Unlike most people who go to Maui to see the sun rise at Haleakala Crater and take the winding Road to Hana, Andy and I go to Maui for the incredible scenery and the food. After several recent international trips that involved insane amounts of planning and research, as well as action-packed, exhausting days, we decided that for Andy’s big birthday we would just go somewhere we know and love. As much as travel writers love to hate on them, there is something to be said about a vacation that’s just a mindless escape from reality!
We did some beachcombing, hiking, and sightseeing, but mostly, we did nothing. And we ate. A lot. Here are some of my favorite things to eat on the island.
Maui Onion and Sesame Seed Crusted Seared Ahi Tuna from Lahaina Grill
We’ve been to Maui three times, and two of those times were probably just to enjoy this dish. It’s THAT good. We love the combination of barely-seared local sashimi-grade ahi steak with a fragrant Tahitian vanilla-scented jasmine rice and apple cider butter vinaigrette. The sweetness of the Maui onion and vanilla is a perfect juxtaposition to the savory tuna, and the rich vinaigrette adds a nice acidity.
LG offers fine dining service, yet it doesn’t come with any of the ego that’s almost always attached to the service in fine dining. Our server switched my white cloth napkin to black immediately upon seating me since I was wearing black pants. Despite the fact that one of us was 30 minutes late, he was nothing but gracious.
Da Lau Lau Plate from Da Kitchen
Lau lau pork is a native Hawaiian dish made with pork shoulder layered with taro leaves and wrapped with ti leaf before being steamed. Traditionally it’s cooked in an underground oven with hot rocks and banana leaves, but these days it’s steamed. The pork is cooked low and slow until it’s meltingly tender with salted butterfish, which sounds gross but actually adds another layer of complexity to the flavor. With its requisite side scoop of mac salad and rice, it’s pure comfort food. Because Da Kitchen is right by the airport in Kahului, we always start off our trip with a visit to this place.
Mai Tai, Ono Ceviche, and Coconut Cake from Mama’s Fish House
Does it cater exclusively to tourists? Yes. Is it the most expensive restaurant on the island? Probably. Is Mama’s Fish House still worth visiting? Most definitely.
The Mai Tai is the best I’ve ever had. Even though it’s got pineapple juice and orgeat (an almond-flavored syrup), it doesn’t come across as cloying. Despite the fact that it has nearly four ounces of rum in it, it doesn’t taste strong. In fact, it’s usually tempting to order more than one (a rarity for a tiki drink). Here’s the official Mama’s Fish House Mai Tai recipe if you’re curious.
Along with the maui onion-encrusted ahi I mentioned above, the ono ceviche served in a coconut is easily my favorite plate on the island. One bite gives you the saturated, intense flavors of a Peruvian ceviche, but it’s made with coconut milk, which lends it richness. Sadly, it wasn’t on the menu this time due to a coconut shortage (and I very nearly cried right there at the table), but I’ve learned for next time that you can call 24 hours in advance to special-order it and the chef will make sure it’s ready for you when you arrive.
We have a few more favorites at Mama’s—the grilled he’e (octopus) and the bouillabaisse (French-style seafood stew with king crab, scallops, prawns, clams, opakapaka, and mahi-mahi) are among them. But you can’t leave without ordering the three-layer coconut cake, which is often listed as a special. Garnished with chopped papaya, a sliver of dragonfruit, and a snowfall of plush shredded coconut, it’s the lightest coconut cake I’ve ever tried. I love that it’s not too sweet or heavy.
Plate lunches from Poi by the Pound
Situated just across the street from Da Kitchen, Poi by the Pound is another plate lunch spot that’s teeming with locals (and it’s open on Sunday, unlike a lot of other restaurants). You can’t go wrong with any of the island favorites here—kalbi, lau lau pork, loco moco—and both the creamy poi and the tangy mac salad are my favorite versions on the island of Maui. Pro tip: Get it to go for your plane ride home!
Carry-out Ahi Tuna Poke at The Fish Market Maui
This Ka’anapali spot is usually overrun with tourists and it doesn’t really have seating. But you can double park, run in, and grab a half-pound of incredibly fresh, made-to-order ahi tuna poke to go for about $10. They make a pinko-crusted fish and chips plate, which is pretty good, too.
Anything at Joey’s Kitchen
There are two branches of this Filipino spot on the west side of Maui; one is in Lahaina and the other is in Napili (highly convenient if you are staying in the more remote area of Kapalua). They serve tons of Filipino classics, like adobo pork and various pancits, but I went a different route and ordered steamed manila clams (delicious, although a little sandy) and a salad made with pohole, a native Hawaiian fern.
Guava Malasadas at T. Komoda Store & Bakery
A local store open since 1916, this low-key store in the upcountry town of Makawao is best known for its doughnuts. While Andy was underwhelmed by his stick doughnut at sugar malasada, I thought my guava malasada made it worth the trek up the mountain.
Mopsy’s Kalua Pork Flatbread at The Flatbread Co.
Flatbread in Hawaii? You heard me right. Multiple people steered me here, and it did not disappoint. My favorite flatbread I’ve tried here is the signature kalua pork.
Coconut Cream Pie or any other pie at Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop
We waited 20 minutes to grab pie to go from Leoda’s in Olowalu, and it was absolutely worth the wait. My favorite of the pies we tried was the coconut cream pie; it had a lovely graham-flavored crust, and every element of the dish had clearly been made fresh. There are no pictures of this as we ate it that quickly!
There were a few new places I was really sad to miss out on this time around—we planned to hit up Sheldon Simeon’s restaurants, but Tin Roof wound up being closed on Sunday and we skipped our reservation at his other restaurant, Lineage, after a ridiculously filling meal at Mama’s.
If you have any favorites, I’d love to hear ‘em. What did I leave off my list?