Where to Eat on Maui
When it comes to dining in Maui, all I can say is: Come hungry and bring a fat wallet. Dining has never been better on the Valley Isle, home to numerous enterprising and imaginative chefs. The farm-to-table concept has finally taken root on this bountiful island, where in past years up to 90% of the food had been imported. Today chefs and farmers collaborate on menus, filling plates with tender micro-greens and heirloom tomatoes picked that morning. Fishers reel in glistening opakapaka (pink snapper), and ranchers offer up flavorful cuts of Maui-grown beef.
A new crop of inspired chefs is taking these ripe ingredients to new heights. At Ka‘ana Kitchen, Chef Isaac Bancaco nearly outshines his celebrity neighbor, “Iron Chef” Masaharu Morimoto (who brought his high-octane Japanese fusion cuisine to Wailea). Both are outstanding; make time for each if you can swing it. On the other side of the island, at Chef Gerard Reversade continues to plate up perfect French cuisine at Gerard’s, while Jojo Vasquez adds exciting Filipino accents to the gourmet dishes at the Plantation House. Stellar dining experiences all, with prices to match. You don’t have to spend a fortune to eat well here—Maui does have a few budget eateries, noted below. Among the best is Tin Roof, by Top Chef star Sheldon Simeon. If you want to feast, there’s never been a better time to do so on Maui.
Of course, the impact on your wallet may be equally memorable. Luckily, you don’t have to spend a fortune to eat well here. Here are a few tips on saving money on food:
* Maui has a number of budget eateries, including Simeon’s Tin Roof and chef Les Tomita’s Da Kitchen, which specialize in expert versions of island comfort food. Both are reviewed below; also check the "Inexpensive" category for each region covered below.
* Choose lodging with self-catering kitchen facilities so you aren't spending all your money on dining out.
* You can get more for your money by visiting pricier restaurants at lunch, when menu items are generally cheaper, or at happy hour, when two “small plate” appetizers can equal the size of a dinner entree, at half the cost.
* Keep in mind that many restaurants serve portions equivalent to two meals on the mainland; pop that doggie bag of tasty leftovers in your fridge or minifridge for the next day's lunch or dinner.
* Food trucks, convenience stores, and even gas stations often have inexpensive, homemade fare very much worth sampling, including hearty plate lunches, musubi (burrito-sized sushi), and peanut butter mochi (pounded rice confectiona). For the lowdown on eating local, see "Plate Lunches & More: Local Foods," below.
PRACTICAL MATTERS: MAUI’S RESTAURANT SCENE
Dining on Maui tends to be casual—don’t wear your bathing suit, but an aloha shirt with nice shorts and shoes will do in most restaurants.
People eat early on Maui. Many local residents get up before the sun, and tend to eat dinner around 6 or 7pm. Visitors generally are jet-lagged and happy to go to dinner around sunset. Most restaurants on Maui close early and don’t take reservations after 8:30pm (unless noted). Some restaurants are now offering late-night happy hours, starting at 9 or 10pm, which allows kitchen staff and other night owls to dine out, too.
Prices, Taxes & Tipping
Prices in Maui are higher than you're probably used to paying at home. But remember, you are on an isolated island—it costs more to import food here, which makes meals more expensive. Budget a little extra for dining out.
Most price ranges listed in this chapter are just the cost of the entree; obviously, if you also order an appetizer, salad, or dessert, the bill will be higher.
Expect to see Hawaii’s general excise tax (4.25%) to be added to your bill. Tipping is the standard custom in Hawaii (just like the mainland United States), and you'll want to reward good service with a 15% to 20% tip, based on your total bill (minus the tax).
Reservations are generally not necessary unless otherwise noted in the reviews below, but all bets are off during peak holiday periods, especially in winter. Make reservations for dinner in advance so you won’t have to wait for a seat. OpenTable.com allows online reservations for some 100 restaurants and luaus, so take advantage of that before you travel.
If you want to get a good seat at sunset, be sure to make reservations. Restaurants fill up for sunset, which varies from 5:30 to 6:30pm, depending on the time of year.
