When you think of international destinations, Chinatown’s not the first place that comes to mind. It’s not the newest, definitely not the trendiest, and has the occasional drunk barking in the street. But just a short trip down Hotel and you can get a taste of Thailand…minus the 14 hour flight.
Tuk Tuk Cafe is hidden among the other unassuming food stalls in Maunakea Marketplace. With so much fresh produce, bubble tea and dim sum around, it’s easy to stream by these vendors. But do so, and you’ll miss some of the best Thai food in Hawaii.
The menu averages $8 -10. They offer the expected standard options, as well as a few that are hard to come by in Hawaii. Needless to say, we skipped the standards.
1120 Maunakea St Unit 112 Honolulu HI 96817
Eat Like A Pro
– Don’t order take out. For a best first experience, eat there.
– If you get a fork and spoon with your dish, the spoon is not for soup. Hold the spoon in your dominant hand and use the fork to scoop a little of everything onto your spoon. Voila! The perfect bite.
– To get a better idea of what to expect, see What They Eat in Thailand.
What We Ordered
Stewed pork leg (Khao Kha Moo), Hainanese/Hainam chicken (Kaow Mun Gai–pronounced “cow-mon-guy”), and Boat Noodles. $9 each. Quick fact: in Thai, Gai means chicken and Moo is pork, not cow. Confused yet?
What We Liked
Everything! Stewed Pork Leg. Tender meaty pieces of pork, some with skin and fat to give a combination of textures. Sweet and savory, with flavors of shoyu, sugar, and ginger. It’s served with a vinegar, chili, garlic sauce to keep your taste buds on their toes. Fresh choy sum adds crunch and a hint of bitterness. All on a bed of long grain rice.
Hainanese Chicken. If you only order one thing, ORDER THIS. It’s what every other customer was ordering. Like Tuk Tuk Cafe, it’s unassuming, but you’ll understand once you try it.
Considered a national dish of Singapore, Hainanese chicken is world famous. To me, it’s the southeast Asian version of Chicken soup–chicken, rice and soup, deconstructed, but equally if not more comforting.
The white meat is poached. It’s tender and again, with just enough skin. The long grain rice is fried with chicken fat and garlic. This makes it aromatic and allows you to taste each grain individually. A sweet, savory sauce of ginger, garlic, chili, and soy adds an extra layer of flavor, every other bite. Wash it all down with a simple soup of chicken broth and white pepper.
I’ve ordered Hainan chicken before, but this is the closest I’ve found to Thailand. Don’t bother with the other guys, have it here.
Boat noodles are another ubiquitous option in Thailand, but not often seen in Hawaii. Like Thailand, they have a respectable condiment bar, including some white stuff that looks suspiciously like MSG. Of course, I added it all.
It’s not the best boat noodle, but it’s a solid option and the only one I’ve seen since Thailand. I could eat noodles everyday for breakfast and these are a good alternative if you’re tiring of pho. My favorite thing about this dish are the clear al dente rice noodles. The savory broth is satisfying at 10 am and has a faint undertone of acidity that keeps you eating.
Tuk Tuk Cafe has little advertisement or any marketing really. I appreciate that they let the food speak for itself. It’s my new go-to Thai place; hope you make it yours. Let me know what you think below.