August 23, 2008

The Burger Nazi (But We Liked It – And Went Back!)

Posted in food, travel at 11:11 pm by Michael

For the past week we’ve been on vacation in Maui – in Wailea. We love Hawaii – I feel incredibly fortunate to live only five air-hours away. One of our favorite travel activities is searching out for local street food. Sometimes, the stranger or more out of the way, the better.

We had just been hiking at the end of the road (literally) south of Makena. The hike is beautiful – through a lava flow from the 1780’s that looks like it just happened last year, then through a set of wizened trees and little beaches that seem like a little slice of how Hawaii was long ago. We started early to avoid the heat, and on the way back from the hike stopped first at Makena Grill (advertised as the second best lunch in Makena). They listed their hours as “11ish” to “4ish” – Island Time – it was 11:20 and no sign of the Makena grill folks, so we decided to venture on.

Right across from the entrance to Makena State Park (aka Big Beach, aka Oneloa), there are usually roadside stands – hamburgers, hot dogs, fish tacos and shave ice – typical Hawaiian fare. We pulled up to the first one (looked promising – a homemade smoker appeared to be the cooking device of choice – cool! – with lots of fresh produce in evidence).

The Burger Man of Makena

The Burger Man of Makena

Anh walked up and started talking to the proprietor/chef/enforcer.

“I’d like…”

“Wait wait wait”, he said, with palm extended in the classic “Talk to the hand form”. His lips were pursed as if to say “Oh boy, this again.”

“Before you order, let me tell you about *my* food. I cook everything to order. We have burgers and fish sandwiches with mahi mahi. The burgers are the Kong Burger, which are this big (his hands up as if to hold a sandwich, fingers extended to their full length as if to make a giant ellipse), and they cost $14 each. It comes with cheese, lettuce, maui onion, roasted pineapple, tomato and mustard and catchup. I wrap it in the foil, and if you unwrap it, then it will fall apart. I only cook meat with meat, and fish with fish so if you want both, you’ll have to wait.”

“Ok, great. We’ll take a burger and three fish sandwiches” (there were seven of us total).

“You’ll have to wait. I cook everything to order.”

“Ok. No problem.”

“My food is expensive, but those hotels, they charge hotel prices, but they serve you shit.”

And with that, he began cooking. Slowly, methodically, cooking.

During the cooking he talked about how people around town have asked for his marinade recipe, and he said it would cost “10”, as in $10k.

“They are all crooks. They steal from each other. I was in the business, but I didn’t want any part of it.”

Cool! Dinner and a show! We like that.

While we were waiting, at least three other groups came up to order. Two of them walked up, and when he didn’t even look at them, they walked away. One other guy came up, and started to order, and he repeated the above caution about how big, how long and how expensive his food was. He walked too.

The burger guy’s response?

“These people, these people don’t want to wait. They don’t know good food.”

Anti-marketing… you have to love that.

At one point, Anh asked about additional hot pepper – jalapenos, or hot sauce. He chided: “If you add to much of that stuff, you can’t taste it. My stuff is seasoned plenty hot enough.”

And you know what? He was right.

The burger was great. The fish sandwiches – also great.
We also got fresh pineapple, papaya and coconut from him. The papaya came from his yard in Kihei, the coconut from his neighbor’s tree. (I’m guessing the pineapple came from a grower, but it was damn sweet).

He even prepped the coconut, making a handy scrapey-spoon from the outside of the coconut to get the meat out.

He totaled up our bill on the inside of a Ziploc bag box – it wasn’t cheap – just over $100 for the four sandwiches, a hot dog, two half pineapples, a coconut, a mango and drinks.

We decided to go back the next day, and get “Take out”, and bring it back to the beach.

When we arrived, he didn’t seem to recognize us – he started the same spiel about the burgers when we started to order, but Anh said, “We were here yesterday.” He said “Oh”, and started cooking.

While waiting (30 mins from when we ordered, and we were customer numero uno), there was another incident with non-marketing. These two even came up, and tried to talk to him, but he ignored them. They walked away.

One of his buddies was there hanging out there, and he was watching after his adopted three month old chicken. Turned out that this chicken was just hanging out at the stand, lost without the momma chicken, and the buddy started feeding him.

“Chickens crap on everything.”, chicken buddy said.

The chicken would climb up his finger, and onto his shoulder and back. Apparently the chick loved to poop on the dude’s back, because there was evidence – fresh and otherwise.

We loved our second round as much as the first – just as big – just as yummy – but we got some sort of discount – the second day the burgers were only $12, not $14. We even got a little wave as we were driving off.

He is a character – he knows what he likes – knows what he likes to make – and he makes great stuff… stop in!

(If you didn’t get the reference – Soup Nazi from Seinfeld)



  1. Samantha said,

    I meant to say when I read this the first time, that when I read the title of this post, I though of Seinfeld right off. Mind you I didn’t (don’t) watch much of that show, but I thought the soup nazi episode was priceless on so many levels. I’ve been to places, and been back.

    The fact that you went back means it was worth it! That’s always my test. If I go back, then it’s worth more than the “entertainment” value in it.


  2. Ruthie said,

    I came across your post and wanted to comment. We were in Maui last year for 9 days and ate at Kong’s 3 times. We loved his food and loved him just as much. In fact one day my son and I were going Zip lining and my husband went and spent the day with Kong mostly just to run ignorant tourists off. As you know you sit there for quite a long time waiting to be served and get to watch some of the arrogance of people. We observed people reach right behind the sign that clearly said “DONT TOUCH THE FRUIT” as they grabbed the fruit. Others who could not bother waiting for what I would say is the BEST FOOD IN MAUI!!! I am so glad to see your post and know that there are others willing to look beyond the exterior and find greatness!! My husband has to work this year when we go back so our friend is going with us. I hope to find Kong at the same place but am willing to scour the island in search of him and his great food!!! Stopping by with a six pack of Heineken!! Bottles only because he does not drink beer out of cans!!

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