Whenever I get that faraway look in my eyes, you can be pretty sure
that I’m in Maui. On the beaches of Wailea with McNibs. Probably with a
Mai-Tai in one hand and a plate lunch in the other. It’s my Happy Place. I go there a lot.
is, much of Sonoma County seems to share my wistfulness for the laid
back, sun and surf lifestyle of the islands. I’ve been bombarded with
folks telling me about their own annual pilgrimage to Maui–the
flip-flop set, so to speak. Where there’s relaxing, however, there’s
sure to be some serious eating. All that frolicking in the sand tends
to work up an appetite.
Trouble is, there’s a whole lot of bad
food to be had in paradise. Where tourists congregate, $12 hamburgers
and vapid chain restaurants can be found aplenty. Don’t take the easy
way out. Dig a little deeper, order a little more adventurously, eat
like the locals. Open your mind fully to Spam.* You can have McDonald’s
when you get home.
With that in mind, BiteClub ate and ate and
ate her way through the island. Just for you. Now, keep in mind that
this list is far from exhaustive (we mostly stuck to the Wailea to
Lahaina area)** and doesn’t include high-end dining. Frankly, I don’t
have the pocketbook or the willingness to risk $150 on tourist-quality
food. (I can tell you, however, that Mama’s Fish House is at the top of
my list for next time.)
I whittled my experiences down to the
best of the best. So, on that note, here BiteClub’s somewhat exhaustive
guide to edible Maui…
Best spam and pancakes, Tasty Crust, Wailuku
west of Kahului, Wailuku is where the locals live and hang out. And
Tasty Crust is where they eat breakfast. You’ll find yourself among the
few intrepid tourists who make the trek to this run-down diner for the
best pancakes, well, ever. There are a handful of booths here, but
you’ll likely find yourself rubbing elbows at a long community table
with the aunties and uncles. Do yourself a favor and order a full
stack, along with a side of fried Spam. Butter and syrup everything
liberally. Worry about cholesterol tomorrow. 770 Mill St., Wailuku,
Best introduction to Loco Moco, Kihei Caffe, Kihei
not saying it’s the best Loco Moco. But the pile of rice, meat and
brown sauce served up here is so overwhelming to behold that it’s
certainly worth the $7 or so you’ll pay for it. Just to say you did it.
For the uninitiated, Loco Moco is a combination of a couple scoops of
white or fried rice, a hamburger patty, fried egg and brown gravy. You
can eat if for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Eating it can be a feat of
gastronomic endurance. Though the Caffe can get a bit touristy,
especially on the weekends, the outdoor seating (across the street from
the beach), casual walk-up attitude and fast turnover make it well
worth visiting. If you’re not up to the Loco Moco challenge, banana
macadamia nut pancakes and a whole papaya with granola are perfectly
rational choices. 1945 S Kihei Rd, Kihei.
Best poke, Eskimo Candy, Kihei
are you’ll see an Eskimo Candy truck pulled up at most of the high end
restaurants at some time during your stay. It’s the best fish on the
island, according to most everyone we asked. But instead of paying out
the nose, you can get it straight from the source at Eskimo Candy’s
small cafe and fish market in Kihei. Don’t expect glam. Tucked behind
the strip malls in an industrial area of Kihei, the store is just a
counter, a couple of tables and a case of fresh fish and housemade
poke. A close cousin of ceviche, poke is usually small cubes of raw
tuna marinated in shoyu (soy sauce) and ginger with some combination of
onions, sesame seeds and garlic. It’s the perfect foil to the greasy
goodness of their ahi or ono fish and chips (quite possibly the best
fish and chips ever). I couldn’t bring myself to order the chowder in
85 degree weather, but it’s supposed to be outstanding. They’re only
open on weekdays, so plan ahead. 2665 Wai Wai Place, Kihei.
