beef and we requested ours medium rare.
The patty itself arrived perfectly grilled and with a great char flavor.
The menu mentions “crispy” onions, which is an optimistic use of the adjective when you consider what they actually meant to say was “raw.”
The Paniolo also has cheese, a couple slices of bacon and barbeque sauce on an extremely pretty taro bun.
We found the onion and BBQ elements overwhelming, and ultimately opted to eat just the satisfying beef patty.
On a later visit we got there early enough to try the Kalbi Burger ($9) on the specials menu.
A mushroom Swiss burger by any other name, we have no clue why it was called a “Kalbi” burger. Regardless, we loved it.
Topped with sautéed mushrooms, grilled onions, Swiss cheese and a horseradish mayo, it’s a must-order for early bird burger lovers.
The Barn Burger Veggie Burger ($7), however?
Well, we can’t prove it’s genus Gardenburger, family Veggie Medley, but it sure looked and tasted like one.
Bland and mushy, the cheese, tomato, onion, and Thousand Island-ish sauce didn’t help.
The lavender-colored taro bread is as pretty as a prom queen, but didn’t add any distinctive flavor.
All told, we feel bad for vegetarians who have no choice but to order this.
For those without dietary restrictions, Shark Pit also offers Korean Steak Tacos ($12).
Ah, the Korean Taco.
If you didn’t already know, in late 2008, Los Angeles food truck chef/owner Roy Choi had a novel ideal: combine Korean flavors with Mexican street food. The Kogi BBQ Taco Truck (not to be confused with the Maui version named almost identically) ultimately earned him culinary praise while single-handedly launching a national fad.
The signature dish typically finds bulgogi (sirloin marinated in soy sauce, sugar and sesame oil) topped with salsa, cilantro, cabbage-based slaw and Korean chili sauce (gochujang or sometimes Sriracha).
The Shark Pit version is loyal to the original and, once again, the grill essence permeates the meat, resulting in an excellent all-around flavor.
The two tacos are accompanied by “Hawaiian Style Fried Rice” which is filled with corn and Portuguese sausage and topped with Japanese furikake (a seaweed-based condiment).
Fusion, it seems, is the name of the game.
The guys running the truck are exceedingly friendly and the wait – usually about 10 to 15 minutes – gives you time to get to know your neighbors.
On that note, Urban Dictionary defines a shark pit as “a club or bar where the men are ruthlessly hitting on women in search of someone to take home.”
This is eerily accurate.
There are three communal tables where diners strike up seemingly friendly conversations with fellow customers, which quickly devolve into persuasive sales pitches.
Twice we overheard the same timeshare salesman get pushy about fractional ownership opportunities and on our third visit, our tablemates were nearly forced into paddleboard lessons.
You can’t blame the food truck for this, but what a pain in the butt for easily identifiable sunburned tourists.
Anywho, back to the food.
Word on the street is no trip to Shark Pit is complete without sampling their Funked Up Fish Tacos ($12).
The prototypical fish taco originated in Baja California, Mexico, and involves a holy trinity of deep-fried fish, thinly shredded cabbage and crema (Mexican sour cream) based sauce.
This ain’t that.
Sticking with the Asian melting pot theme, our double-stacked corn tortillas were filled with a generous portion of sautéed fresh snapper topped with mango salsa, sliced red cabbage, cilantro, onions and a wasabi mayo.
The fish is cooked in (what looks and tastes like) an oil and Sriracha combination, rendering it wet, greasy and crazy messy. They give you a fork: don’t lose it.
The Spicy Shrimp Tacos ($12) were very similar. Hold the mango salsa and add a squeeze of Sriracha, and you’re there.
All told, these are nice spicy morsels utilizing fresh ingredients, but we wouldn’t go out of our way for them.
We would, however, walk a mile – uphill, through waist-deep Maui snow – for the Furikake-Dusted Corn on the Cob ($4).
The grill is once again hard at work and the super fresh, crunchy, charred corn is delightful. It’s simple, but it works and we felt it was the unquestionable star of the show.
That stated, we’re down with the fusion taco (and other stuff) idea, but the Korean iteration has been done to death.
It’s just an opinion – and maybe none of our business – but we’d love to see some of these fresh ingredients taken in new directions. How about a Pad Thai shrimp taco with bean sprouts, cilantro and peanuts or a Gyudon taco with dashi-marinated beef, rice and pickled ginger. Or maybe forget Asia altogether and make a Niçoise taco with ahi, green bean slaw and an olive tapenade.
You don’t have to, of course, but we think you could pull it off.
And we’d like to try some.
So consider this a double-dog, jump-the-shark dare.
Located at 1 Pu’ukolii Road in Lahaina, the Shark Pit is open daily from 11 a.m. until they run out of food/4 p.m., whichever comes first.