Maui BBQ & Grill: #1 For You
By Vanessa Wolf
When you enter the slightly misleadingly named Maui BBQ & Grill, proprietor Mrs. Han will no doubt be waiting there by the register clearly having been pining all day for your arrival.
Like an answered prayer, you appear in her doorstep.
The adorable proprietress lights up like a Christmas tree and readies herself to announce your order into the comical microphone system. “It’s a big kitchen,” she explains when you look bemused.
Should you, like us, ponder the menu a while on your first visit, she will likely rush in with advice.
A psychic intuitive of some sort, Mrs. Han knows what you need.
“Number one for you.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Number one for you. Yes. You number one.”
Is it our serious demeanor? Something in the way we move? Our choice of clothing that evening? The desire in our eyes?
No matter, how do you argue with that?
Thus, the #1 for us or BBQ Chicken ($9.99) is not BBQ in the southern sense, but Korean.
The generous portion of chicken thigh meat is well prepared and has notable soy and ginger flavors.
All told, Mrs. Han did us right: number one, indeed.
The meal itself arrives as a plate lunch with a choice of three sides. The menu lists kimchi, mayo potato, corn, seaweed, tofu, mac salad, pasta salad, green beans and salted cabbage, but the daily offerings usually vary and include a handful of those and a mish-mash of others.
On this particular occasion, we chose the kimchi, which – make a note of this – is truly outstanding. The flavors are complex and there’s good heat and some serious after burn, because what’s the point of kimchi if your lips aren’t sweltering?
We also sampled the mac salad to which we can only say: Holy mayo bomb. If you were raised by Mrs. Hellman you might enjoy this, but we didn’t order it twice.
Also on the menu that day was Dai Kon (daikon). It arrived pickled, pink and strong with the flavors of salt and vinegar.
Not bad. Not good.
These things happen sometimes when one gets brave with an unfamiliar menu.
On our next visit we sampled the #7/Kalbi Ribs ($13.99) and at this point it is safe to assert: Maui BBQ & Grill knows its way around Korean fast food.
The ribs were well-seasoned, tender and in generous portion. By and large, you can get two meals out of a single order here.
Knowing a good thing when we see it, we went with double kimchi and broccoli.
Alas, the broccoli duped us more than once. Although bright green and perfectly cooked, it’s also ice cold and begging for salt. Meh.
On our third visit we got cavalier.
Veering away form the more traditional Korean/plate lunch items, we placed an order for the Cashew Chicken ($11.99).
Mrs. Han made what can only be described as a “yuck face” while quickly shaking her head.
Maybe we spoke too quickly? We restated our order.
“Sweet and sour chicken for you.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Number 12. Sweet and sour for you.”
It’s Mrs. Han’s world; we’re just living in it.
Sweet and Sour Chicken ($11.99) it was.
Out came freshly deep fried pieces of battered chicken in a typically sweet Americanized – think Panda – sweet and sour sauce. Ours came with four chunks of pineapple for anyone counting.
We’re not usually into this type of “Asian” food, but if that’s your jam this version is above average and will likely light your fire.
We forgot all about our previous triple kimchi or bust pledge and asked for broccoli again (vile weed!) and the potato salad.
The scene: cubes of what seem to be skin-on baked potatoes fraternize with sautéed onions while basking in a hard-to-identify sauce that your mind assumes is mayonnaise but your taste buds say is not.
The flavor: leftover baked potato three days later and dry like the Sahara.
A few weeks later we missed that sweet Mrs. Han… not to mention that kimchi.
On the specials board was the tempting Aloha Seafood Combo ($10.99) featuring fried fish, coconut shrimp and onion rings.
What do we say about this except “Trust the Gorton’s Fisherman.”
We’re pretty sure the fine folks at Van De Kamp were heavily involved in this dish, but that stated the three coconut shrimp were good and the two battered fish pieces were highly reminiscent of a school lunch… as were the five onion rings.
The hands-down highlight were the chunks of kaffir lime.
All told, steer clear of the deep fryer and stick with what Maui BBQ & Grill is attempting to tell you they’re good at via their name and Mrs. Han’s occasional hijacking of your order: Korean BBQ.
Oh, and give her our best when you go.
Maui BBQ & Grill is located at 2395 S. Kihei Rd. #110 in Kihei and open 10:30 a.m .to 8:30 p.m Monday thru Saturday and 2:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Sunday.