First of all, here’s some general information: Food can be pretty darned good in Maui. It wasn’t always so, but the bar has been raised over the past few years. Some places are kind of obvious and well known–Haile Maile General Store, Mama’s Fish House, the Hana Hotel. Some are less so and a few of the very best are all but impossible to find. For example, there is a Vietnamese restaurant in Wailuku that has no sign, it’s alongside the overpass and all but invisible from the main road. All the locals know about it, and nobody talks about it. Busy all the time, and absolutely world class. Wonderful service, wacky waiters, spectacular food. There is also an espresso joint that morphs into a wonderful wine and dessert bar at night. again, the only people that know about it are locals. You are welcome in both of these places–if you find them you are either a local or an extraordinary tourist that’s very good at finding great places, and either is just fine.
Two of my very favorite places are the Fish Market in Paia on the corner of Baldwin ave and the Hana Highway and Moana Cafe on Baldwin across from the Post Office. Both are very unimpressive looking. Moana has a certain cavernous and seedy look. Read the review and you’ll understand why I go there for breakfast as often as my diet will justify it. Their eggs benedict with Mahi is worth an exrta hour of workout. I call it “exercise to eat”. The Fish Market is expensive, but the money all goes to the ingredients. Best fish on the island, cooked expertly. You order at the counter, sit on picnic tables that you generally share with other locals, and you wait for them to call your number. Ono plate with extra cole slaw and a Red Hook ESB. My mouth is watering.
Enjoy the reviews. I don’t slam bad places, I just don’t include them. But I don’t have any reason to shill for these folks, so you can be assured that if I like a place it’s because I’ve gone there numerous times and really like what I had.
I hesitate to tell people about Anthony’s–it’s crowded enough. But it’s a treasure. Anthony’s is the kind of coffee joint every town should have. Eddie and Keri run a great place–super friendly, full of interesting people, and knee deep in local color. Plus they have the best coffee I’ve ever had–Eddie used to roast it himself, but he sold the coffee roasting part of the business to one of the major Maui coffee farmers who produces the same blends Eddie did. As far as I can tell the results are identical–great coffee. Diane and I buy dozens of bags of Anthony’s coffee every year, both for ourselves and to give to deserving friends. Of course it’s like giving them crack–the first bag is free.
Da Boss–That’s Eddie, seated, grinning
I never slam Starbucks. We’ve got a lot to thank them for. They raised the bar for coffee all around the US–you can now get a great cup of coffee or a pretty decent cappuchino in Wisconsin. But it’s hard for a giant corporation to have a soul, and their coffee gives even my cast iron stomach the jitters. Diane can’t drink it at all–instant heartburn. Anthony’s coffee is different. Smooth and rich, a nice bite, but no heartburn. And one look in the doorway of Anthony’s is all you need to understand–the place has so much soul they haven’t even unpacked most of it.
That’s Kerry peeking over the register. Who IS that jerk with the camera
Anthony’s also has local pastries, great bagels, and serves a full breakfast. I’m not wild about their eggs benedict–the hollandaise is some kind of a mix. But they’ve got lots of other choices and it’s all pretty good. Don’t get hashbrowns unless you like those little pre-formed bottom-feeding patty thingies. But the country fries are just fine. Good ice cream too. Kerry (Ed’s wife) cooks amazing cakes, but she doesn’t do it as often as she used to. It’s just as well, I always felt really weird eating pineapple coconut bundt cake for breakfast. But I never wanted to take a chance that it would be all gone by the afternoon.
Fish Market — Paia
On the corner of Baldwin Ave and Hana Highway. Simple review–if you like fish, go. I really like their Ono plate, they cook it better than anywhere else I’ve had it, simply grilled to precisely the right degree. I don’t know how they manage that, I guess when you cook as much fish as these guys do you get good at it. The fish salad is a fine choice as well, but I really like their cole slaw. the standard fish plate has cole slaw and your choice of cajun rice or potatoes. I usually get extra cole slaw instead of either, though both are really tasty. I’m just trying to land somewhere in the basic vicinity of my diet plan. Of course I wash it down with a draft microbrew beer, so there you go.
Fish market is probably my favorite restaurant on the island.
Haile Maile General Store — Haile Maile
Haile Maile is superchef Beverly Gannon’s wonderful place, and unlike most celebrated chefs you’ll find her there often, shepherding the place to make it run wonderfully. It’s not inexpensive, and it’s not easy to get reservations despite it’s challenging location–totally off the beaten path part way up Heleakela. But it’s great.
First is the decor. I need to shoot some pictures someday, but my mind is on food when I go there. Whoever does their flower arrangements is a genius and an artist. When a lumpy 250 pound guy who dresses in board shorts and grubby T shirts takes note of the flowers you know there’s something special going on. Nice art everywhere too. I really like their bar and they always have great bartenders. Last week we decided to eat at the bar instead of the table we had reserved because we were so enjoying our conversation with the bartender, a nice guy named Tim Garcia. The couple sitting next to us who were on their way to the airport immediately after to return to Florida made the same decision. We had a grand time and great meal. Turns out Tim is a very talented sculptor–we’ve seen and enjoyed his work. You can see some at www.mauisculpture.com .
Haile Maile has fabulous Mango Margaritas. I’ve never been able to duplicate the flavor, though I have the precise recipe. I always tend to have the fish curry, though I also love the duck tacos, I guess they do them as quesadillas now. Duck confit in a taco. Yikes.