Ordering Fresh Fish
The Monterey Bay Aquarium website (www.montereybayaquarium.org) offers lots of information on sustainable fish choices, plus free downloadable pocket guides and smartphone apps. Click on “Save the Oceans” to get started.
Most restaurants on Maui are honest and want to give you the freshest of the daily catch, but some are not so honest. Be sure to ask your server:
* When was the fresh catch caught?
* Where was it caught? (If it was not caught in Hawaii waters, it is not fresh.)
* Has the fish ever been frozen? (Some restaurants think “fresh frozen” is the same thing as “fresh fish.” Do not eat at restaurants that think this way.)
PLATE LUNCHES & MORE: LOCAL FOOD
Hawaii has a classification of food seen nowhere else on the planet: “local food.” Its broad umbrella includes plate lunches and poke, shave ice and saimin, bento lunches and manapua—cultural hybrids all. Reflecting a polyglot population of many ethnicities, Hawaii’s idiosyncratic dining scene is eminently inclusive. Consider surfer chic: Barefoot in the sand, in a swimsuit, you chow down on a plate lunch ordered from a lunch wagon, consisting of a filling protein (teriyaki beef, shoyu chicken, garlic shrimp, etc.), “two scoops rice,” macaroni salad (often larded with tuna or potato), and a few leaves of green, typically julienned cabbage. It’s washed down with a soft drink, often a sugary, island-made juice blend, in a paper cup or straight out of the can. Like saimin—the local version of noodles in salty broth topped with egg, green onions, and char siu pork—the plate lunch is Hawaii’s comfort food.
But it was only a matter of time before the humble plate lunch became a culinary icon in Hawaii. These days, even the most chichi restaurant has a version of this modest island symbol (not at plate-lunch prices, of course), while vendors selling the real thing—carb-driven meals served from wagons—have queues that never end.
Other Hawaiian foods include those from before and after Western contact, such as laulau (pork, chicken, or fish steamed in ti leaves), kalua pork (pork cooked in a Polynesian underground oven known here as an imu), squid luau (actually octopus, cooked in coconut milk and taro tops), poke (cubed raw fish seasoned with onions, seaweed, sesame oil, soy sauce and the occasional sprinkling of roasted kukui nuts), haupia (creamy coconut pudding), and kulolo (steamed pudding of coconut, brown sugar, and taro).
Cooked, pounded, and moistened taro is the source of poi—an easily digestible, nourishing carbohydrate source for babies; a condiment to be mixed with any fish; and a repository of deep cultural associations for Native Hawaiians, who believe a stillborn ancestor became taro to feed those who came after him. You don’t have to like it (and if you have the runny luau version, thinned to keep costs down, you probably won’t), but it’s worth trying a dollop on lomi salmon (salted salmon with tomatoes and green onions) to understand its culinary appeal. Whatever you do, please don’t mock it publicly—locals already know most visitors aren’t fans. Plus, prices are often high, thanks to the shortage of cheap land, water, and labor for the intensive taro-growing process.
Japanese immigrants contributed a popular to-go meal available throughout Hawaii: the bento. This compact, boxed assortment of picnic fare usually consists of neatly arranged sections of rice, pickled vegetables, and fried chicken, beef, or pork. Increasingly, however, the bento is becoming more health-conscious, as in macrobiotic or vegetarian brown rice bentos (the same is true for today’s plate lunches). A derivative of the modest box lunch Japanese laborers brought to work in sugarcane and pineapple fields, bentos are dispensed everywhere, from department stores to corner delis and supermarkets.
Also from the plantations comes manapua, a steamed, doughy sphere filled with tasty fillings of sweetened pork or sweet beans—Hawaii’s version of the Chinese char siu bao. In the old days, the “manapua man” would make his rounds with bamboo containers balanced on a rod over his shoulders. Today you’ll find white or whole-wheat manapua containing chicken, vegetables, curry, and other savory fillings.
For dessert or a snack, the prevailing choice is shave ice, Hawaii’s version of a snow cone. Particularly on hot, humid days, long lines of shave-ice lovers gather for heaps of finely shaved ice—much fluffier than that in a mainland snow cone—topped with sweet tropical syrups. The fast-melting mounds, which require prompt, efficient consumption, are quite the ritual for sweet tooths. Aficionados order shave ice with ice cream and chewy rice mochi balls at the bottom and sweetened adzuki beans or coconut cream on top.
