Food yes, service no!
TUCKED into Kunia Shopping Center on the northwest end of Waipahu, Kusina Maharlika is a place most people discover only by accident, which is too bad, because it's one place that deserves to be found. I would go as far as saying it deserves a prominent spot on heavy trafficked King Street or Waialae Avenue, but that's getting ahead of current capabilities.
Kunia Shopping Center, 94-673 Kupuohi St. B-105 / 676-8808
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays, and 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays
Cost: About $30 for four
Current patrons would probably be happy if Maharlika, with a tidy room seating about 52, didn't get any busier because, although the homestyle Filipino food is great, the service leaves something to be desired.
Considering the restaurant's small size, the menu is quite extensive, as befitting its name. "Maharlika" means "royal," and with your high school Spanish you probably deduced, Sherlock, that "kusina" equals "cocina" equals "kitchen."
Skipping over such deep-fried appetizers as calamari ($7) and pork intestines, silit ($7.75), I went with light, summery lumpiang sariwa, or fresh lumpia ($3 each). Light and crunchy and filled with such healthy chopped vegetables as cauliflower, carrots and garlic, these were just as good as those made at Joni's, in Kapahulu, unforgettable after so many years ago. An accompanying treacly syrup is supposed to make the veggies go down like candy, but really, these vegetables need no such help.
Of course any good the veggies can do for you is countered by an order of popular lechon kawali ($7), the deep-fried crispy pork served with oil-neutralizing vinegar.
FROM THERE, it's pretty hard to narrow your desires. The family that runs the restaurant are from Pangasinan, Luzon, but offer a little bit of everything to suit the local chop suey palate, and everything looks delicious, from the mild-mannered pork with peas (gisantes, $7.50) to the pork- ($7.25) or shrimp ($7.95)-and-vegetable stew, sari sari. Just as at a Chinese restaurant, varied and contrasting flavors, textures and ingredients are supposed to, in the end, add up to a balanced, harmonious meal. I suppose you could combine the lechon, deep-fried lumpia with pork and chicken ($6.25) and deep-fried calamari but resulting doctors' visits could really put a damper on your future dining options. So choose accordingly.
NADINE KAM / NKAM@STARBULLETIN.COM
At Kusina Maharlika, paella Valenciana -- rice with mussels, shrimp and squid -- can be a meal in itself. This is a small portion.
Those who have trouble trying to choose between pork and chicken adobo ($7.50) have a few more choices -- squid ($7.50) and long beans ($6) -- to add to the confusion. If it's any consolation, you can get a mix of pork and chicken for $8.
One of my favorite dishes was the very simple eggplant salad ($5.75). The skinned eggplants are barely cooked and served with chopped tomatoes, onion slices and fish sauce that you can combine to taste.
As for your carb selection, four types of pancit are offered, including the chow mein-style pancit Canton ($7.50). But if you're feeling adventurous, you might skip the noodles and try paella Valenciana ($8.75), a special occasion dish that rarely appears on local Filipino menus. Reflecting the Spanish influence on Filipino cooking, this rice, tomato and seafood dish is rich and savory, full of mussels, shrimp and squid.
Also not typical is a serving of kalderata, or goat stew ($8.95), like a tomato-based beef stew with green bell peppers and potatoes, with goat -- less gamey than lamb -- replacing the beef.
When restaurant service is slow, people often joke about hands having to catch the chicken or whatever. We even waited for ice cream, only to find out later they actually went out to buy the ube ice cream. With few extra hands in this mom and pop, service is extremely s-l-o-w. A family dinner could take as long as three hours, and it's not because of backups in the kitchen. Here, they're equally slow bringing water and soft drinks to the table, and there's no reason for that.