Archie’s: Unchanged After All These Years
Vanessa Wolf is a former head chef. She offers her frank assessments in the interests of honesty and improving Maui’s culinary scene.
By Vanessa Wolf
Drive by Archie’s in Wailuku between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. and witness the full lot.
What’s going on in that nondescript concrete building?
What do these patrons know that you don’t? And can it be appreciated if you aren’t already a seeming insider?
Archie’s is like an irascible old man that you can’t help being fond of, maybe precisely because he is so hard-headed.
Something about Archie’s absurd decor – think day-glo green chairs surrounded by plastic asparagus teapots in empty fish tanks – and willy-nilly hours makes you want to love it.
Surely there’s some reason Archie’s so boldly eschews progress and gets away with it.
Part of the charm is the staff. Go back the third or fourth time and the waitress recognizes you, clearly intrigued by this sudden fixture in what’s mostly the purveyance of long-time locals. She asks questions, wanting to know if you live nearby and remembering what you ate the last time you were there.
But this is a food review. So what about the food?
You don’t have to have grown up on Maui to enjoy Archie’s, but you likely do need to possess – or at least be open to – the related palate.
By and large, this is a home-style Japanese meets local kine restaurant. If fish or animal protein is involved, it’s likely been cooked to the razor’s edge.
That’s the way it is. If you don’t like it that way, then you’ve now been warned. Adjust your expectations accordingly.
Our initiation involved the Fish Misoyaki ($11) prepared with butterfish.
It was delightful: flaky and perfectly cooked. It had a light yet savory flavor. The side of accompanying miso soup, rice, and salad were a good portion and complemented the dish without complicating it.
The butterfish became the yardstick by which all future meals were judged, a happenstance which may not have worked in Archie’s favor. Hands down, it was the best of the bunch. Frankly stated, each subsequent visit resulted in some notable disappointment at having to order things that weren’t the fish misoyaki.
The Curry Udon ($6) is probably better filed under “acquired taste.”
Essentially, it seemed to be a chicken broth with (lots of) curry powder, chewy udon, and the mother lode of onions. There were also bits of chicken, and a slice of kamaboko (fishcake that looks a bit like a candy cane) which in contrast with the yellow base and green onions somehow evoked thoughts of Christmas.
Like Christmas itself, it’s not every day fare, and that’s OK.
The Nebeyaki Udon ($8), in contrast, follows along far more traditional Japanese lines. The broth is dark and rich with soy. The bowl comes filled with chewy udon noodles, seaweed, onions, cabbage, broccoli, carrots, half an egg and is topped – as is tradition – with a tempura shrimp. It would hit the spot on the occasional dark and rainy Wailuku afternoon.
The Salmon Shioyaki ($11) was mildly gingery with a slightly sweet flavor. It was on the verge of being terribly overcooked, but was somehow still moist. Accompanied by a handful of undressed shredded cabbage and the obligatory bowl of rice, it’s pleasant but forgettable.
For the next venture, we asked for the recommendation of the gracious waitress. She recommended the Fried Fish ($11), commenting that just thinking of it, “gives me chicken skin.”
The thin ahi filets arrived lightly floured and pan-fried to well done, again with a side of cabbage and rice. If your doctor has recommended you stick to a diet based on bland foods, this could be just the ticket.
Our final visit was for an order of the Shrimp Tempura ($14.50). It comes accompanied by some excellent pickled cabbage and miso soup as well as a side of rice.
The tempura featured shredded carrots in haystack form, two slices of zucchini, one slice of eggplant, three string beans and three shrimp.
It’s not by any stretch of the imagination a huge portion for the price, but the vegetables still had some bite and the tempura itself was light and crisp.
One word of warning for those intending to eat there: don’t show up too close to 1 p.m. or 7:30 p.m., ’cause when it’s quitting time at Archie’s, it’s QUITTING TIME.
Make no mistake: Archie’s isn’t fooling around. At 1:24 p.m. Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” will stop believing mid-sentence.
A few minutes later, the lights will go off. They’re closing the doors at 1:30 p.m., and you’d better not still be inside.
Archie’s is calling the shots as they clearly have since the 1970s.
When the music stops playing, dump your udon into the provided styrofoam to-go container and prepare to scram.
We welcome your feedback. Please let us know if you hear of any new restaurants opening or reopening, total menu overhauls, or simply know of a hidden treasure you want to share. Have a restaurant you want reviewed (or re-reviewed)? Drop us a line – Vanessa(@mauinow.com)