Sam Sato’s is a beloved Maui institution. It’s a bustling (always busy!), very casual noodle shop famous for dry noodles, bbq sticks, and manju.
I like counter seating best at Sam Sato’s.
The Sam Sato’s Story
Like Hamura Saimin in Kauai, Sam Sato’s is a Maui institution. It’s open from 7am-2pm every day but Sunday.
There are not many mom-and-pop, old Hawaii places still standing. Sam Sato’s is one of them. Treasure them and visit often. It’s often packed and all the aunties are so nice here.
Sam Sato’s has been around for a long time! Sam Sato, his mom Mite Sato, and his wife Glady started the business in 1933. It started as a store, and then became a restaurant upon their 1963 move. The restaurant moved locations twice more (always in Maui) and is still a family-run business. Amazing.
- 1933 – original store opens in Spreckelsville (then a sugar cane plantation)
- 1963 – move to Puunene, becomes a restaurant
- 1980 – move to Wailuku
- 1993 – move to current location on Wili Pa Loop in Wailuku
The location is a bit hard to find (it’s in an industrial area), but follow the lines and you’ll be fine. There’s lots of street parking nearby. Be prepared to wait in line during the breakfast and lunch rush.
Check out the many maneki-neko (lucky cat figurines) that sit on top of the pastry case! ^_^
What to Order at Sam Sato’s
Dry noodles, bbq sticks, teri burger and fries, and manju. If you come for breakfast, get banana hot cakes. We’ll take a detailed look at each of these popular dishes below:
Dry Noodles (aka Dry Mein)
Here is the dry mein! On the menu is it officially called dry noodles, but it’s also often referred to as dry mein. The fresh noodles (made by Iwamoto Natto Factory in Paia), are boiled, drained and tossed with their noodle seasoning (the recipe is a secret but people say for sure there’s oyster sauce and shoyu in there) . It’s topped with char siu, bean sprouts, and green onions. These are not fried noodles, but dry noodles.
The dry mein comes with a side of dashi broth. You can consume it how you like. Some people like to dip noodles into the broth. Some drizzle a tiny bit of the broth on top of the noodles. Others like to alternate bites of noodles with a sip of broth.
Dry mein noodles are a bit fatter than saimin noodles, I crave that toothsome bite ^_^
Note: once in a while, I hear from someone who went to Sam Sato’s and didn’t “get it.” They felt the dry mein was a not-as-exciting version of chow mein. And the thing is…don’t compare dry mein to chow mein. They are two completely different dishes. Dry mein isn’t even stir-fried…
The most natural accompaniment to dry mein (and saimin) are bbq sticks! One each of chicken and beef, please.
You know how most burger places have a hamburger and cheeseburger option? In Hawaii, we also have a third choice that’s always on the menu: teri burger!
Teri burger is short for teriyaki burger. If you haven’t tried one before, you must. The teriyaki sauce makes the burger the tiniest bit sweet (like how ketchup makes it sweet), and that overall teriyaki mix of shoyu/sugar/ginger/garlic amps everything up in a beautiful way.
Because you can’t eat teri burger without fries, add an order of crinkle cut fries with special mayo. What is special mayo? It’s Sam Sato’s blend of mayo and local mustard.
Of course there is dessert! Similar to how Hamura Saimin is known for one savory (saimin) and one sweet (lilikoi chiffon pie), Sam Sato’s is known for one savory (dry mein) and one sweet (manju).
What is Manju?
There are two main “styles” of manju. Japanese manju is steamed and tender. Hawaii manju is baked and flaky.
Sam Sato’s sells the Hawaii-style. Specifically, the Maui-style manju which many people say is richer and more buttery than the other islands (though to further complicate things, Sam Sato’s makes the lightest manju of the Maui options). Manju is like mochi in that it traditionally features a mashed, sweet bean filling (lima or azuki beans). It is small and flaky, a nice three-bite size.
You can find manju at mochi shops in Hawaii (eg. Nisshodo Candy Store). “Modern manju” with fillings like sweet potato and strawberry are also getting trendy.
Nisshodo makes two kinds of manju:
- White (filled with lima beans)
- Black (filled with azuki beans)
They are famous for the white/lima bean manju, but try both and decide for yourself.
They’re less than a dollar each, so bring home lots and share with family and friends.
They also make nice afternoon snack with hot tea ^_^
Sam Sato’s: Insider Tips
- Go-to order: dry noodle, bbq stick, and manju.
- If you come for breakfast, get the banana hotcakes (served till 11am). So good!
- Counter seating is most fun because you can watch all the food order come out.
- Sam Sato’s noodles are made by Iwamoto Natto Factory. If you want to remake the dish at home, you can buy the same fresh noodles from Foodland (Maui locations only).
- Tiny parking lot, but ample street parking.
- They take credit cards.
INFO: Sam Sato’s | 1750 Wili Pa Loop, Wailuku, Hawaii 96793 | 808-244-7124
PRICE: Teriyaki burger $4.45, Dry mein $7.25-$11, Saimin $7-$8.50, Manju $.80
HOURS: Monday-Saturday: 7am-2pm, Sunday: closed