Pranee vs. Nutcharee: Rumble in the Jungle
By Vanessa Wolf
As anyone who’s anyone who knows anyone who knows anything knows, you don’t go to Hana without enjoying some lunch from Pranee’s Authentic Thai Food… or Nutcharee’s Authentic Thai Food, depending on the day.
But for those with flexible schedules, the age-old debate rages: do you go Saturday through Monday to catch Pranee or Tuesday through Friday when Nutcharee runs the same restaurant space?
To sort this out, we turn to the heavyweight pros for advice and inspiration.
“To be a champ you have to believe in yourself when no one else will.” – Sugar Ray Robinson
With these words, the great Sugar Ray is trying to tell us to go to Hana when the spirit moves us.
Don’t overthink this whole Pranee/Nutcharee thing. Just gas up the car and take that hungry stomach of yours east.
Once there, trust your instincts and order something light to start.
Both ladies offer a Papaya Salad ($6) with minor differences.
Although impeccably fresh, Pranee’s version was quite sweet – too sweet for our palate, really – and topped with some leftover tomato bits and a deluge of liquid.
Maybe we just hit an off day, but if you’re not so inclined toward the wet sugary treatment of your meal, Nutcharee’s more classic fish-sauce dominant take might be more your style.
“Once that bell rings you’re on your own. It’s just you and the other guy.” —Joe Louis
Or, as the Brown Bomber would no doubt ad lib, you and Nutcharee’s Spring Rolls ($6).
Although the menu touted them as “hand rolled,” ours were suspiciously identical in appearance.
“Is Costco involved in this dupe?” we wondered to ourselves.
Turns out we’re not being hoodwinked: Nutcharee rolls 400 of these babies a day. It takes two hours and the finished product looks assembly line perfect and tastes just as fine. Our hats off to your mad skillz, lady.
“I want your heart. I want to eat his children. Praise be to Allah!” —Mike Tyson
Now what Mike Tyson is really trying to say here is… er… hmmmm.
Honestly, it’s probably better not to try to get inside Iron Mike’s head, especially when he’s in the middle of an epic post-win rant.
Rather, focus your attention on the specials of the day.
The restaurant opens around 10 a.m. and these pre-made, limited edition foodstuffs often sell out fast.
As you walk in, the large silver chafing dishes by the makeshift kitchen house the day’s offerings. Pause and a server opens the lid so you can see (and smell) the wares, usually featuring a fresh caught local fish in a complex curry sauce of some kind.
You can’t go too wrong with one of these creations. Praise be to Allah, indeed.
“If they can make penicillin out of moldy bread, then they can sure make something out of you.” ― Muhammad Ali
Just a little reminder to keep your chin up as you seat yourself.
The restaurant is essentially a steel frame event tent where the party never quite ends.
Things are rustic – and buggy, especially if you’re outside.
Expect to bat away houseflies, mosquitoes and fruit flies on any given occasion.
Don’t dismay. You’re in Hana after all. Such things are to be expected.
“It’s like someone jammed an electric light bulb in your face, and busted it. I thought half my head was blowed off…When he knocked me down I could have stayed there for three weeks.” —James J Braddock
That’s how you’re going to feel after the house speciality Crispy Opaka(paka) and Green Mango Salad ($12). In a good way.
Shredded green mango and crispy fried pink snapper?
The fish is wonderfully light and crispy and perfectly complimented by the sweet, sour and spicy mango salad and if that isn’t enough, the bed of salad greens, cilantro and green beans demands that you taste the rainbow.
We can all but guarantee you’ll be thinking about this one for days.
“Sure the fight was fixed. I fixed it with a right hand.” –George Foreman
The Shrimp Pad Thai ($12) is flavorful and fresh no matter who makes it.
Pranee includes a topping of raw mung bean sprouts (our preference) whereas Nutcharee cooked them with the noodles.
It’s a classic dish made classically and – minus the fact that they’d run out of limes on both visits – predictably satisfying.
“If you screw things up in tennis, it’s 15-love. If you screw up in boxing, it’s your a$$.”
-Randall “Tex” Cobb
Look, Tex is really just trying to warn us about the potential spice level in Thai food.
Think you can take the heat?
Don’t be a hero. Order the Drunken Noodles with Tofu ($10) “spicy” and prepare to meat with your taste buds’ maker.
Sweet Mary and all the saints that’s hot.
And thanks to the use of Hawaiian chili peppers, it’s a heat that kicks in late and keeps on burning.
Once your spirit returns to your body, you’ll likely find the thick drunken (kee mao) noodles- served with green beans, zucchini, carrots, broccoli, cabbage and crispy basil leaves – every bit as delightful as they are fiery.
Be especially wary of Nutcharee, as we found her version to be the spicier of the two… and that’s saying something.
This was consistent with our overall findings: Pranee’s dishes tended to be sweeter and Nutcharee’s had more heat.
Is one superior?
We had a slight preference for the Pranee experience overall, but since they’re not really in competition with one another, take that with a grain of jasmine rice.
“The loss just made me hungry; it made me want to go out and win another title.” —Thomas (Tommy) Hearns
Service (at Nutcharee’s especially) might also make you hungry, so don’t show up starving unless you’re planning to go with the special.
Food is made to order by the small crews and if they tell you 45 minutes, it might be more like an hour and a half before your teeth have something to do.
Bring some interesting companions, a knitting project or a good book, but make sure to leave time to make the stop.
Pranee’s Authentic Thai Food opens at approximately 10 a.m. and closes by 4 p.m. on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays. Nutcharee’s Authentic Thai Food keeps the same schedule Tuesdays through Fridays.
They are located at 5050 Uakea Road in Hana.