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.
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.