Upcountry Fresh Tamales and Mixed Plate: Say What?

April 13, 2015, 1:01 PM HST · Updated April 13, 1:59 PM
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By Vanessa Wolf

Looking for some solid Mexican upcountry? It's in a restaurant with "Mixed Plate" on the sign. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

Looking for some solid Mexican upcountry? It’s in a restaurant with “Mixed Plate” on the sign. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

Boasting a veritable alphabet soup of words, we wonder if maybe this little restaurant is overcompensating.

Although we’d understand if so, they really don’t have to.

No bigger than your living room, Upcountry Fresh Tamales and Mixed Plate – UFTAMP, if you will – manages to churn out a wide variety of Mexican dishes and a fairly comprehensive list of plate lunch and local style offerings in a semi-incongruent, yet undeniably ballsy fashion.

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Which came first: The chicken or the huevos?

We have no idea, but when in Rome we start with the Chicken Teriyaki ($9/$10 if you take it to go).

The Chicken Teriyaki plate is a solid local-style offering. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The Chicken Teriyaki plate is a tasty – albeit very well done – local-style offering. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

What arrived was a feast fit for Caesar, boasting three massive, well-marinated thighs. Ooh baby.

The chicken was deeply flavored with a predominant ginger profile.

The meat had a rather ferocious black char on the surface, but so long as you aren’t one to worry about benzopyrenes (and we were raised by a woman who scorched pretty much everything – even soup – and she’s still alive and kicking), then don’t sweat it: Chicken thighs can take the heat.

The delectable bird flesh comes with a generous side serving of slightly chunky mayonnaise… Wait. That’s mac salad.

For our tastes, the quantity of mayo present overshot abundance, bounded beyond decadence and landed squarely in Hellman’s no man’s land.

The two scoops of white rice, however, were just right.

The Kalbi. Not so much. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The Kalbi? Not so much. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

Also from the “Local Dishes” portion of the menu, we sampled the Kalbi Ribs ($9.50/$10.50 to go).

The same mac salad and rice is accompanied by an equally generous portion of Korean-style beef strips. Unfortunately, ours were rather tough, also blackened and super salty.

Oh well. You know what they say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it burned in one.”

We’re not really sure where we’re going with that, but sufficed to say we decided to focus on the Mexican side of the menu.

And what better place to start than with the namesake fresh tamales?

We began with the only option that day, the Chicken Tamal ($3 for one, $9 as part of a plate… And add that obligatory ace if you take it to go.)

Is this not the cutest tamal you ever did see? Photo by Vanessa Wolf

Is this not the cutest tamal you ever did see? Photo by Vanessa Wolf

Although the masa (outer cornmeal dough) tasted a bit like shortening, the filling itself was flavorful and savory.

Moist and delightful, it’s clear these tamales are made with love.

If you order the platter, anticipate a generous portion of salty refried beans and lackluster Spanish rice. Mushy and imbued with a vague tomato-y flavor, it’s no better or worse than what you’re used to in that regard, which is to say: Eh.

Still, buoyed by the tamal, we decided to take the always nerve-wracking plunge and order what we consider the pinnacle of Mexican cuisine, the Chile Relleno Plate ($9).

  • Good news: It arrived topped with a layer of Ranchera sauce.
  • Bad news: The sauce tasted like chili powder. And by that we mean it tasted like maybe the lid fell off the chili powder into the sauce and whoops.
  • Good news: Get that on the side and it’s perfection; giant, battered, cheese-filled pepper-gasm perfection.
The innards. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The innards. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

We handed over our credit card and told them to keep ‘em coming.

This did not work, unfortunately, as UFTAMP is cash only.

Womp. Womp. Womp.

Recently renovated, the restaurant is located in Pukalani Terrace, along with Ace Hardware and Foodland. In the long stretch of shops between the two, you can find it to the right of David’s Happy Nails with the words “MIXED PLATE” as your North Star.

Inside, the humble setting is clean and the service brisk, but friendly.

 We got to experience this multiple times in our pursuit of a tamal in any flavor other than chicken.

Unfortunately, that didn’t work out.

The Chile Relleno is spot-on... Provided you utter three additional words: On. The. Side. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The Chile Relleno is spot-on… Provided you utter three additional words: On. The. Side. The accompanying sides, however? Eh. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

For whatever reason, on four different occasions the only option was bird. Our loss, no doubt.

However, so as not to leave empty-handed, we also sampled the Cheeseburger ($7).

The thick burger is topped with a slice of melted American cheese.

Desperately in need of seasoning and some of the mayo being hoarded for the mac salad, the hand-formed patty had a meatloafish quality.

Ah, Meatloafy Cheezeburger.

I want you. I need you. There ain’t no way I’m ever gonna enjoy you.

Dry and flavorless, this burger just did not do it for us.

The restaurant's interior. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The restaurant’s interior. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

And that’s okay.

UFTAMP is serving up everything from pancakes to fajitas to chicken hekka. With a menu that courageous, things are bound to go sideways from time to time.

Our advice?

Chile relleno, chile relleno, chile relleno, tamales.

Keep your selections south of the border and you’ll be fine.

The bottom line? Pukalani is officially boasting a bonafide Mexican option, near as we can tell.

To that, we can only say “Provecho.”

***

The cheeseburger made us sad. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The cheeseburger made us sad. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

Upcountry Fresh Tamales and Mixed Plate is located at 55 Pukalani Street in the Pukalani Terrace Shopping Center in Makawao.

Hours seemed to be in flux, but on a recent visit we noted that they seemed to be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday; 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays. However, don’t take our word for it: We recommend you call 808-572-8258 to confirm first.

 

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