We've all heard the phrase, "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach." To take this motto one step further, it might also be said that the way to aloha, the spirit of the Hawaiian Islands, is through its local fare, or "grinds," the term for food used by Pidgin speakers on the Hawaiian Islands.
Maui may be an island in the middle of the Pacific, but there is certainly no shortage of top-notch eateries here. Food plays an essential role in Hawaiian culture. Traditionally, family members and friends regularly gathered around a calabash, a large wooden bowl, to share meals. It's no wonder then that Maui provides an escape from the everyday grind and mundane grinds.
Fueled by our excitement over experiencing a different way of life, vacation is usually a time when we are more active in our food selections. With eateries as diverse as its scenery, Maui's restaurant scene is sure to feature something that suits you – your mood, your style, your wallet, your palate. Don't stress, though. Even the most particular foodies can rest assured we've done the research on the 10 Best Maui Restaurants for you. From an inexpensive, roadside burger joint serving 100% Maui beef to a fine dining experience in small-town Hana, the options may surprise you. Explore these 10 Best Maui Restaurants and find a little aloha.
Hana Ranch Restaurant
Set in the middle of the sleepy, rural town of Hana--what many consider to be the last untamed paradise on Maui--Hana Ranch Restaurant is a rustic-looking, nicely kept establishment along the winding Hana Highway. The menu boasts local ingredients in many of its dishes and features reasonable prices. The service is superb, and the food, though basic (think sandwiches, steaks, salads, and seafood) is worth the long drive (2+ hours) from the airport in Kahului. Nestled atop a rolling hill in the center of town, Hana Ranch Restaurant's prime location is convenient for guests of Travaasa Hotel Hana, which is right next door. It's close proximity to the Hasegawa General Store (across the street) and the Hana Ranch Store (next door) is a plus, giving the more adventurous a chance to stock up on supplies post-meal and before setting out on a cruise along the Hana Highway. ((808) 248-8255)
Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.
Inspired by the film Forrest Gump, this lively bar and grill serves mainly seafood dishes with names that shout out to classic scenes. Enthusiastic members of the waitstaff are happy to recommend tasty entrees with names like Dumb Luck Coconut Shrimp and Lt. Dan's Drunken Shrimp. Other staples include rib-eye, baby back ribs, salmon, mahi mahi, crab legs, sandwiches, and salads. Set in the middle of busy Lahaina, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. embraces the atmosphere of the city while offering oceanfront views. Great for larger groups, it encourages you to bring all your friends. (808-661-3111)
Polli's Mexican Restaurant
Looking for good Mexican food on the Islands? You're pretty much out of luck--unless you're on Maui, that is. Polli's Mexican Restaurant, opened in 1981 by Polli (Contreras) Smith, has not only acquired a loyal following of customers but also has a dedicated staff, many of whom have worked there for over ten years. And rightfully so; regardless of the scarcity of options for Mexican food on Maui, Polli's hot, fresh (and affordable) dishes like the fajitas or quesadillas, as well as burgers and salads, make the trip upcountry is certainly worthwhile. You will immediately feel at home in the relaxed atmosphere. (808-572-7808)
After the overwhelming success of Cafe Mambo in Paia since its opening in 2003, Jamie and Olga Betham decided to open additional locations in New York and the Hamptons. But don't expect to find a big-city, hurried atmosphere here. The open-air eatery remains loyal to its funky surfer roots and boasts eclectic collections of entrees inspired by the husband-and-wife team's international travels. Unique favorites include the surfing bull ciabatta (breakfast) and the Maui Cattle Co. steak salad (lunch), as well as more exotic flavors like the Mediterranean nut falafel sandwich (lunch) and the particularly amazing kalua duck fajita (dinner). All three menus are chock-full of flavor. You can even order homefries or a chocolate brownie at breakfast if you want. (808-579-8021)
Grandma's Coffee House
This family-owned coffee shop-turned- restaurant on the slopes of Haleakala Crater has been helping locals get their daily fix of caffeine since 1988, when Alfred Franco opened its doors. All the coffee served comes from organically grown beans, and, using Franco's grandmother's original coffee roaster, the staff still roast and brew all their coffee in-house. All pastries are homemade fresh daily from family recipes. The lunch menu varies from day to day, but expect spinach lasagna, fresh fish, and sandwiches Unexpected favorites like the Portuguese red bean soup and the chicken curry will not disappoint either. (808-878-2140)
Cafe des Amis
Furnished with simple wooden chairs and tables, this modest, unassuming cafe in the middle of the quiet town of Paia pushes the boundaries on taste. With its focus on Indian-Mediterranean fusion, here, it's all about mixing it up. Not sure what to make of this combination? Not to worry. The only decision you have to make is what delicious offering to order from the menu. Try a savory crepe filled with scallops, shrimp, gruyere, or spinach, or if you're in the mood for dessert (or breakfast), you can top it all off with a sweet crepe filled with bananas and Nutella. Salads and Indian curries are also favorites. Open for breakfast and brunch, you don't have to decide what meal you're eating. (808-579-6323)
Maui may not seem like a foodie's paradise, but that's exactly why this restaurant was started in 1976 by Bob Longhi, a self-proclaimed food lover. In business at its original location for thirty-six years and counting, this establishment has gained a loyal following of customers. The secret to its success? Sticking to the original principles of fine dining, including providing customers with chairs that are actually comfortable and giving them the option to eat with a spoon. Longhi's even serves hand-squeezed orange juice. The décor, traditional with its the marble-white pillars and classic black and white tile floors, but not outdated, will emphasize that feeling of stepping back in time. This place is about the complete sensory experience. The prawns amaretto (with brandy, cream, and orange juice sauce) and the house speciality, shrimp Longhi (white wine, butter, and herbs sauce) are not to be missed. (808-667-2288)
Maui Brewing Co.
