Maui Express: 8750 Santa Fe

 Posted by at 4:17 pm
Jan 182008

From the outside, this place has the aura of a failed attempt at chain fast food written all over it. And the name is confusing. All I know about hawaiian cuisine is that they bury whole pigs in firepits where they cook for hours on end. That sounds like a whole lotta delicious to me, but Maui Express is a storefront in an ugly strip mall next to a Mr. Goodcents.

Moreover, when you walk in the place, there is a white dude in a mall-bought Hawaiian shirt behind the counter. Now, this gentleman was very friendly and efficient, I really appreciate that. But he had that cult-like way of staring through you found among fundamentalist christians and nerdy white guys who only date quiet asian girls. I’m pegging this guy for both.

The menu at Maui Express is really small, and is definitively Japanese in orientation. That makes sense, given the history and ethnic composition of Hawaii. Foremost among the menu items are “bowls.” Basically these are Rice, steamed vegetable and the meat of your choice with a teriyaki sauce. Instead of white rice you can get noodles or brown rice. The prices are also exceedingly cheap –less than four bucks for the small bowl and under five for the large. Unless you get steak which increases the cost by 1.50 or so. Their motto is “eat healthy” so don’t get the friggin steak because they won;t know what the hell they are doing.

Anyway i ordered a large chicken bowl with brown rice. Everything was well cooked, including the rice. The vegetables, as promised were indeed steamed, but disappointing. You see, they really weren’t the best veggies for the job–carrots, zucchini, and a few broccoli florets. Carrots and zucchini? Really? What is this 1994? Perhaps this is some sort of traditional Japano-Hawaiian preparation that I’m not familiar with, but personally I don;t get real worked up over steamed carrots and zucchini. They also aren’t the best vegetables for you, compared to most others. At least there was no green pepper which would have made me puke.

Chicken teriyaki bowl

Overall the food was very good, particularly the chicken which had been grilled, unlike the rest of the bowl. This provided a nice contrast of textures and flavors. The portion was very good as well. I didn’t finish it all and even struggled to polish off all the chicken in light of my lack of zucchini enthusiasm.

The best part of the whole restaurant, however, was the music. yes the lush strains of Hawaiian music filled the air for my entire stay and I imagine all the live long day. This was a great touch, but unkind to employees. That would drive me insane–try listening to Hawaiian slide guitar for 8 hours straight. I could maybe make it through 4 hours and only if I was drinking.

So in summary, Maui Express is weird. Certainly not a “destination” lunch spot. But if you are hungry and passing through the OP, or if you work nearby and tire of Arby’s bacon and cheddar melts, go for it.

Read more:

Maui Express on Urbanspoon


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  9 Responses to “Maui Express: 8750 Santa Fe”

  1. I’ve been intrigued by this place for a while but have never been. There used to be a Wing Stop in that location, I still have the magnet on my refrigerator. The Hawaiian place over by the Borders on Metcalf and 91st intrigues me a little more so I’ll prolly try it first.

  2. Oh I know the place you’re talking about can;t remember the name. That looks a little fancier but intriguing. I’d be somewhat surprised if maui express survives a long time but it’s a hell of a lot better than a wing stop.

  3. Eh, being derivative of Japanese food is probably pretty safe. I spent 2 years stationed in Hawaii, and the best food was the inexpensive authentic Asian (they had a fantastic, cheap Korean BBQ just off base).

    Local favorites I recall (mostly due to a local fellow sailor) include SPAM on ramen noodles, chili on spaghetti noodles or rice, dry BBQ pork sandwhichs and the unbelievable peanut butter and Miracle Whip sandwich.

    N }:-

  4. It’s called Ohana Hawaiian BBQ, and it’s DELICIOUS. (Part of a chain run out of Cali, I believe: They have everything that you mentioned, Nuke, and more. Since they opened, they’ve clearly realized that the standard JoCo food ‘tard likes their crappy Chinese and standardized Thai fare (like Pad Thai noodles…when will Americans get the fuck over this dish?), and they’ve expanded their menu to offer “specials” like egg rolls and fried rice, and the aforementioned Pad Thai.

    But their main and original menu definitely bears giving a go. Good info about this little place on Santa Fe, though. It’s slightly closer than Ohana to our place, so we might have to try it.

  5. I’ve heard that Hawaiians are really into SPAM. If Ohana has spam dishes, I am so there.

  6. They do indeed, dlc. You need to check it out.

  7. This may be old news but I finally went to Ohana last week and it was closed. The hours sign indicated they should be open\ so this might be a permanent situation. Maybe I’ll have to find another Spam connection…

  8. I think Maui express is great! -Super cheap -and more healthy than most options. I can spend under $5 and share the chicken bowl with my 5yr old son. Can’t beat that. Main review was right that the owner makes it feel a little south Johnson county unnatural maybe. They put more effort into creating something unique than most do though. We need more places that offer simple cheap whole foods -like this place. I happen to like carrots and zukes so hey…

    That Ohana place made me almost sick when I ate there chicken-disgusting! I hate wondering why that is so- I just assume chemical enhancements. Others thought the same- no wonder its gone.

  9. It really disappoints me that ohana shut down. This maui express is a joke. You want chinese food? Go to a chinese restaurant. You want Japanese food? Go to a Japanese restaurant. Any time any Hawaiian restaurant tries to come in, they get kicked to the curb because they aren’t mainstream enough for the overly picky, and tend to be too simple or just plain weird with all the different island fusion favorites such as musubi. Musubi is fried spam and sticky rice wrapped in seaweed.

    It just breaks my heart to see places like this close down because they give honest to goodness Hawaiian food and it just isn’t widely enough accepted here in the meat and potato midwest.

    Personally, this Hawaiian has had enough. I want my Hawaiian restaurants back.