As the old saying goes, hard work always makes food taste better. If that’s true then your vacation is the perfect time to conduct the ultimate taste test. And what better place to evaluate seafood options than the Hawaiian Island of Maui? It’s time to relax, take a break from cooking, and enjoy some great local fare.
Food played an essential role in traditional Hawaiian culture. Family members and friends gathered together at meal times to prepare and eat food together. Because of the orientation of Maui in the middle of the plentiful Pacific Ocean, seafood has been the main fare since the first settlers arrived here around 400 A.D.
As we have all experienced, not all seafood is the same. Luckily, more than 1,300 years later, current Maui restaurateurs have the preparation of seafood down to a science, creating a taste that is uniquely Maui’s. Plus, with options like a long-time fish market-turned-deli, an upscale fine dining establishment, and a mobile seafood restaurant on wheels, among many others, there is sure to be an option to fit your itinerary.
Whether you spend the day engaged in a new, active adventure, such as stand-up paddle boarding, surfing, or body boarding, or just lounging on the beach with a good book, the eateries on this list specialize in seafood that won’t disappoint.
Honu Seafood and Pizza
The modest exterior of this little gem makes it easy to miss in its "hiding place" in the middle of bustling Lahaina. Its beachside location makes it perfect for a romantic sunset dinner or breezy afternoon bite. Its atmosphere is casual any time of day, but the menu holds its own in the way of fine dining. Start your meal off with the deep fried chickpeas or the fresh ahi bruchetta (edamame puree, flax seed toast, local Maui tomatoes, and balsamic). Indulge in the crab macaroni and cheese with truffle oil for a savory dinner. The large portion also makes it great for sharing -- that is, if you still want to after taking the first bite.
Vegetarians, vegans, and gluten-free eaters rejoice! There are several tasty options for you here. The extensive wine, beer, and cocktail lists are no exception. ((808) 667-9390)
Did your mother ever tell you not to eat food from a truck on the side of the road? Well, she was wrong. A must for anyone on the Road to Hana, this food truck sacrifices no kitchen amenities for mobility. It is best known for its coconut shrimp and fish and chips. (You can even choose your own type of fish to fry up from the fresh daily options including marlin and ono.) However, the full menu is anything but limited. The proof is in the fresh swordfish, lightly battered and rubbed with ginger and served with a lilikoi (Hawaiian passion fruit). The pepper seared ahi and the garlic butter mahi mahi are also big crowd pleasers, as are the various Chinese-style options prepared in a full-size electric wok.
With few places to eat in Hana town, this truck serves as not only a spot for good grub but also a meeting place for visitors to exchange tales from Hana Highway. ((808) 248-4944)
This Kihei eatery is conveniently located near shops and Wailea Beach while being set far enough away to allow for a sense of escape from the crowds. As a member of the Merriman's family of restaurants (with establishments on Big Island, Kauai, and Maui), which subscribe to environmentally sustainable practices in food acquisition, preparation, and consumption, this place produces as many items in-house as possible. It even makes its own ketchup! Local produce, fish, and meats are used whenever possible. Try the ahi poke tacos for a spin on the classic fish taco. The pumpkin patch ravioli is another menu standout to die for.
Portions are on the small side; three plates was enough to feed two people. Happy hour here is a great opportunity to try a few of their in-house microbrews or one of the thirty-six beers available on tap. (8088912322)
Mama's Fish House
With a complete private fishing crew on staff, this place serves fish so fresh that the wait staff can tell you the name of the fisherman who caught your entree and where. The preparation method for each type of fish varies. For example, Mahimahi from the North Shore is served with caramelized onions, baby bok choy, and avocado, while local, deep-water ahi is panko crusted and seared. Other selections sure to amaze are the filet mignon and crispy kalua duck.
Though this place is a splurge, it is not only the skillfully prepared and delicious dishes but also the overall atmosphere, infused with aloha, that makes this restaurant, set in a cozy house, a must-visit. Obey the beckoning of the secluded beach where it rests and take an evening stroll along the pristine, white sand--the perfect ending to a sublime dining experience. (808-579-8488)
This restaurant is located in the Fairmont Kealani Maui, and is a convenient option for hotel guests. Though a curved granite bar and glass wine display among other Mediterranean-inspired details give off an air of class, interior chairs upholstered in ocean-themed fabric and shell-shaped lighting fixtures make the décor seem a little outdated. The most prominent piece of décor is the 800-gallon fish tank, which gives off a pretty glow and gives the kids something fun to look at.
