Hawaiian food, like German food, Jamaican food or the food of any Chinese province that’s not Guangdong, didn’t have any presence in Wichita, because there weren’t many Hawaiian people to make it. That changed in early 2015, when Noble House, then a food truck based out of Topeka, started making regular trips to Wichita for the Food Trucks at the Fountain event.
Caught up in the city’s growing food truck scene, the owners established a permanent residence here, and today, Noble House is among the most prolific trucks, making regular appearances at Central Standard Brewing, the ICT Pop-Up Park and all of the major food truck events. Now it also has a brick-and-mortar spot in the Douglas Design District.
The food is reliable enough to have made its way onto the very limited list of restaurants I return to eat at again and again.
Noble House’s food truck menu is wisely focused, and while you may find only a handful of entrees available on any given day, the kalua pork is likely to be on the menu, and it’s going to be a good bet.
Like the ancient cooking methods for barbacoa (from which the word “barbecue” derives), kalua pork is traditionally cooked in an underground oven over many hours to be pull-apart tender. In execution, it isn’t very different from the pulled pork found on the menus of many barbecue restaurants, except that Noble House’s version includes more fat than many barbecue restaurant fare, ensuring that it’s not dry. It’s cooked with cabbage to add some sweetness and served in the typical manner of Hawaiian plate lunches – with two scoops of rice and a scoop of macaroni salad. It’s too much starch, but every time I order it, I’m surprised how quickly it disappears.
Poke (rhymes with OK) has been rising in popularity over the past few years, and Noble House’s traditional approach shows the pleasure of its simplicity: fresh chunks of ahi tuna and onion are marinated in sesame oil and soy sauce. Topped with sesame seeds, the marinade tames the bite of the onions, and the fish melts in the mouth. Though you might be reluctant to order raw seafood from the side of a truck, it’s such a core part of Hawaiian cuisine that you don’t stop to think about it until the delicately-dressed lobster and rice nori wrap that you were holding just a moment ago is already gone.
There’s nothing too unfamiliar on the menu to scare away picky eaters. The huli huli chicken is simple marinated and grilled pieces of chicken. Even the most Hawaiian-sounding dish – the loco moco – is just a couple of hamburger patties topped with some fried eggs and gravy. In the hands of Noble House, they’re executed well enough to still make you feel like you’re getting a true taste of the islands.
Much of the success of the truck can be attributed to Akamu Noble, the omnipresent face of Noble House. You can usually catch him in the truck, but every once in a while, he’s serving outside the truck in a catering setup, stoically standing behind his food in his chef jacket. He conveys an air of professionalism that rivals the best brick-and-mortar restaurants in town, which may be why Noble House opened a stationary physical location. The restaurant takes everything that was great about the food truck and builds upon it: more types of poke, spam musubi, mochi and unfettered access to Hawaiian food without having to follow around a food truck.
Noble House’s owners have been smart about their business, moving the food truck to Wichita to capitalize on the explosive trend, growing their reputation organically and opening a stationary location when they were ready. Their success couldn’t have been possible without someone in the kitchen who is as enthusiastic and proficient as Akamu Noble. At a recent event at Aero Plains Brewing, he was enjoying brisk business as the only one of three food trucks who showed up amid the rainy evening. He mentioned that at the same time, there was a line out the door at his restaurant on Douglas.
It seems like Hawaiian food has finally caught on in Wichita. We just needed the right person to introduce it to us.