Roll With It: Thai Street Food at Kaka‘ako’s Elephant Shack
An unlikely mini-chain from O‘ahu’s North Shore has rolled into the heart of the industrial district.
Roll With It is a Frolic series about food trucks we’ve seen out and about. We’re tracking them down and trying dishes to bring you the 4-1-1.
One glance at Elephant Shack’s menu and the theme is clear: It’s Thai street food, the kind laborers and office workers from Nong Khai to Bangkok dig into with spoon and fork. These are the dishes we’re drawn to, broad rice noodles twined with basil and burnished with soy and palm sugar, and rice crowned with minced meat crowned with a wok-fried egg. It turns out this truck is one of three locations, the others being in Laie and Sunset Beach on the North Shore, where the owner, Kevin Sutavee, moved from New York City because he wanted to surf. This home base on the other side of O‘ahu explains why Elephant Shack doesn’t open in Kaka‘ako until 6 p.m. Sutavee’s half-Thai heritage, and his own penchant for street-level Thai dishes, fresh and quickly cooked, are what drive the menu choices.
At a glance:
Wok-fried noodle classics like pad thai and pad see ew, stir-fries of proteins and vegetables, wok-fried rice, several vegetarian options. Lighter meat choices include grilled marinated steak tossed with fresh herbs and lime juice, and classic Lao-Thai larb of citrusy minced chicken with onions and herbs. The two curries are green and panang, the latter sweet and exceptionally coconut-creamy with a lingering hint of chile spice.
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What you won’t find: stuffed chicken wings, spring or summer rolls or tom yum goong (the tart-spicy soup is a special sometimes). Elephant Shack is a one-man show, with Sutavee the sole cook and his wife helping. Nor will you find Thai-level spice, which can numb your tongue and make you sweat where you didn’t know you could. After 10 years of cooking for local palates, spice is the one side of the Thai flavor spectrum that’s toned down.
Pad kee mao, $16.50. Bouncy, wide (1.5 inches) rice noodles are a chewy pleasure that enhance and extend deep flavors of soy and palm sugar. A generous fistful of fresh basil leaves wilt in the hot wok and pick up these flavors. Protein is your choice of shrimp, chicken or tofu; or you can opt for all veggies.
Kapow, $16. Similar flavors permeate an unstinting mound of wok-sautéed minced chicken, basil and long beans that invite digging in for big spoonfuls combined with the jasmine rice underneath. Wok-frying produces an egg with crispy edges and a runny yolk. The whole effect is like a Thai loco moco.
Som tum papaya salad, $9. Sparse flecks of chile make this the least spicy version we’ve tried. It’s basic, but the crunchy, lightly citrusy strands of green papaya lighten the deeper, richer notes of the other dishes and are a good complement.
These are our favorites from seven dishes over two visits. As we pick up our second order, Sutavee recommends the yum gai yang, grilled marinated chicken tossed with green papaya, tomatoes and herbs with lemongrass and lime-cilantro sauce over rice. We’re taking him up on it next time.
How it rolls
- Where: 1011 Ala Moana Blvd.
- When: Daily from 5 to 9 p.m.
- Preorders: 808elephant.com. Select a pickup time; the truck sends updated notifications of when your order will be ready.
- Payment: Online
- Follow: @theelephantshack
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