Sights and Bites: What to Eat While Touring Maui, Hawaii
With a cultural map in one hand and a culinary compass in the other, savor the treasured sights then seek the nearby local delectable bites.
Most trips to Maui start here, at the Kahului Airport, but visitors often rush through this area on the way to their oceanside accommodations. There are many things to discover in Central Maui, like the lush, green valley in Iao Valley State Park, shows and exhibits at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, historical tours at the Sugar Museum, or charming small-town shops in Wailuku.
Classic food option: The plate lunch is a Hawaiian staple meal, consisting of a portion of meat accompanied by sticky rice and macaroni salad. Da Kitchen in Kahului features plate lunches with huge portions of local favorites like loco moco, chicken katsu, and kalua pork. After browsing the shops of Wailuku, you can stop for lunch at Stillwell's Bakery & Café. Enjoy some soup and a sandwich with the locals while being tempted by the desserts. Anything behind the display-case glass is good, but don't leave without trying one of their famous cream horns.
Trendy food option: One of the best values on the island is lunch at the Leis Family Class Act restaurant. As part of the UH Maui College Maui Culinary Academy, the restaurant is run by students under the direction of chef instructors. On Wednesdays and Fridays, when school is in session, you can get a four-course meal on par with the finest restaurants on Maui for a fraction of the price. The menus have themes, like Asian, French, and Moroccan, that rotate throughout the year. Plus, it is BYOB, so you can bring a bottle of wine to round out the meal.
Unexpected food option: You might not expect to find the best shrimp on Maui at the side of the road, but locals and knowledgeable tourists line up at the Geste Shrimp Truck at the Kahului Harbor for their shrimp plates. The shrimp comes in a variety of preparations and is served with a generous helping of rice and crab-macaroni salad. If you like heat, the spicy pineapple shrimp plate is a perfect combination of zest and tropical goodness. You can sample all sorts of local fare every Saturday at the Maui Swap Meet at the University of Hawaii Maui College, where food vendors are joined by booth vendors selling all sorts of Maui crafts and gifts. Make a beeline for the Donut Dynamite stand before they run out of their Lilikoi Cream-Filled Malasadas. Be sure to taste some of the unique tropical varieties of Jeff's Jams and Jellies before deciding which ones to take home. The swap meet is also the perfect place to pick up some of the freshest fruits and vegetables on the island.
The South Maui coast, lined with picturesque beaches, is one of the sunnier and drier parts of the island. You will find some of the finest restaurants and resorts in Wailea, as well as some spectacular golf courses. Maalaea Harbor offers the chance for up close exploration of marine life at the Maui Ocean Center and is a starting point for whale-watching tours or snorkeling trips with crystal clear views at the Molokini crater. The winding ocean road to La Perouse Bay takes you to several great beaches and snorkeling sites and ends up at the edge of Maui's last lava flow.
Classic food option: You will find "shave ice" in many locations on the island, but Ululani's Hawaiian Shave Ice in Kihei stands above the rest with its thinly shaven ice and mouthwatering flavors made with natural, local ingredients. You choose up to three flavors or try one of their favorite combos like Sunset Beach (guava, mango, and passion orange). You can even get your shave ice on top of ice cream or haupia (coconut pudding). If you are looking for a good breakfast, the Kihei Caffe near Kalama Park serves up some of the best on the island. This is a great spot to try the Hawaiian breakfast classic, loco moco, a beef patty on white rice, covered in gravy and topped with eggs. If your tastes lean toward the sweet, the French toast can be topped with island goodies and comes with a delicious coconut syrup.
Trendy food option: Ka'ana Kitchen in the Andaz resort in Wailea features locally grown Maui ingredients in every dish. Enjoy the watermelon salad and the ahi tataki, then take a short stroll to the popular Ulua Beach. Monkeypod is up the hill from the ocean resorts of Wailea and offers a casual atmosphere and great food, along with an impressive wine list and 36 beers on tap. They have nightly specials of their wood-oven pizzas, but it is hard to resist the Bourgeois, with lobster and wild mushrooms and a white garlic sauce. Be sure to save room for their famous cream pies.