This place is, obviously, known for its eight handcrafted beers, but it offers plenty of complementary dishes, including wood-roasted meats, sandwiches, salads, burgers, and fish. Make sure you ask the knowledgeable staff for pairing advice. You can even get fresh seafood – take it home, or have the cooks prepare it for you.
Though this upscale sports bar and brew pub may give off a "meathead" vibe at first, their operation is pointedly eco-friendly. Its use of cans instead of glass bottles, which are easily broken, keeps Maui shores free from debris. Additionally, used cooking oil is turned into biodiesel, and spent grain from the brewing process is donated to local farmers for feed and compost. The Lahaina production facility even runs on solar power. This is definitely one place where you can feel good about drinking up. (808-669-3474)
Paia Fish Market
This airy, café-style spot is located in Paia town, a gem off the Hana Highway located on the North Shore of Maui. It's fun for takeout, especially if you're looking to acquire fresh seafood to cook yourself. It's even better for dining in, as long as you don't mind getting to know your neighbors among the minimal table space available. It is the aloha state, after all. Should you choose to have your fresh seafood prepared in-house, the talented chefs can serve it up for you Cajun style, charbroiled, or sautéed in the form of quesadillas, sandwiches, and many more. For the less adventurous, the place also offers 100% Maui beef burgers, pasta, and salads. Reasonably priced and basic in decor, it's a favorite among tourists and surfers alike. (808-579-8030)
You've just braved the entirety of the winding Hana Highway, and you're itching to celebrate by checking out the Tedeschi Vineyards on the way to Kihei. Then, the maniacal rumble produced only by a stomach on empty breaks into your rosy thoughts. You must eat. You're in the middle of nowhere. What do you do?
Easy. Go to Bully's Burgers. This roadside burger stand is the real deal. Set squarely on Triple L Ranch property, with herds of cattle leisurely roaming past, its location let's you see exactly where your juicy 6oz. -10oz. 100% Maui beef burger came from.
Bully's was the brainchild of the late Louis "Bully" De Ponte, a champion bullrider and rancher, and his wife artist Paige De Ponte. After Bully's death, Paige carried out their plans, and she's keeping it a family affair with their son Zach manning the grill. (808-878-3272)
About Laura Berbusse
Originally from Orange County, California, Laura’s family moved to a small–really small–rural town in Arkansas when she was in first grade. The distinct differences between the two locales fueled her intense interest in cultural and geographical phenomena of the world.
While obtaining her B.A. in Writing from University of Central Arkansas, she participated in a couple of study abroad programs (to St. Petersburg, Russia, and Cork, Ireland, respectively). Both left her anxious to plan her own adventures, and she even ran (okay, flew) away during the latter in order to catch a once-in-a-lifetime musical performance in Dublin.
Once her passion settled on the Marshallese language as well as other languages of the Pacific, she moved to Hawai'i in 2009 to pursue her M.A. in Linguistics at University of Hawai'i at Mānoa. She dedicates her free time to experiencing everything she and the Hawaiian Islands have to offer (whether it’s a cozy local coffee house or a fantastic dive spot) as well as what she can offer the aina in the way of volunteering. She regularly goes SCUBA diving, Tahitian dancing, surfing, and kickballing.
Read more about Laura Berbusse here.