What the Heck Is a Pupu?
If you’re not old enough to remember the ‘60s craze for tiki bars and pupu platters, you might not know that pupu (pronounced poo-poo) means “appetizer.” Although it may sound unappetizing to English speakers (and believe me, locals have heard your jokes), Maui menus are big on pupu, which range from small bites to generous helpings.
Kahului and Wailuku have a few tasty finds. Minutes outside of the airport in a windy dirt lot across from Costco, you’ll find an array of food trucks dishing out everything from pork belly sandwiches to poke (seasoned raw fish).
Before or after a flight, be sure to budget time to swing by Home Maid Bakery ★★ (1005 Lower Main St., Wailuku; https://homemaidbakery.com; [tel] 808/244-7015) for a mouthwatering welcome treat or omiyage (the Japanese tradition of giving specialty foods as gifts). Founded in 1960, the bakery offers a huge variety of delectable treats, including mochi (rice flour), doughnuts (Portuguese-style doughnut holes), manju (Japanese-inspired turnovers with sweet bean or fruit fillings) and ensemada (Filipino sweet rolls). Equally impressive in this quiet town are the bakery hours, 5am to 9pm daily.
In addition to the restaurants below, diners seeking Hawaiian specialties will want to visit Poi by the Pound ★ (430 Kele St.; www.poibythepound.com; [tel] 808/283-9381) for kalua pork (complemented by fresh poi), pork and butterfish laulau, squid luau, and spicy or shoyu poke ($8 to $24). It’s open Monday to Saturday 9am to 10pm, till 5pm Sunday. Ten minutes from the airport on Hwy. 31, Queen Kaahumanu Center (275 Kaahumanu Ave.; www.queenkaahumanucenter.com)—the structure that looks like a white Star Wars umbrella—has a very popular food court. Favorites include Ramen Ya for a steaming bowl of noodles, and HiTea, for bubble teas and smoothies. Outside of the food court, but still in the shopping center, are Koho’s Bar & Grill, dishing out burgers and plate lunches; and Starbucks. There’s also a branch of Maui Tacos. When you leave Kaahumanu Center, take a moment to gaze at the West Maui Mountains to your left from the parking lot.
Maui’s Best Ice Creams
Given the warm days and ready supply of tropical ingredients, it should be no surprise that locally made ice cream is a popular treat on Maui. What may surprise you is just how delicious, and varied, the offerings are.
* Roselani Tropics Ice Cream, Maui’s best made-from-scratch, old-fashioned ice cream that’s widely available, got its start in 1932, when Manuel Nobriga began making his rich, smooth ice cream at the Maui Soda & Ice Works plant in Wailuku. His granddaughter Cathy Nobriga Kim has expanded his ice cream line to 32 flavors, divided among seven labeled “gourmet” (16% butterfat), including chocolate macadamia nut, Hawaiian vanilla bean and Kona coffee varieties, and 25 labeled “premium” (12% butterfat), such as haupia (coconut pudding), banana mac crunch, and matcha green tea. Mix the haupia or vanilla with one of Roselani’s three tangy sherbets—guava, lilikoi (passionfruit), or orange—for a decadent Maui version of a Dreamsicle. You’ll spot it in local grocery stores and on many a restaurant and cafe menu (including at Ululani’s Shave Ice); for a list of outlets, visit http://roselani.com/locations/maui.
* Island Cream Co. (in the Lahaina Gateway Center, 305 Keawe St., Lahaina, www/islandcreamco.com; [tel] 808/298-0916) offers a unique blend of ice cream and gelato, with a large daily rotating selection from more than 40 flavors. Sweet potato pie, Maui French toast, and haupia pineapple are among the unique varieties of “island cream,” as it’s called here, while sorbets come in another 20 or so flavors, including tropical specialties like strawberry guava, pineapple ginger, and blood orange. The selection of flavors for shave ice is dizzying, too: Try one over a scoop of ice cream with strawberry-mango puree, boba balls, and sweetened condensed milk “snowcap”—a fun concoction known as a Sploshy. Island Cream is open 11am to 9pm daily.