I’ve also had the ribs–they were spectacular–and we go sometimes for lunch and I enjoy their soups. The lamb is great too, in fact I haven’t had a meal at Haile Maile that I could describe as anything but excellent. The wait staff makes fine recommendations, they have a good wine list and wonderful desserts.
Mama’s Fish House — Paia
Why would you go to a restaurant where Mai Tais are fifteen bucks.
Because it’s worth it.
Mama’s is a gorgeous place. Actually it’s way past gorgeous. There’s an unobstructed view across the empty beach to crashing waves (it’s not private, but you have to come through the Mama’s entrance to get to it). There’s the glorious entry, the unique architecture–even the valet parking stand is amazing, the wonderful bar. I halfway expect to meet Humphrey Bogart there someday.
The food is excellent, the prices are scary. Just realize you’re going to drop a hundred bucks per person and get over it. Their wines are not stratospherically priced, though maybe I just feel that way after experiencing truly absurd wine prices in Aspen ($300 for Newton unfiltered Merlot at the Montagne restaurant in the Little Nell Hotel–a $40 bottle at any wine store). At any rate, wine prices at Mamas are rational if not a bargain.
Their Ahi Poke is excellent, as is the Lobster soup. Salads and soups are fabulous. They always bring you an amuse bouche (yeah, yeah I know, there’s supposed to be some accent marks in there someplace), usually a bisque, and it’s always excellent and not enough (that’s the idea, eh?). The bread plate is irresistible, slightly sweet fresh baked bread loaves. All the fish entree’s are extremely fresh, caught that morning. They always give the name of the local fisherman that caught the fish. Local fishermen tell me that if their name gets on the menu that means they had a very good day, because Mama’s needs a lot of fish.
If the pictures below don’t make you realize that this is a must go place, at least once per trip to Maui, then I just can’t help you.
I have a friend in Portland who’s a fairly wealthy guy (owns a big car dealership) who has eaten in some of the finest restaurants in the world. He’s a hard guy to please and very outspoken when he doesn’t like something. When he’s in Maui he eats at Mama’s almost every day.
Enough talk, here’s some pictures. In looking at these I felt the place came of looking a little Disney. It’s not.
This series is the valet stand. The valet stand!! Where they keep your car keys! Sure, it’s the first thing you see, but how many restaurants figure out that such a prosaic thing can make a big impression. These folks aren’t assuming you’re going to figure out this place is special–they let you know right away. And they don’t insult your intelligence and taste with a grass hut or something hokey. This is one interesting structure.
The walkway has a gecko pattern to the concrete that looks like something from an Escher painting.
Mama’s beach is beautiful, though the close reef makes entry into the water tricky. It’s a famous surf break, though the long paddle means your more likely to see windsurfers in the wave.
I hear that Moana is a great place to have dinner. they have music there a lot, and it usually looks like an interesting group. But I’ve never been there for dinner, and hardly ever for lunch. For me Moana is breakfast. And what a breakfast.
The Funmobile in it’s accustomed place.
First of all there’s the eggs benedict. It’s a rare restaurant that makes their own hollandaise–usually it’s a mix. Not only does Moana make theirs from scratch, but it’s perfection. Light, slightly lemony, with the delicate flavors that the bogus mixes so totally lack. Perfect poached eggs–not disappointingly hard, or disgustingly runny. Perfect. Spicy blackened Mahi, or other choices that I’m sure are excellent. I wouldn’t know–I can’t pass up the mahi. Wonderful home fries–crisp on the outside, flaky on the inside. great coffee, excellent service. What more could you ask for.
The deadly pastry case–super croissants
Well, actually there is more. Their waffles are excellent, clearly made from scratch, you just can’t get that crispness any other way that I’ve ever found. Diane gets the waffles frequently. And Moana is a bakery–their croissants are excellent. We bought four to go and had them for dinner tonight stuffed with sauteed shrimp in a green curry aoli. My turn to cook. I’m not bad if I do say so myself. Also did a fresh spring greens salad with sun dried tomato dressing topped with some big prawns cooked scampi-style with garlic, olive oil and white wine.
This is a local hangout. Did I mention the waitresses are all gorgeous?
Where was I, oh yeah, Moana. They also have a really great lamb wrap thats great for lunch. I’ll just have to try the place for dinner sometime soon, but for me Moana means breakfast.
Grab a window seat if you can, but don’t take mine. Hey, that guy’s sitting in my seat!
The No Name Restaurant
Actually it does have a name, it’s called “A Saigon Cafe”. The owner, a really interesting vietnamese lady who’s name escapes me, actually bought a sign too, but the locals convinced her to not put it up– “It would just attract the tourists”. This strange logic seems to have worked out, it’s always plenty full of locals.
I’ll tell you how to find it, but I’m not posting pictures. No need to tick of the locals.
To get there, you head towards Wailuku. When you go over the overpass just before town you can catch a glimpse of the roof of your target off to the right side–it has some kind of remnant star decoration on the roof. When you come to the first street after the overpass take a right, then take the next right and go to the end of the road. Take another right and you should see the restaurant, right next to an apartment building. Don’t be scared, this is going to be great!
Put yourself in the care of the waiters and you’ll have a great experience. This is the best Vietnamese food I’ve ever had, and I’ve tried a lot of fine Vietnamese restaurants–Portland, Oregon is full of them. The whole crispy fish is sublime.
As I said, you’ll be very welcome here. The locals assume you know what you’re doing if you show up there.