Unexpected food option: It would be easy to miss Coconut's Fish Café if it weren't for the crowds. Don't let the line scare you—staff members at the order counter move fast, and the famous fish tacos with 17 different ingredients are well worth the wait. Despite being inauspiciously located in a strip mall next to a grocery store, Cuatro in Kihei offers an upscale dining experience in a cozy atmosphere. It's BYOB, so you can grab a bottle of wine to enjoy with their award-winning spicy tuna nachos with truffle aioli and cilantro pesto.
West Maui, with the historic town of Lahaina, was once the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Today, this area is bustling with resorts, shops, and restaurants, and it is the epicenter for a host of oceangoing activities. You can explore the rich history of the area along Front Street in Lahaina or head out on the water for whale-watching or a day trip to the island of Lanai. Kaanapali and Kapalua offer world-class resorts and golf courses, as well as scenic coastal views with great hiking options.
Classic food option: Merriman's is the quintessential elegant Hawaiian restaurant set on a cliff overlooking the ocean. The views attract diners for pupus and drinks in the large seating area that extends to the ocean from the main restaurant. Happy hour runs from 3 p.m. until 5 p.m., but you won't want to leave before seeing the sunset. The focus of the menu is regional Hawaiian cuisine featuring local ingredients. On Wednesdays, catch an early meal here and then head to the nearby Napili Kai Beach Resort for a slack-key show from the masters of Hawaiian music. For a more casual meal, Aloha Mixed Plate in Lahaina offers authentic local food in an open-air setting at a reasonable price. You can find tasty dishes featuring elements of the many cultures of Hawaii accompanied by two scoops of rice and a scoop of macaroni salad.
Trendy food option: Pacific'O in Lahaina was early to the farm-to-table movement and was the first restaurant on the island to establish its own farm: O'o Farm in Upcountry Maui. The beachside location is the perfect place to have a drink just before sunset. The Pacific Rim menu has local fish delivered daily accented by local ingredients (there are meat and vegetarian options as well). The beautifully presented coconut mahimahi and hapa tempura with ono (wahoo) and ahi (tuna) are as beautiful as they are delicious. Star Noodle, located at the edge of an industrial park, serves a variety of noodle dishes and shared plates, each with a gourmet twist on a local favorite. This is a great place to order several different plates and share. Make sure to stray beyond the noodles and try some of the other dishes like the steamed pork buns or Vietnamese crepes.
Unexpected food option: Poke, a staple of Hawaiian cuisine, consists of bite-size chunks of raw fish seasoned with everything, spicy and savory, and when you find good poke, you keep going back! For this reason, it is a delightful surprise that a grocery store in Lahaina offers some of the best poke on Maui. The poke at Foodland Farms in Lahaina is well known for its selection and taste. The friendly staff offers generous tastings so you can decide if you want to go with something traditional or try some of their more exotic flavors like the sweet chili jalapeño. Although Maui is best known for its seafood, there is a long history of cattle ranching on the island. Teddy's Bigger Burgers at the Lahaina Gateway shopping center uses 100 percent ground chuck for its award-winning burgers. Everything is prepared to order, so sit back and enjoy the wait.
Haleakala and Upcountry
There would be no Maui without volcanoes, and Haleakala and the surrounding area offer a unique alternative to the sun-soaked beaches below. Most visitors to this part of the island head to the top of the volcano for views of the island and the otherworldly cinder-cone crater. The high elevations around Haleakala are the agricultural center of the island and offer plenty of other things for visitors to discover, including botanical gardens and visitor-friendly farms and ranches. Make sure to pack a few extra layers since the temperature is often cooler at the top!
