Tokyo Tei: Maui’s Own Time Machine (Maui Now) May25


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Tokyo Tei: Maui’s Own Time Machine (Maui Now)

calamari tempuraIf you were alive at the time, you may recall that back in 1934:

  • Dirt storms swept across the American Midwest, destroying 100 million acres and damaging another 200 million resulting in a natural disaster now known as the Dust Bowl.
  • Adolph Hitler became Fuhrer.
  • Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker were ambushed by Louisiana lawmen and died while still eating breakfast in the car.
  • Mao Zedong and 100,000 members of the Red Army began the Long March, a 6000-mile journey across towering mountain ranges and turbulent rivers, which ultimately claimed half of their lives.
  • John Dillinger was shot outside a Chicago movie theater.
  • Tokyo Tei opened in Wailuku.

A veritable Maui institution, Tokyo Tei serves up Hawaiian-influenced Japanese comfort food from their unassuming underground lair.Considering the antiqued (and predominantly downer – sorry about that) status of these moments now, the simple reality of the small restaurant’s 80-year survival – or perhaps more accurately, success – acts as testimony in and of itself.

We started with the Vegetable Tempura ($11.25).

At its crisply fried best, tempura is light and delicate, preserving the bright freshness of the quickly cooked items inside.

By and large, Tokyo Tei nails it: the string beans still had a little crunch, while the onion slices were reminiscent of a donut in appearance, but thankfully not flavor. The fistful of shredded carrots adds a creative touch.

We’re not sure how they achieved this (pre-steaming?) but it was an unexpected surprise… and not the good kind.The zucchini spears, however, were as soggy as wet socks inside their crisp batter coating.

Wetness is a bit of a theme.

The Fish Misoyaki ($13.50) arrives under a deluge of heavy miso sauce.

Yes, the gravy (as it were) has a nice flavor, but drowns out the delicate protein. Scrape some off (or get it on the side) and you’ll be in better shape to enjoy the light, flaky and perfectly prepared butterfish.

In contrast, the Chicken Katsudon ($11.75) was not what we expected, but that’s our own fault.

What a difference a space (Katsudon, Katsu Don) and some personal assumptions make.

Soggy pieces of tempura chicken sit atop a generous helping of rice, which is then covered with green onions, scrambled eggs and a sweet mirin-based sauce.More in alignment with something you’d find in a jar labeled “Gerber,” the flavors work well together, but go into this with the full knowledge that the texture is, well, baby food.

Teeth optional.

On the upside, chewing may not be the strong suit of many long-time Tokyo Tei fans and that’s all right.

Not only do all meals come accompanied by miso soup and an immensely likeable – and likely gummable – tsukemono (or simple salt-pickled cabbage, which the restaurant calls koko), but a lot of what appears to fuel Tokyo Tei’s longevity is a heaping helping of nostalgia.



a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.

Have you ever been in California with someone who grew up there?

Did they drive way out of your way for an In-N-Out Burger, all the while lauding it as the greatest assemblage of meat, bread and other standard burgerstuffs in the known universe?

And did you – not hailing from the Golden State – appreciate the fresh, grass-fed beef, but ultimately find it no more than an above-average fast food burger?

That there is nostalgia at its best, my friends.

It elevates experiences into the sublime, but is only available to certain folk.

Ours came with a crisply fried, slightly sweet and very gingery Mochiko Chicken, which we wish were on the menu every day.That stated, the lunch time Teishoku Special ($10.50) delivers up enough variety to satisfy even those lacking the sentimental booster shot.

The accompanying Ahi was garnished with lemon, which added the only flavor beyond that of the tuna itself and was cooked to the point of gray well-doneness… a bit more than our preference.

Service is friendly and efficient.

In tandem with Tokyo Tei’s longevity is a loyal crowd, but even if you don’t walk in and recognize the faces around you, the vibe is still cheerful and welcoming.

For our last hurrah, we went with a lifelong Tokyo Tei diner and followed their lead.

The flavor? Indulgent.Our Calamari Tempura ($12) arrived with five expertly battered strips of squid steak and one mushy shrimp.

Don’t let the lightness of the tempura fool you into thinking “this isn’t really that greasy.”

It doesn’t taste heavy, but one glance at the oil-drenched napkins on the bottom of the plate serves as ample reminder to treat this as a rare – albeit tasty – extravagance more than an everyday staple.

Tokyo Tei has had 80 years to perfect its technique and by technique, we mean “time machine to the aromas, flavors and perhaps even vibe of a long-gone Maui.”

Arrive with your expectations properly adjusted and maybe you’ll even enjoy a little instant contact high of nostalgia of your own.