Best plate lunch with a view, Aloha Mixed Plate, Lahaina
let’s be clear, is the Bermuda Triangle of tourist traps. It’s a nifty
little town with lots to see and do, but be wary about eating in town
if its local food you’re after. McNibs pretty much had to restrain me
from screaming at the lemmings headed for cheesy chain spots with…oh,
never mind. Ugh. You know better and you’ll head directly for my
favorite spot in town, Aloha Mixed Plate. It’s at the north end of
front street, just steps away from the beach. Again, nothing exactly to
write home about (and uh, cleanliness is a little circumspect with the
piles of garbage stacked by the bathrooms) but the plate lunch is
wonderful. And cheap. My fave is the mixed plate with Kalua pork (the
ever-present roasted, shredded pork), rice, macaroni salad, lomi lomi
(which looks exactly like salsa, but is actually salmon, tomatoes and
onions) and poi. Here’s the story on poi: It tastes a lot like nothing,
but enhances the flavor of everything. You mixed the mashed taro root
with whatever you’re eating. It’s worth a try and you’ll either love it
or hate it. This is also the time to try laupia, a sort of coconut
flan. Again, you’ll either love it or hate it. Mai tai’s are cheap as
dirt around happy hour and come with a fresh orchid on top. Come on.
Life doesn’t get any better than that. If you go for dinner, you may
hear the sweet sounds of Old Lahaina Luau, right next door. 1285 Front
Best southern BBQ in, um, Kihei, Fat Daddy’s Smokehouse BBQ
I gotta say that I broke my own rule about eating in touristy spots
that have nothing to do with local food. I blame it on the kids, who
refused to eat another plate lunch. So, okay, guess what? BiteClub was
pleasantly surprised to find out that the BBQ brisket at Fat Daddy’s is
actually made with Maui beef. Nice. And it’s actually pretty darned
good. Well, okay then. I might even be convinced to tell you that the
Texas Chili “Works” with fritos, sour cream and cheese isn’t half bad
either. You might even get me to tell you that the Island Slaw is
pretty yummy as well. Hrumph. 1913 S Kihei Rd, Kihei.
Best spot to grab lunch before your flight: Kau Kau Food Court, Kahului
lunch, Hawaiian BBQ, Mexican and Vietnamese in this unassuming shopping
center food court ringed by Borders, Old Navy and other mainland
megamarts. Dont’ miss Ba-Le. Though it looks like a French Bakery
(complete with Eiffel Tower signage), this walk-up is actually mostly
Vietnamese food. And super cheap. Maui Marketplace, Kahului.
Best lu’au BiteClub went to: Honua’ula, Wailea Marriott
are a dime a dozen in Hawaii and range from really good (and expensive)
to really horrible (and still expensive). They also tend to be really
cheesy, (which is the fun of it) and ply you with all-you-can-drink Mai
Tais so you don’t notice how bad the food is. Or so I hear. Because
while we were plied with many, many pre-show drinks, BiteClub gives a
hearty thumbs up to the buffet at Honua’ula. There’s no big viewing of
the imu pit (which is a draw at other spots), but the crew was
well-pleased with the selection and quality of food–from Kalua pork
and taro rolls to sweet potatoes in coconut milk and lomi lomi.
BiteClub Jr. even elbowed his way in for seconds. You’ll need to stake
out a spot early to get close to the stage, but with a backdrop of the
setting sun over the ocean and a well-choreographed show (including
fire dancers, a lady dangling from a tree and plenty of hip-shaking),
its well worth the $85 price-tag. (If you’re taking kids, there’s
pre-show fun and plenty for them to stay occupied.) 3700 Wailea Alanui
The Lu’au for People Who’ve Already Done Lu’uas: The Feast at Lele, Lahaina.
one escaped my radar altogether until I returned home, but is a must
for next time. The Feast at Lele is more about the food than the show.