Classic food option: The Ulupalakua Ranch Store is one of the best places for lunch in Upcountry. The farm has been in operation since the 19th century. Inside the store is a small deli where you can order grilled sandwiches with meat from the ranch. Popular menu items include the elk burger, the Maui Cattle Company beef burger, or the Kalua pig served on a torta roll. You won't find anything fresher and all of the meats are free of hormones and artificial ingredients. If you are wondering where to stop for breakfast after watching the sun rise from atop Haleakala, the Kula Lodge has a menu that matches its terrific views. The macadamia nut pancakes with coconut and maple syrups are a perfect way to warm up after the sunrise visit.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Trendy food option: You will find the cheeses from the Surfing Goat Dairy in stores and on menus all over Maui, but a visit to the farm is the best way to understand what makes this cheese so special and delicious. Take a tour to learn all about the operation and feed and milk the goats. The highlight here, in addition to seeing the goats stand on a surfboard in their grazing area, is the ability to taste a variety of the award-winning cheeses. After finding your favorites, you can purchase some to go for a beach picnic later on. If spirits are more your speed, the nearby Ocean Organic Vodka runs tours and tastings at its farm and distillery. Make sure to look up from your drink to enjoy the sweeping views of the valley below.
Unexpected food option: Yes, Maui has a winery. MauiWine, formerly Tedeschi Vineyards, was established back in 1974. While waiting for their first grapes to grow, they experimented with pineapple and released a Maui Blanc pineapple wine a few years later. They now produce a variety of wines made from grapes, pineapples, passion fruit, and other fruits. You can sample the wines in the tasting room, housed in the former guest cottage of King David Kalakaua. Back down in Kula, stop at the Alii Kula Lavender Farm for their gourmet picnic lunch tour. After touring the farm and learning about the 45 different varieties of lavender and how they can be used in different products and foods, enjoy a delicious lunch including lavender-infused dessert. You can pick up other lavender delectables in the gift shop, including spices, teas, and even dark chocolate. Follow your lunch with a tour of the Kula Botanical Gardens to experience a tropical paradise on the slopes of the volcano.
The Road to Hana
The east coast of Maui is lined with lush rain forest, dramatic ocean vistas, and countless waterfalls. The Road to Hana is the scenic drive that winds its way through this wild part of the island. Its more than 600 hairpin turns and 50-plus one-lane bridges take you through some of the most beautiful parts of Maui. Hana itself is a small town rooted in Hawaiian traditions. Just beyond Hana, you'll find the easternmost end of Haleakala National Park, including the Pools of Oheo and the Pipiwai Trail hike to Waimoku Falls.
Classic food option: You'll pass Mama's Fish House at the outset of the Road to Hana, and at some point you will want to stop in. Mama's is not just a meal, it is an experience. The grounds, dotted with palm trees, overlook the North Shore. Although you can't see the sun set from this side of the island, it is worth getting here before dark, as the sky becomes illuminated as the sun goes down and the view from Mama's is the perfect backdrop for your Hawaiian vacation photos. If you get there early, start with one of their tropical drinks in the bar. The menu lists the names of the local fishermen who brought in the seafood that day. Everything on the menu is excellent, but some of the classics include the Tahitian ceviche with lime and coconut, the macadamia-nut-crusted mahimahi stuffed with crab and lobster, and the Polynesian black pearl dessert. Even the almond-scented towel at the end of the meal is a treat. For a more casual lunch or dinner, stop by the Paia Fish Market in Paia. Locals and tourists share the communal bench seating to enjoy the popular fish sandwich and other fresh offerings.
Trendy food option: Most visitors will do the Road to Hana as a day trip, and there are limited choices for food along the route. A good option is to stop in the town of Paia in the morning and pick up a picnic lunch for later in the day. Mana Foods is the best natural-food store on Maui and offers a great variety of picnic options. The Hana Bay Picnic Co. and Kuau Store are other options for stocking up on food and drinks before the long drive.
Unexpected food option: There isn't much of a restaurant scene along the Road to Hana, but there are many markets selling fruits and baked goods. If you can, hold out for Aunty Sandy's on the Keanae Peninsula. She has been running this stand for 30 years, and the banana bread is the best you will find along the route (and maybe anywhere).