* Sampling the original wares of Coconut Glen’s (1200 Hana Hwy., Nahiku; http://coconutglens.com; [tel] 808/248-4876) may require the most effort: It’s 37 miles east of Paia near mile marker 27.5 along the Road to Hana. But the vegan, organic ice cream ($7 a scoop, cash only) is a welcome reward after all the waits at one-lane bridges and road-hugging curves on the Hana Highway. The original coconut is delicious, but you can also ask for a sample of the handful of other daily flavors: banana rum raisin, lilikoi, and chili chocolate chipotle are some favorites. You’ll need to eat it in your car or stand under the trees at this tiny stand on a busy day.
* Unknown to many, Surfing Monkey Shave Ice (https://surfingmonkeyshaveice.com; two locations: 1881 S. Kihei Rd., Kihei, [tel] 808/359-9282; and the Shops at Wailea, 3750 Wailea Alanui Dr., [tel] 808/359-9282) serves five varieties of Coconut Glen’s ice cream, along with 10 Roselani flavors, for $6 a scoop ($8 double). Try them on their own or with a shave ice made with all-natural syrups. The Kihei stand is open 10:30am to 9pm daily, the Wailea shop 11am to 9pm daily. For more shave ice outlets carrying Coconut Glen’s and Roselani, see also Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice.
The West and South Coasts of Maui are where most of the island’s visitors stay, so these oceanside communities offer a range of restaurants, from Maui’s bestknown chefs to small mom-and-pop cafes. You will find eateries with romantic atmosphere, breathtaking views, and yummy food. You will also find an increase in prices, especially inside resorts. Ocean-view restaurants often command a premium too; consider those more affordable spots with mountain views or terraces under the stars.
Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice
David and Ululani Yamashiro are near-religious about shave ice. At their multiple shops around Maui (www.ululanishawaiianshaveice.com. [tel] 808/877-3700), these shave-ice wizards take the uniquely Hawaiian dessert to new heights. It starts with the water: Pure, filtered water is frozen, shaved to feather lightness, and patted into shape. This mini snowdrift is then doused with your choice of syrup—any three flavors, from calamansi lime to lychee to red velvet cake. David makes his own gourmet syrups with local fruit purees and a dash of cane sugar. The passionfruit is perfectly tangy, the coconut is free of cloying artificial sweetness, and the electric green kiwi is studded with real seeds. Add a “snowcap” of sweetened condensed milk, and the resulting confection tastes like the fluffiest, most flavorful ice cream ever. Locals order theirs with chewy mochi morsels, sweet adzuki beans at the bottom, or tart li hing mui powder sprinkled on top. The Wailuku location also has manapua (steamed buns) and chow fun noodles; all are open daily. Kaanapali: In Hyatt Regency Maui, 200 Nohea Kai Dr., 10am–5:30pm; Lahaina: 790 Front St., 10:30am–9pm; Kihei: 61 S. Kihei Rd.,10:30am–6:30pm; Wailuku: In Safeway, 58 Maui Lani Pkwy, Ste. 5000, 10:30am–6pm; Kahului: 333 Dairy Rd., 10:30am–6pm; Paia: 115 Hana Hwy., 10:30am–8pm.
Eat Like a Local
Are you the type of visitor who feels you haven’t “experienced” a destination unless you’ve hit the restaurants where the local residents eat? Then sign up for Tour da Food ★★★ (www.tourdafood.com; [tel] 808/242-8383). Pastry chef, cookbook author, and food writer/publicist Bonnie Friedman takes foodies off the tourist path to discover culinary treasures—from snack shacks to restaurants to markets and manufacturers— in either Wailuku or Upcountry Maui. Along the way she shares tidbits about the culture and the people creating the delicious food. Prices begin at $425 per couple, which includes transportation from Heritage Gardens Kepaniwai Park in Wailuku, lunch, snacks, dessert, a bag of goodies to take home, and Bonnie’s personal list of under-the-radar eating places. Tip: Book this tour early in your trip, so you have time to follow Bonnie’s terrific suggestions of places to eat on Maui.
