After just three days of eating lunches from the various food trucks found around the South Lake Union neighborhood, I’m already starting to question the wisdom of this whole thing. Not that the food has been bad or anything like that, but it’s one of those situations like what happens when you’ve been on a cruise ship for a week: The food is good, and there’s plenty of it, but by the time the trip is over you get kind of sick of all the fancy food, and by that time you’re ready to just go find the cheapest and junkiest thing you can and go eat it. In my case, that usually ends up being Taco Bell, but I digress. Speaking of cruises (well, sort of), the next entry on our tour of the food trucks comes to us from the Islands…
- Food Truck: Pai’s
- Cuisine: Described as “Thai-Hawaiian”
- Website: http://paifoods.com
- Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/paifoods
- Twitter: @paifoods
- Yelp: 4 stars, 49 reviews
- Location: Harrison Avenue, between Boren and Fairview
- Days: Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays
- Payment Methods: Cash, Credit Cards
- Sales Tax included in prices: Yes
- Kalua Pork rice bowl: $8.00
- Total price (with tip): $9.00
- Time to order and pay: About 3 1/2 minutes
- Time to receive food after ordering: 1 1/2 minutes
Pai’s bills itself as “Thai-Hawaiian Street Eats,” but to be honest, it’s kind of hard to tell exactly where the influences are coming from here. The Hawaiian part on the menu is pretty obvious, but the Thai part is a little bit vague, and somewhere along the line it seems that a fair bit of Korean influence has crept in. Not that any of this is their fault, mind you. This truck bases its food of the concept of the traditional Hawaiian Plate Lunch, itself a product of lunch wagons and later food trucks during the days when Hawaii’s plantations required large amounts of immigrant labor to operate. For those who aren’t familiar with it, the Plate Lunch generally consists of a couple of scoops of rice, a scoop of macaroni salad (or something similar), and some sort of meat, at which point pretty much anything goes. In Hawaii, plate lunches have been influenced significantly by Japanese, Korean, and mainland American cuisines, as well as the native Hawaiian cuisine. In fact, the ubiquitous (except in South Lake Union, curse my luck) take-out containers of Teriyaki you get from a lot of places around here are essentially a plate lunch in disguise.
In the interest of not blowing the $10 limit for lunch yet again, I decided to skip the whole plate lunch, and just opted for the rice bowl with Kalua Pork. Although there were a few people in front of me when I got here, the line moved quickly, and it only took about five minutes from the time I got in line to when I was walking away with my food. Service is friendly, and the cashier made a point of thanking people as they put money into the tip jar (which I usually do). The Kalua Pork was served with cabbage (mostly covered up by the pork in the photo above) and a fairly generous scoop of rice underneath. I do note that they use the same smaller container here as Urban Oasis does, but the portion here feels significantly more substantial. I don’t think anyone is going to complain that there isn’t enough food here. As to the flavor, my opinions were a bit more mixed. My biggest complaint with this was that it was quite salty, bordering on too much so. Admittedly, I did put some soy sauce on it (they have several sauces on hand, including soy, hoisin and sriracha) but not enough so that it should be as salty as it was. There’s also a lot of smoke flavor here (which is typical of this dish,) which eventually became almost overpowering after eating enough of it. I also thought that there wasn’t as much of the cabbage as I would have liked. This is a bit of an odd thing to complain about since usually it’s the meat that there’s not enough of and too much of the veggies, but it seemed like all the cabbage was gone after just a few bites, whereas there was no shortage of pork to go around.
Overall, I thought that the service here was friendly and the portions more than reasonable, although I’m not sure I’d order this particular dish again next time. It is hard to form an opinion based on a single dish though, so I think I’d have to try a couple other things off the menu before I decide what I think one way or the other.