Confusing backdrop aside, seating is comfortable both at the inside booths and at the chairs on the outdoor terrace, which features an enchanting, vine-covered trellis overhead and pool and ocean views. Focusing on fresh seafood, the menu also places emphasis on the use of local herbs and vegetables. Enjoy drinks and appetizers at the bar, or enjoy a perfectly prepared meal in the main dining room. Don't forget to ask the knowledgeable wait staff for a wine recommendation from the extensive wine list to pair with your entree. (808-879-7224)
Paia Fish Market
Boasting a casual, family atmosphere, this small North Shore restaurant offers large portions of food at reasonable prices. Available Cajun style, charbroiled, or sautéed, fresh fish is the specialty here. Whether it's in tacos, quesadillas, fish-and-chips, sandwiches, pasta, burgers, or sashimi, guests can order it in just about any dish imaginable. Think: Cajun seared ahi steak and grilled mahimahi sandwhiches. Other staples include hamburgers, made with beef from Maui Cattle Company, and chicken (fajitas, sandwiches, pasta, etc.).
The rationale behind the bench-style seating is that it serves as a catalyst for conversation, which is at the heart of the aloha spirit. This is a great spot for those braving the Hana Highway to swap tales from the road. (808-579-8030)
Coconut's Fish Cafe LLC
Take a seat at a picnic table made of surfboards and enjoy delicious, healthy food at affordable prices. The most famous entrée is the fish tacos, served with fresh mango salsa (the perfect blend of sweet and spicy) and cole slaw (made with coconut milk instead of mayo), and they will not disappoint. Beware that a plate of two tacos does not come with any sides. This is hardly a problem for most diners, since each taco is loaded with fillings. The only thing keeping them from disintegrating is a second tortilla.
This place is missing the standard ocean view available at most spots in Kihei, opting instead to focus on good food. Other tantalizing bites include the seafood chowder, mahi mahi burger, and ono burger. Though this is an order-at-the-counter place, the staff and even the owner are known to happily visit customers' table, making sure everything has been cooked to their standards. ((808) 875-9979)
This quiet little French restaurant in an old, plantation-style house stands out among the plentiful surf-and-turf places available to Maui visitors. Let go of the stereotypes you have about "snooty French food." The hushed ambience of Gerard's, making guests feel relaxed rather than rushed, allows for easy conversation. Good thing, since you'll want ample time to appreciate each classic dish from the carefully crafted menu.
The degustation menu is a great option for those who wish to sample many different items along with chef-selected wine pairings. (Did you know that pinot noir does indeed pair with certain fish dishes?) The knowledgeable wait staff and the chef's attention to detail take this place to the next level. All-time favorites include the seared foie gras medallions and the French onion soup. Be sure to get your sweet fix with a light dessert like the Crème Caramel Opera. ((808) 661-8939)
Eskimo Candy Seafood Market & Cafe
A nod to the owner's life-changing fishing trip to Alaska in 1987, the name "Eskimo Candy" refers to the belly strip of a smoked salmon. But don't be deceived. Though Eskimo Candy Seafood Market and Cafe knows salmon, it also specializes in Hawaiian seafood. Located three blocks from the main drag in Kihei, this eat-in or take-out place offers tourists and locals alike fresh salmon, poke, shrimp, scallops, and much more.
The dining-in experience here is an experience in itself. The menu is so large, patrons teeter on the edge of being overwhelmed by the number of options. The décor--complete with a couple sharks seemingly bursting through the walls, lifelike murals of fishing boats, and a wax pirate in the corner-- is a bit kitschy but adds to the overall experience.
For those feeling a little bit more on the independent side, fresh seafood is available for purchase to be cooked at home. (Note that it is only open on weekdays!)
until the next day. (808-879-5686)
Though this open-air, oceanfront restaurant sees its fair share of tourists as a result of its location on busy Front Street in Lahaina, its affordable prices and stellar menu stand as reasons to visit all on their own. Relax on the lanai bar with your tropical drink of choice, like a Mango Colada or a Maui Mojito, both made with fresh Island fruit.
If you're in the mood for something a bit more substantial, check out the dining room lunch or dinner menu, centering on fresh fish delivered daily. Guests have the option of ordering their choice of fish (including ono, a'u, monchong, ahi, mahi mahi, and opah) crusted with coconut or parmesan cheese, seared, roasted, baked with orange ginger glaze, or even stuffed with lobster. Koloa Pork Ribs glazed with plum sauce and Tristan Lobster Tails roasted in a tarragon citrus glaze are also feature entrees. (808-661-4811)
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.