Make time for Tiki
While the dining at Kaanapali Beach Hotel may not be dazzling, you’d be missing out on some of the best free entertainment on Maui if you skipped dinner at the hotel's casual outdoor Tiki Grill, open daily 11:30am to 8pm, or a tropical cocktail at the adjacent thatched-roof Tiki Bar, open daily 10am to 10pm. That’s because the large stage next to them hosts nightly music and hula from 6 to 9pm, often with brightly costumed groups of dancers from local halau (hula schools). Although the performances are first-rate, the vibe is relaxed, in authentic backyard Hawaiian style. The Hawaii Regional Cuisine at the more formal indoor-outdoor Tiki Terrace restaurant can be uneven, but its Sunday champagne brunch ($48 adults, $25 6–12) is popular with locals and visitors for the sheer vastness of its options; reservations are recommended. At dinner, the Native Hawaiian plate ($25 chicken, $26 fish) takes inspiration from the pre-Western contact diet that was low in fat and sodium; it’s a little bland and starchy, with grilled bananas, taro, sweet potatoes, and poi along with a steamed protein. Nevertheless, serving such fare in the employee cafeteria for many years now has had a positive impact on staff health.
Check for inexpensive plate lunches, pizza, burgers, burgers, and deli sandwiches at Honolua Store (http://honoluastore.com; [tel] 808/668-9105), near the entrance to Kapalua Resort at 502 Office Road, Lahaina. The deli is open daily from 6am to 7pm, with breakfast items served from 6 to 10:30am (some till 5pm). Prices at the Burger Shack (http://burgershackkapalua.com; [tel] 808/669-6200), on the west side of D.T. Fleming Beach, fall firmly in the moderate category, but its mouthwatering burgers (Maui Cattle Co. beef, slowroasted pork, seared mahi or black bean; $17–$24) and decadent shakes ($10– $12) can fuel an entire day at the beach. It’s open daily 11am to 4pm.
South Maui, like West Maui, is a popular visitor area, offering a range of restaurants. Some of Maui’s top chefs and dining experiences can be found here, as well as affordable delis and diners. Starting in Kihei, the prices are more reasonable than that in the affluent Wailea Resort.
Kihei has two Maui Tacos: at Kamaole Beach Center, 2411 S. Kihei Rd. ([tel] 808/879-5005), and at Piilani Village Shopping Center, 247 Piikea Ave. ([tel] 808/875-9340)
The Shops at Wailea (www.theshopsatwailea.com), with a sprawling location off 3750 Wailea Alanui Dr. between the Grand Wailea Resort and Wailea Beach Resort, offers 1 hour of free parking, or 4 hours with a validated $25 purchase. That’s more than enough to visit one of its several chain restaurants and cafes, such as Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Tommy Bahama, Honolulu Coffee Company, Cheeseburger Island Style, and Lappert’s Ice Cream. More memorable dining can be found in the open-air mall at Lineage ★★★ and Longhi’s ★ see below); for drinking and late-night noshing, pop into the Pint & Cork ★ (www.thepintandcork.com; [tel] 808/727-2038), a kid-friendly tavern that serves sturdy pub grub and an impressive bevy of alcoholic beverages from 11am to 2am daily.
Haliimaile & Pukalani (on the Way to Upcountry Maui)
Away from the beaches, the Upcountry Maui area is generally a residential area that offers excellent dining opportunities. Here’s your chance to sample Maui’s top food without the resort areas’ marked-up prices. If you’re in a hurry going down or up the slopes of Haleakala, stop by Pukalani Superette ★, 15 Makawao Ave., Pukalani (http://pukalanisuperette.com; [tel] 808/572-7616), a long-running family-owned grocery that also prepares hot and cold island-style fare daily, including chili chicken and chow fun noodles. Order from the deli counter or pick up a ready-to-go bento box; it’s open Monday to Saturday 5:30am to 9pm and Sunday 7am to 8pm.
Upcountry & East Maui
Note: You’ll find the restaurants in this section on the “Upcountry & East Maui” map.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.