Instead of resolutions that are made to be broken, why not cultivate a habit that’s easy and fun to follow? For me, that means adding more variety to my fast-food diet, as I replace guilty pleasures with tasty, fresh grub from local lunch wagons. Here are my three favorites.
Tradition: Adriatic Foods
Just over a year ago, the Adriatic Foods truck (easily mistaken for a shack) parked and opened mauka of Mark’s Garage, between Nuuanu and Bethel Streets. Owner and chef Marija Saban says her love of cooking–a common pasttime in her native Croatia–began in childhood. “In our country, we learn how to cook with our grandmothers and mothers,” she says.
While Saban’s cuisine is mostly Croatian, some of her dishes are influenced by the tastes of Serbia, Bosnia and other republics of the former Yugoslavia along the Adriatic coast. The first time I visited, she persuaded me to try the special of the day: homemade linguine topped with a generous portion of meatloaf and Dalmatian red salsa ($10).
The moist meatloaf had a peppery, piquant flavor that was comforting to my palate. “The trick to making the meatloaf is to not mix the ingredients too much, because it will get too sticky, and will then be too tough to eat,” Saban explained.
On my second visit, I tasted one of her signature dishes, cevapcici ($8), recently seen on Eden Eats, a Cooking Channel program featuring global cuisines from different U.S. cities. Cevapcici is a combination of beef and pork links on ciabatta bread, served with a homemade cheese spread and ajvar, a relish made with red peppers, garlic, eggplant and onions.
Over the top: Subpreme
As soon as I saw Subpreme’s red food truck, I simply had to check it out. The name parodies Supreme, a New York-based skateboarding and hip hop clothing brand, but the food truck is all about owner Justin Tanaka’s sub sandwiches on La Tour Bakery baguettes.
Before I even had the chance to scan the menu, a customer yelled, “Get the chicken pesto melt! You won’t regret it!” Done. I’m a fan of anything with garlicky, eggy aioli, which Tanaka adds to his macadamia and citrus-flavored pesto–and this sub ($7.50) doesn’t skimp on the sauce. Complete with fresh tomatoes and smoked Gouda cheese, this melt is my favorite, followed closely by the honey ham and smoked Gouda sub ($7.00), so simple and so ono.
Tanaka says that although it only takes a few key ingredients to make his sandwiches, the preparation and his homemade sauces bring out distinct flavors. He smokes and brines his own ham and turkey, and purchases most of his ingredients locally at Armstrong Produce.
Next visit, I rebelliously bypassed the popular sweet and spicy pork banh mi ($6.50) with lots of vegetables, andordered the Subpreme steak ($8.50). The meat’s peppery garlic flavor was tasty, but still no Philly cheesesteak (a sandwich I miss, having lived near Philadelphia for several years). The garlic Parmesan fries ($3.50) made a good complement to the sandwich, although the fresh garlic was a bit overpowering. Still, with a name like Subpreme, it shouldn’t surprise if ingredients go a bit over the top.
The truck sits on Keeaumoku Street, right in front of Subway. Do I sense a sub sandwich rivalry? Not according to Tanaka.
Generous: All Kine Grindz
This lunch truck on Mililani Street stays true to its name, with more than 20 menu items and a different special every day.
The truck is owned by Habilitat, a Kaneohe-based substance-abuse rehab program whose residents can receive vocational training in a variety of areas, including food service and catering. In June 2012, Kevin Mahone and Cameron Kaawa–former Habilitat residents and cooks–as well as boss Bobby Baguio decided to give their culinary skills and the food truck business a shot.
It was a rough start, says Mahone, who manages All Kine Grindz. “We didn’t have a whole lot of knowledge of where the ‘hot spots’ were and what kind of food would be accessible to us,” he says. “All we knew is that we had good cooks that were capable, and once we got out there and people would get a taste of our food, it would take off.”
Mixing gourmand and traditional plate lunch tastes, All Kine Grindz’s surf n’ turf special ($13) served up a New York strip steak, a choice of seafood–ahi, scallops, crab cakes, shrimps (my choice)–two scoops of white or brown rice and a choice of mac or tossed salad.
The steak was soft, juicy and didn’t need additional flavoring. However, it was the shrimps’ sweet and spicy sauce that impressed me most. When Mahone told me he uses sambal–a garlic-chili paste originating from Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore–my taste buds became nostalgic. While living in Singapore, I would add sambal to my dishes to give them the perfect amount of extra heat and zest.
“One thing that makes us unique and fresh is that we keep an open mind for our customers,” Mahone says. “If there’s something you want to eat, let me know what it is and I will make it the way you want it done.” Who can resist?