Monkeypod Kitchen by Merriman // (c) 2011 Merrimans
When not eating her way through Maui, online editor Monica Poling was also quite taken with her recent foray into voluntourism on Maui
Japengo's sashimi platter is a must // (c) 2011 Monica Poling
The tender meat inside Star Noodles's steamed pork buns can't be beat // (c) 2011 Monica Poling
The Hawaiians have a popular saying, “hana hou.” Roughly translated, it means “one more time,” and it has become my mantra when creating a list of the best restaurants on Maui.
Maui’s rich diversity of restaurants and cuisines means that there is an ever-changing list of amazing places to dine. Every time I visit the island, I find a new favorite or two that I swear should be on Maui’s best-ever list.
Needless to say, the task of identifying five Maui restaurants that stand above all others is virtually impossible (although the research itself has proven to be quite enjoyable).
With that in mind, the list that follows offers a variety of great dining experiences throughout Maui. While they may be my top choices for now, in the future I reserve the right to exercise my power of “hana hou.”
Mama’s Fish House
For seafood lovers, Mama’s Fish House is a sure bet. With menu items like opah (moonfish) caught in local waters aboard the fishing vessel Princess Jasmine, and lehi (snapper) caught by Raymond Otsubo over deep reefs near Olowalu, can there be any doubt that the fish is locally caught and served fresh?
Located about an hour from Kaanapali, the restaurant is near the town of Paia in a romantic beachfront setting. Not convinced this is the place for you? Don’t take my word for it. Mama’s has also been recognized as one of Maui’s finest restaurants by Zagat Hawaii, West Jet Airlines, Fodor’s, Coastal Living, CNN Headline News and Guitar Aficionado.
Note: Even if you have no immediate plans to visit Hawaii, a trip to Mama’s website serves up a rotating playlist of romantic Polynesian music, which is well worth the click.
One of the newer Maui restaurants is Japengo, which opened last December in the Hyatt Regency Maui. The menu leans heavily toward a pan-Asian theme, with many Hawaiian influences.
Although the menu sports a significant selection – Singaporean chili crab, anyone? -- the best bets are the fresher-than-fresh sushi and sashimi items.
The restaurant, located on the site of the former Cascades, features a gorgeous mostly-open-air design drawing heavily on Zen elements. It sits on a bluff overlooking a westward facing beach and the Kaanapali Resort beach walk, making for great people watching and romantic, sunset views.
For travelers not born under a water sign, or those who start to itch when they are more than five minutes away from the nearest golf course, the Pineapple Grill is an ideal choice. The restaurant does sport a gorgeous ocean panorama, but its location high atop a hill at the Kapalua Bay Golf Course also means that plenty of lush, landscaped grounds are part of the view.
The restaurant, a fusion mix of casual and elegant, offers plenty of excellent options for guests who prefer the “turf” side of a menu, including a hoisin-glazed Angus rib eye with bleu cheese mashed potatoes. Seafood lovers, however, need not despair, as plenty of sustainable seafood options also appear. For dessert, nothing less than the Maui Gold pineapple upside down cake will do.
Rumor has it that a certain member of the Maui Visitors Bureau dines here regularly. Certainly if it’s good enough for the visitors bureau, it’s good enough to make my top five list.
Lest readers think I can only dine at pricey, upscale restaurants, I also fell in love with Star Noodle in Lahaina. Frequently referred to as a “hidden gem,” the restaurant is located in the Lahaina Business Park, well away from the regular tourist pathways.
The menu is fairly simple, but despite the restaurant’s name, it isn’t just about the noodles. While my Lahaina fried soup (chow fun, pork and bean sprouts) was excellent, what had me drawing little tiny hearts on the menu were the steamed pork buns with pressed pork, hoisin, shiitake and cucumber.
Despite its remote-ish location, plenty of visitors are aware of the restaurant, and the family-style seating encourages plenty of conviviality among strangers.
Monkeypod Kitchen by Merriman
Since I was planning to visit the Maui Film Festival in Wailea, the guest services personnel at the Makena Beach and Golf Resort recommended I check out Monkeypod Kitchen by Merriman, which opened in Wailea in February 2011. The restaurant is the latest venture by the same group that runs Merriman’s Kapalua (and other establishments throughout Hawaii.)
The restaurant sports a hipster aesthetic, but its commitment to the “art of craft” ensures a top-notch experience, whether it is the beer selection (largely chosen from microbreweries around the country), the hand-crafted cocktails using local seasonings, or the wood-fired pizzas with their from-scratch crusts.
As a solo diner, I opted to sit at the open-air kitchen, which was almost like watching a well-choreographed dance unfold before my eyes. A word to the wise, however. This view into the kitchen’s inner workings will reveal just how much seasoning (a.k.a. butter) is used in the preparation of most of the restaurant’s offerings. If you’d rather maintain a little mystery, opt to sit at one of the communal tables instead.
What’s Your Favorite?
While these may be my current favorite places to eat on Maui, it is entirely likely that by the time I return, I’ll have an all-new list of favorites to share.
I’d love to hear from our readers. What are your favorite places to grab a bite on Maui?