As I mentioned yesterday, Mr. A and I recently got home from a two week trip to Hawaii. We did a little of this and a little of that, but most of all, we ate and drank so much of what the islands have to offer.
We became mai tai connoisseurs and discovered our favorite version had a little guava juice added. We ate some of the best seafood of our lives and at one restaurant, we even knew the name of the fisherman who caught our dinner and exactly where he caught it. We tried local favorites like the Loco Moco (eggs, rice, a hamburger patty and gravy), plate lunches and a frozen dessert made out of only coconuts. Fresh fruit stands were on every corner and a dietary staple for our entire vacation. You’re also sure to encounter rice with every meal; poi, a mashed root-like vegetable; breadfruit; Spam; Kalua Pork; Ahi Poke; and Haupia, a coconut custard like dessert.
Lots of the food and dishes you find in Hawaii have roots both in the Polynesian islands style of cooking as well as from China, Korea, the Philippines and Japan. People from those countries flooded Hawaii to work on the sugar cane and pineapple plantations and in turn passed on their style of cooking. These styles have accumulated and mashed together to form a delicious variety of fusion cuisine.
No questions, we ate well.
Kihei Caffe (Kihei, Southern Maui): This was our first and favorite meal of the entire trip. We’re kicking ourselves for not eating breakfast here every morning. My stomach is literally growing thinking about it! I first have to talk about how on-point their service is. You approach the cafe to see a HUGE line out the front door. This a.) increases your need to try their food and b.) has you envisioning hours and hours of wait time. Fear not, you’re given a menu upon getting in line and honestly barely have time to read the whole thing before you get to the front. It moves that fast. Upon putting in your order, you next wonder if you’re going to have to stand around waiting for a seat. Nope- we even had options. We chose a few seats on a counter space that bordered the side walk so we could people watch. The most impressive feat was after seriously FIVE MIN. of waiting, our food was piping hot in front of us, waiting to be devoured. Mr. A went with the Pork Fried Rice and Eggs while I stuck with the restaurant favorite, French Toast with Banana and Macadamia Nuts. Both dishes were fantastic. Served with coconut syrup, the french toast had just the right amount of local flavor to remind me I wasn’t at an iHop back home. Mr. A’s dish was even better. The pork fried rice was well seasoned and complimented the fried eggs perfectly.
South Shore Tiki Lounge (Kihei, Southern Maui): Our obsession with mai tais began here. Served in adorable glasses garnished with loads of fresh fruit, these are dangerous. With more than 15 tropical drinks and twists to the mai tai on the menu, plan to come a few times. With live music and fantastic calamari, there’s really no reason not to. If you only have time for one, try the Sneaky Tiki or Beach Bum Rum. It was after we experienced the mai tai’s here, we were on a personal mission to try mai tais everywhere and this was still among the top!
Continue reading for more of our favorite spots!
Nalu’s South Shore Grill (Kihei, Southern Maui): Don’t letthe strip mall local fool you, the Apple Brie Burger is phenomenal. Between pineapple this and coconut that, sometimes you just need a burger and a beer. This is the place for that.The open air building, driftwood furniture and complimentary fruit infused water complete the spot.
*Da Kitchen Express (Kihei, Southern Maui): YUM. This is a do as the locals do spot and a popular fast food joint. Serving traditional lunch plate meals with meat, two scoops of rice and “mac” (macaroni) salad, you could get away with splitting an order. Try the kalua pork lunch plate and get a fried spam musubi on the side.
Maui Brewing Company (Kihei, Southern Maui): Keep in mind, this is the brewery, NOT the brew pub. Other than the food trucks, they do not serve a full menu here, just amazing beer. And a stealthy amount of options I may add.Mr. A and I shared a flight (mini servings of six) and a pint of our favorite. Our favorite was the Mana Wheat, a lighter style wheat beer that gets it’s flavor from PINEAPPLE. If you’re in the mood to try something different, the hot blonde was a also a goodie. It was brewed with peppers that paired with a blonde ale,gave it a hot bite with a smooth, easy finish.
Ono Gelato Company (Lahaina, Western Maui): Gelato heaven in the cutest little shop with a huge lit marquee sign. Seriously. With both traditional flavors, fruity, dairy free flavors and one-of-a-kind flavors, there is no wrong flavor. With add ins such as macadamia nuts and black sea salt, it’s gelato as you’ve never had before. Once you grab your cup of creamy goodness, peruse their gift items or head to their beach patio to enjoy your flavors.
Sugar Cane Rum House (Lahaina, Western Maui): Skip Cheeseburger Paradise and the other beach front restaurants and make a bee line here. The service is friendly and eager to suggest menu favorites and their happy hour (3:00 – 5:00) is incredible. The chef is a James Beard Award Winner and the food proves his merit. It’s rich without being heavy, the flavor is out of this world and we could tell this by ordering just APPETIZERS (unfortunately we were headed to a luau later so couldn’t order dinner). We shared the hurricane steamed edamame and the island fritters for a mid afternoon snack and of course checked out their cocktail menu. They make their mai tais with guava juice so instead of being overly sweet, it has a more toned down tropical flavor. It’s a minor alteration, but makes for a delicious result. The coconut margarita is also worth trying.
*Honolulu Coffee Company (All over, Maui): A chain in Hawaii, stop here as often as possible for an iced Nutty Hawaiian Latte. There is a convenient location right on the main drag in Paia though that we frequented often.
Hana Ranch Provisions (Paia, Northern Maui): This is another very foodie, trendy spot. Sourced from the Hana Ranch and other local farmers, they boast an “in season” menu. Turns out there are still growing seasons on the island even though their climate remains fairly constant. It generally means the farmers dictate the changing menu. Serving small plates, salads and a few large entrees, be prepared for a small menu, but big flavor profiles. Try the ‘Ulu and Sweet Potato Gnocchi or the Vegetable Pakora (get it for the papaya chutney alone) and then share the coffee-cocoa rubbed ahi.
*Cafe Mambo (Paia, Northern Maui): We came here one afternoon for a quick lunch and were drawn in by the bright pink exterior and the happy chatter from the wide open bay windows and doors. The eclectic seating, tiled bar, chalkboard signs, delicious menu and nice selection of beer and wine set the tone for an extremely relaxed lunch and afternoon drink. The steak salad was one of the better salads I’ve had in a while with a perfect ratio of lettuce to toppings and dressings. I wished we had time to check this place out for dinner as their fajitas look worth a trip.
Mama’s Fish House (Paia, Northern Maui): This was one of our splurges on our trip. We didn’t have reservations, but reservations are HIGHLY suggested. We arrived around 5:30 and weren’t seated until closer to 6:45 PM. However, we did find plenty to look at and enjoy during our wait. Seated on their own private beach with walking paths, magnificent tropical landscaping and tiki torches, this was the epitome Island class. The dark hardwood with banana leaf-esq style fans, open air concepts, and beach-y colors exuded a chic island vibe, while being relaxed with resort wear. Voted one of the top ten fine dining establishments in the country, it met it’s claim to fame expectations. The pride themselves in traditional Polynesian preparation and each fish is caught that day from various parts of the island and the fisherman who caught that fish is actually listed in the menu. I don’t think you could go wrong with any menu item.
Those were our favorites! What did I miss? I’m sure there are plenty. Comment below so I know for a future trip!
If you’re still in the beginning stages of planning your trip, make sure you read my post on what I wished I’d knew before I went to Maui and other basic info about the islands.