Beat the Queue for Restaurant Matsu
By Vanessa Wolf
By all accounts, Central Kahului’s Restaurant Matsu is a re-purposed double-wide trailer located in a parking lot on a nondescript part of Alamaha, but don’t tell that to the throngs of satisfied customers.
The place is often standing room only – abuzz with hungry diners and others awaiting takeout order – even just minutes from closing.
Packed with locals and (judging by the sunburns) vacationing visitors, the scent of deep fried sweet nothings hangs in the air.
Tantalizing deep fried goodness, you say?
Tell me more of these sweet nothings of which you speak.
Well, Teriyaki Mochiko Spam Musubi ($2) for one.
Everything you love about sweet, sticky teriyaki and crispy chicken mochiko combined with a pillowy spam musubi. A righteous example of all five S’s: Sweet, Salty, Savory, Soft and Seaweed.
And while you’re at it, you must not overlook the Fried Chicken ($8).
Boneless bits of dark and white meat chicken are surrounded by a plentiful coating of crunchy, salty, delectable breading.
Did we mention it’s salty?
Arguably a bit (a lot) too much sodium for some tastes/blood pressures, but rather addictive nonetheless.
Need a break from all the crispy bits? The fried chicken is accompanied by a particularly good macaroni salad filled with squares of tender potato.
The scoop of plain white rice also offers welcome grease reprieve.
Continuing the switch to mellower gears, we sampled the Miso Saba ($8.50).
A generous portion of the moist, but fishy mackerel is well-complemented by the delicate miso sauce.
To be honest, this dish caused us to realize we prefer our saba presented as raw sashimi or dusted with flour and lightly fried, but hey, live and learn.
Take note, unless you’re practicing for some sort of uncouth dinner party cat hairball reenactment, do not attempt to consume this dish in low light as it is brimming with tiny pin bones.
Proceed with caution, and you’ll be just fine.
Meanwhile, when we see Unagi Don ($10) on a menu, we always hear a voice say, “I’ll have the Unagi Don.”
Lo and behold, most of the time that voice is ours.
Although it wasn’t the knock-down drag-out best eel we’ve ever had, it definitely took one distinctive honor: the best price we’ve seen on Maui.
The flavor was standard, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Doubling our pleasure, the portion is generous.
Once again, the Salt Monster makes an appearance, this time in the form of some wilted cabbage.
So long as you’re not at risk for any heart or stroke issues, the cabbage not only adds some green, but a nice crunch and balancing touch to the slightly sweet meat and subtly flavored rice.
Once again, all these contrasting flavors make our taste buds happy.
The humble restaurant holds about seven tables, but is regularly busy, buzzing with a notable congenial vibe.
Even though the menu is large and varied enough to be labeled “totally redonkulous,”service is notably friendly, helpful and swift.
Last up, we sampled one of what we consider one of the (only) good reasons for chilly weather, Tempura Udon ($8.70).
The savory broth is quite pleasing, with an unusual smoky undertone.
It’s accompanied by toothy udon noodles and perfect crisp tempura-battered offerings. The two lightly breaded shrimp, two green beans, one piece of squash, and one piece of eggplant were all light and crisp outside, but still wonderfully al dente inside.
Probably the only notable complaint we have is the restaurant’s commitment to closed-cell extruded polystyrene foam.
Whether you dine in or take it to go, it’s white plastic containers as far as the eye can see.
Best case (in a manner of speaking), the Styrofoam containers all end up in the Pu’uenene landfill and not the ocean, but we wouldn’t mind seeing it done away with altogether.
Still. whether you’ve yet to try their varieties of musubi or are looking into long-term residential treatment for your fried chicken addiction, Restaurant Matsu is sure to whip you up something delectable.
From there, the fate of your closed-cell extruded polystyrene foam container is up to you.
Restaurant Matsu is located at 161 Alamaha St. in Kahului. They are open form 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and again from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. On Saturdays they are open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. On Sundays they’re closed.