Created by the folks behind Old Lahaina Lu’au and the ritzy Pacific’O
restaurant, the pricetag for this dinner show is a hefty $150 per
person for four courses inspired by the Pacific Islands of Hawai’i,
Aotearoa, Tahiti and Samoa. Word is it’s to die for. Reservations are a
must and you may want to do this one without the tots. 1.866.244.5353.
Best Butter Fish and Late-Night Karaoke, Sansai
off, let me say that Sansai is routinely lauded as the best sushi in
Maui. But while guidebooks are nuts about this place, BiteClub was less
than gushing about the fried, encrusted and glazed rolls that seem to
get all the attention. Still, I won’t begrudge the mango crab salad
roll with chili sauce. But it isn’t sushi. I’m just saying. Although
this was our one big dinner out alone, McNibs and I skipped the entrees
altogether and sampled through the starters. Best bet is the Matsuhisa
Style Miso Butterfish–little pieces of tender white fish marinated in
sake and sweet miso that sweetly melts on your tongue. Service is
harried on busy weekend nights and you’ll be lucky if you see your
server more than once or twice. There are some early bird specials, as
well as late night karaoke.Kihei Town Center, 808.879.0004.
Best Mai Tai/Latenight People Watching, Voodoo Lounge, Kihei
a certain age, watching bar room train-wrecks become a whole lot more
fun than, uh, being the train-wreck. Having been on both sides of the
track, I can say with confidence that a eye-popping Mai Tai and front
row seats to the dance floor at the Voodoo Lounge in Kihei is the spot
to be if you’re anywhere past 25. Kick back to the DJ spinning Jawaiian
and hip hop as locals and giggly twenty-somethings pop, break and booty
dance the night away. Oh to be young. Just behind Fat Daddy’s BBQ.
Other tasty treats
Best spot for meeting goats: Surfing Goat Dairy
is still a sore spot. But suffice to say that nothing says “I love you”
like your sweetie driving hours through Upcountry backroads of Maui
looking for a goat cheese dairy. Especially when he’s deadly afraid of
cheese. And goats. After several hours of searching, cussing, crying
and snipping at each other (BiteClub admits to some directional
retardation), we finally found the much-lauded dairy. Unfortunately, it
was closed for a family emergency. “Wally World is closed,” McNibs
hooted at me. I’m still crushed. The dairy is usually open daily with
tours and cheese tastings. 3651 Omaopio Road, Kula
Coolest thing BiteClub didn’t do: O’o Farm
still kicking myself for not getting to the O’o biodynamic farm, where
many of the local restaurants get their greens. You get an tour and
lunch in Upcountry. Ugh. Unfortunately, public tours only happen on
Wednesday and Thursdays, so you’ll need to plan ahead. 808.667.4341.
The other super cool thing BiteClub didn’t do: A Saigon Cafe, Wailuku
told me to go. Best Vietnamese in Maui. Hey, even Rachel Ray went
there. Um, someone was crabby and wouldn’t turn the van around, as I
remember. Ahem. You know who you are. 1792 Main St., Wailuku.
Best spot for stinky cheese: Who Cut The Cheese, Kihei
like I was missing wine and cheese, but if you’re needing to get
yourself a big hunk of gorgonzola, this is the spot. Don’t even try to
buy a bottle of California wine in Hawaii. Your head will explode. 1279
S. Kihei Road.
Best thing to never, ever, ever try: Pineapple Wine
Oh. God. No. Mouth burning. Eyes watering. Make it stop.
pretty much everyone knows that Hawaiians love Spam. It’s a staple of
restaurant eating, and not in an ironic, touristy kind of way. Though
the canned meat was, for the most part, a casualty of the
health-conscious 1970s, its never gone out of fashion on the islands.
Open your mind to the possibility of eating a slice of fried, salty
meat just for the sheer joy of it. Can Spam be transcendent? I say yes.
**All of the spots mentioned (except Sainsai and Voodoo Lounge) have been
personally approved by my kids, so I can assure you that you’ll find
something tasty for the young ‘uns.