On the Mainland there are truck stops. In North Kihei, there are trucks--stop!
And that's exactly what a lot of hungry folks are doing lately.
Opening just a month ago, The Feed Lot is Kihei's new go-to place for food truck fare. Located at 386 Huku Li'i Place, just off the Pi'ilani Highway, it's between the Tesoro Gas Station and Blackie's Pit Stop and adjacent to the Hitter's Paradise outdoor batting cages.
Pura Vida owners Frank “Junior” Ortega Alpizar, Kelene Pfennig and their son, Elijah, offer a menu guaranteed to please locals and tourists alike.
Most days, four food trucks dish up delectables there, but lot managers and Pura Vida Maui Food Truck owners Frank "Junior" Ortega Alpizar and Kelene Pfennig said they expect more food truck operators will want to set up there soon.
Along with Pura Vida, the other food trucks presently delighting locals and tourists alike there are Sumo Dog, 808 Street Grinds and Jaws Fish Tacos.
"I think overall there are about 15 trucks serving a wide variety of food in South Maui," Frank said. "Our goal is to have about seven of them here on The Feed Lot so there will be lots of choices."
"Our truck, Pura Vida, averages between 30 and 35 lunches a day," Frank said. "Right now most of our customers are people working in nearby businesses, but we also get tourists who see our sign and truck from the highway."
"Pura vida" is a commonly used expression in Frank's native Costa Rica. It literally means "pure life," but is most often used to express "excellent!" Food-wise, a Hawaiian equivalent would be "broke da mouth!"
Pura Vida's menu is authentic Costa Rican.
"We get lots of tourists coming to eat our food because they recognize the name from traveling in Costa Rica," Frank said. "We're introducing Maui to fried plantains and other dishes I grew up with--the ones my mother and grandmother cooked."
Both Frank and Kelene are professionals in the restaurant business. They met about five years ago while working at Cafe O'Lei in Kihei.
In his melodic Costa Rican accent, Frank said, "I got my English there working as a busser, then server and then line cook."
He also worked in Wailea at Gannon's, A Pacific View Restaurant, Wolfgang Puck's Spago in the Four Seasons Resort and was head chef at Fabiani's Bakery & Pizzeria.
Kelene was a bartender at Cafe O'Lei for about 10 years and still works there three nights a week. Their 51?2-month-old son, Elijah, keeps them busy at home as well as at Pura Vida, where Kelene takes orders with him in tow.
"Take your baby to work is my motto," laughed Kelene, a native North Dakotan.
"We started the truck about a year ago, but after three months operating on the lot across from Kam III [Kama'ole Beach Park III], we had to close because of zoning problems," Kelene said. "There were other trucks there, too, and we all had to leave."
For the next seven months, Frank worked at Fabiani's, and they only used the truck for the Kihei Fourth Friday Town Party and private catering jobs. Then last March, they found a place where zoning allowed them to park and open for business. It was a stone's throw from their present location in The Feed Lot.
After noticing their truck for a while, the owner of the vacant lot next door offered Frank and Kelene a deal; he also gave the lot its somewhat bovine moniker. Until the food trucks opened for business, the lot wasn't being used at all. Now there are tables with umbrellas, a porta-potty and plans to do some landscaping
"At first we were the only food truck here," said Frank. "Now most of the time, there are four of us and we're open almost everyday from about 11 a.m. to 3 p.m."
"The more trucks the better," added Kelene, who also said their new location already is attracting a following of regulars.
The day I went, I ran into several people I know. Josh Sado and Ku'ulei Waite both work at Edward Jones Investments--an easy walk from nearby Aloha Plaza.
"We're so happy the food trucks are here," Josh said. "I hope more trucks come."
Ku'ulei loves the chalupas (as did I!).
"But today, I'm going to try the fish tacos," said Ku'ulei. She also ordered a take-out lunch for her boss.
Ed Tabora, owner of S&A Island Carpet Cleaning, is another regular. A native of Honduras, he said Pura Vida's food is like home cooking. He especially likes the sweet plantains with sour cream (as did I!).
Frank said the casado is the most popular menu item so far. Akin to a plate lunch, it consists of either beef, chicken or fish along with rice, black beans, tortilla, green salad and fried plantain and is priced between $10 and $12.
Empanadas at $8 are another favorite. They are baked or fried stuffed pastries.
"Curried chicken, black beans with cheese, shredded beef and chorizo with butternut squash are really popular," Kelene said.
"Our food is really fresh and really good," Frank said. "Pura Vida!"
For more information about Pura Vida or The Feed Lot, call (808) 419-6673