We headed to Shay’s Filipino Cafe to try this Italian-Filipino mashup.
Carnivores Have a Smashing Good Reason to Find this ‘Aiea Food Truck
Shay’s Smashburgers sells premium beef burgers and tacos in the back of a used car lot.
You’ll find Shay’s Smashburgers’ bright orange truck at the end of the In And Out Auto Sales used car lot in ‘Aiea. There’s no signage for Shay’s at the entrance, so don’t speed by or you’ll miss it. Trust me, you do not want to miss it.
Owner Shayla Ka‘ai makes her burgers from brisket and chuck that she grinds daily. This truck is her first, but her cooking resume is impressive: Fête, The Surfing Pig, sous chef at Livestock Tavern, head chef at Lucky Belly. She prides herself on keeping her prices low—the three burgers cost $5 to $7—without resorting to frozen patties. “We try to do as much from scratch as possible, so you’re still getting high-quality food at an affordable price,” Ka‘ai says.
Parking is limited—after all, you’re in a used car lot where tons of cars are on display. If you can’t find a spot, just park directly in front of the orange truck. The menu is small, making it easy to order almost everything if you want to try it all. You can walk up and order at the truck, or order online if you don’t want to wait. Right now, payment is via Venmo, CashApp or cash. Online pay with card or Paypal is coming soon. Everything is made to order, so I wait about 15 minutes.
I love mushrooms so the Fun Guy is the first burger I try. It’s made with a quarter-pound brisket patty, cremini mushrooms, Havarti cheese, bacon jam and black truffle aioli. True to its name, the burger is loaded with mushrooms that give it a wonderfully chewy texture. I love the salty-sweet, ultra-sticky bacon jam mixed with the creamy, umami-filled aioli. The melty Havarti, whose strong flavor is a nice change from American cheese, is the glue that holds this burger together. This is definitely my favorite. Next time I’m getting two.
Since the $6 All-American is the most popular burger, I order that as well. This is basically the loaded version of the Classic, with the same quarter-pound brisket patty, caramelized onions, cheddar and Shay’s secret sauce—plus lettuce, tomatoes and more onions.
There’s a lot going on in this burger. Given all the veggies, I feel like I finally taste the patty after several bites. This isn’t a bad thing, but if you want something simpler, you’re better off getting the $5 Classic. The crunchy veggies add texture and make me feel like there’s some kind of health component to the All-American. The secret sauce, which is a relish-based, old school-style sauce, is amazing and drips out with every bite.
So how does this burger compare to The Daley? I’ve ordered The Daley’s THIS burger and loved it for its simplicity. It’s just patty, thin layer of cheese, bun and done. Shay’s All-American is more layered with veggies, making it a good choice if you enjoy the crunchy freshness of veggies in your burger. It also has a lot of onions—a little too much for my preference, but the perfect amount for my onion-loving husband.
If you go on a Tuesday, get the fluffy tacos. They’re on the menu every Taco Tuesday, but might be running as a special on other days. Choose between kalbi and kalua pork tacos filled with pico de gallo, avocado crema, queso fresco, cilantro and shredded cabbage.
Once fried, the flour tortillas puff up into a big ball, creating a warm, soft shell. The meat is buried under all the toppings and everything is delicious—aside from the meat, the creamy avocado crema and queso fresco are probably my favorite parts. The kalua pork is tender and the kalbi has a hint of smokiness, which I love. I honestly can’t say which I like more, but at $5 for two, these tacos are a steal.
So why is Shay’s in a used car lot? It turns out the lot is owned by a relative of Ka‘ai’s. When she got her food truck she considered opening in Waikīkī, but ultimately decided to stay in the Pearl City/‘Aiea area to cater to the local crowd. In a sense this is about as far from Waikīkī as you can get. While the truck has been open for several months, people are still just finding out about this hidden gem.
Burgers that range from $5 to $7 with a delicious taco side, all within 10 minutes of where I live? Smash hit, if you ask me.