Island Faves And Gourmet Meals
“Mark has three philosophies. The most important is to provide good food, then good service and reasonable prices,” says Wendy Oyama, co-owner of Mark’s Place in Puhi Industrial Park. “Those three things together are what makes Mark’s Place so popular.”
And popular it is. It’s 10:30 in the morning and there is a steady stream of locals buzzing through the doors. Owner and president Mark Oyama along with wife Wendy opened Mark’s Place in 1998. Mark – an instructor for the culinary arts program at Kaua’i Community College since 1991 – specializes in big-event catering and offers first-rate takeout plate lunches.
The small storefront is cool and immaculate. Pictures of loco moco and Korean chicken are taped to a glimmering stainless steel countertop, a spotless cooler holds salads and desserts. A dry erase board highlights today’s specials such as the “Pau Hana” – baked mahimahi topped with crab, rice pilaf, tossed green salad and a mango lilikoi parfait. The gourmet meal costs $34.50 and feeds four.
“My favorite meal is the Korean chicken and loco moco combo,” says executive chef Gavin Onishi, a graduate of Mark’s culinary program who grew up just down the street. “I’ve been working here for a total of five years, and I can still eat the food. That’s saying something, you know?”
Everything is made from scratch using local ingredients whenever possible – from the burger meat and gravy to the mac salad with relish, celery, onion, bits of garlic, white pepper, grated carrot and potatoes. “The locals love our mac salad because it has so much flavor,” says Onishi.
The most popular plate lunch, Mark’s Famous Mixed Plate ($8.50), is a massive three-course combo. With flavorful beef stew, tender teriyaki beef, crispy chicken katsu, rice, noodles and mac salad, this delicious and filling meal is a bargain.
Mark’s Place offers more than plate lunches. “We have two salad specials and four entrée specials every day,” says Wendy.
“The specials are a way to offer fresh, healthy meals that are designed for our customers who are looking for something lighter than the regular two scoops of rice and mac salad.”
Steven and Kelli Bennett are sitting under an umbrella at a picnic table enjoying the bright, sunny day. Kelli is devouring the Roast Beef Wrap ($7.95) as their dog Misty looks on. I ask Kelli if she likes her wrap, and between bites she raves, “Oh my god, oh my god!” We took that as a yes.
The wrap is fantastic. Thin slices of top sirloin beef – roasted with fresh rosemary, thyme and garlic – are tucked into a light homemade, whole-wheat naan and layered with local tomatoes, cucumber and organic greens. Horseradish aioli, creamy buttermilk dressing and caramelized onions take it over the top.
The most expensive thing on the menu is the ahi ($9.75).
“The ahi was caught by one of Mark’s friends, so it’s super fresh,” says Onishi.
Sitting on a bed of noodles, the ahi is topped with a light and zesty salsa made with tomatoes, cumin, lime, scallions and cilantro. On the side is an organic green salad with house-made papaya seed dressing.
As my husband, Dan, and I enjoy our lunch outside, executive sous chef Aaron Arizo harvests rosemary from the restaurant’s herb garden. “I’m making a strip loin with horseradish cream and au jus,” says Arizo, who has worked for the Oyama’s since day one.
It’s apparent that the owners’ integrity infuse everything and everyone they touch.
“I’m happy here,” Arizo says. “Mark and Wendy are very, very good people.” There is a pregnant pause as his eyes get a little misty before he nods and adds, “They take good care of their employees.”
Mark’s Place 1610 Haleukana St, Lihu’e
245-2522 Open Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.