From upscale gourmet food to the best shave ice on the island, travel writer Andrew Collins shares the restaurants you should try.
Maui’s reputation as a culinary jewel in the Pacific is well deserved. Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea is home to three exceptional restaurants: the Wolfgang Puck classic, Spago; the venerable open-air Italian restaurant, Ferraro’s Bar E Ristorante; and the elegant poolside venue, DUO Steak and Seafood. Hop an easy ferry ride from Maui to Lana‘i, and you can dine at two more fine Four Seasons properties, the Lodge at Koele and Lana’i at Manele Bay. The latter property recently welcomed Hawaii’s first outpost of the acclaimed Nobu restaurant empire. With these and other dining options, the “Valley Isle” offers an eclectic mix of gourmet cuisine and local delights that culinary enthusiasts shouldn’t miss. Here are a few favourites.
Monkeypod Kitchen, 1 808/891-2322, 10 Wailea Gateway Place, Unit B-201, Kihei
Chef Peter Merriman has long been one of the chief proponents of Hawaii Regional Cuisine, a movement that melds local produce, meats and seafood with the state’s diverse ethnic influences. Just a five-minute drive from Four Seasons Maui, Monkeypod Kitchen is Merriman’s effort to create a casual, hip and relatively affordable gathering spot for sampling craft beer (more than 36 varieties are on tap), artisan cocktails and eclectic comfort food, much of it prepared in a wood-fired oven. Roasted butternut squash pizzas, kale-and-macadamia-nut salads, and crisp tacos filled with ahi poke and topped with avocado cream are among the smaller-plate highlights. But more substantial fare like sesame-crusted mahi mahi with coconut-mashed Molokai sweet potatoes and spicy lilikoi (passion fruit) sauce satisfy bigger appetites.
Star Noodle, 1 808/667-5400, 286 Kupuohi Street, Lahaina
A short drive up the hill from historic Lahaina town, this trendy pan-Asian bistro helmed by rising-star chef Sheldon Simeon serves some of the tastiest contemporary Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese, Thai and Japanese cooking in Hawaii. In this lively space with tight seating and one long communal table, the knowledgeable staff happily explains the sometimes novel dishes, some with local influences, such as the pohole salad with Hana fiddlehead ferns, Maui onions and kombu (an edible kelp). Other notable items from the sharing-friendly menu include Filipino “bacon and eggs” (crisp pork belly with a 62-degree egg), and a soul-warming, fragrant hot-and-sour noodle bowl with chilli-lime broth, smoked prosciutto, shrimp, cilantro, Thai basil and fried garlic. Finish with an order of malasadas—round, sugar-coated balls of dough (similar to beignets) popularised by the state’s Portuguese immigrants and served with chocolate and caramel dipping sauces.
Hali’imaile General Store, 1 808/572-2666, 900 Hali’imaile Road, Makawao
Renowned chef Beverly Gannon made a name for herself among Maui’s culinary elite by opening this distinctive restaurant in 1988. It occupies a former camp store for workers in the pineapple fields that hug the lower slopes of soaring Mount Haleakala. She now has two other restaurants on Maui, but fans still favour this plantation-style building, noted for such fusion-y fare as Asian pear–duck tostadas with ginger-chilli dressing, and lemon grass–hoisin hanger steak with “kitchen sink” fried rice and kimchi aioli.
Gerard’s Maui, 1 808/661-8939, 174 Lahainaluna Road, Lahaina
This softly lighted, romantic retreat a couple of blocks away from Lahaina’s touristy Front Street cultivates an old-school vibe with its fine napery and refined service. But there’s nothing stilted about the lavish, and often quite creative, French-Hawaiian cuisine. Several classics are served, including escargot forestière and veal chop with a Madeira-and-cognac cream. But other dishes have unexpected local touches, including a signature roasted Hawaiian snapper with fennel fondue, potato-carrot purée and orange-ginger emulsion. Chef Gerard Reversade changes things up depending on what’s fresh in his garden (note the tarte Tatin dessert with caramelised fruit of the season). The wine list is exhaustive and especially strong on Alsace and Rhône varietals.
Tokyo Tei, 808/214-1407, 1063 Lower Main Street, Suite C-101, Wailuku
In 1934, a sumo wrestler from Japan opened this humble, unpretentious spot in the island’s biggest town, Wailuku. Don’t be put off by the garish Tokyo Tei 7 Up sign or the restaurant’s setting adjacent to a prosaic parking structure—locals in the know flock here for exquisite, authentic Japanese food. Expect heaping platters of ruby red tuna sashimi, mounds of lightly crisp tempura vegetables, perfectly broiled teriyaki chicken, and fluffy shrimp-and-scallion omelettes.
Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice, 1 360/606-2745; four locations: 790 Front Street, Lahaina; 819 Front Street, Lahaina; 333 Dairy Road, Kahului; 61 South Kihei Road, Kihei
Among the vast array of snacks and street foods for which Hawaii is known, shave ice tops the list for both visitors and locals. (President Obama is a huge fan.) This sweet yet refreshing treat is similar to New Orleans snowballs, Italian granita and Japanese kakigori (the progenitor of Hawaii’s version), and shave-ice stands are ubiquitous statewide. Ululani’s stands out for using pure local cane sugar and favouring real fruit purées and extracts to create more than 40 flavours, including banana, pickled mango, tamarind and watermelon. There’s a bit of a ritual to ordering: choose up to three flavours and then pick your add-ons—favourites include homemade red azuki beans and haupia (coconut pudding) ice cream.
Tour da Food Maui
Throughout Maui, often in unassuming-looking groceries and service stations, you can find all sorts of authentic Hawaiian snacks, including Spam musubi (basically a maki roll of grilled Spam that tastes far better than it might sound), laulau (pork wrapped in taro leaves) and manapua char siu (a local take on Chinese pork buns). For inside understanding of local specialties, spend the day noshing around with Tour da Food Maui, which offers Wailuku, Upcountry Maui and Gastronomy Maui adventures. Just be warned that the highly personable and knowledgeable guides, Bonnie Friedman and Jill Engledow, will likely goad you into eating more than you ever thought possible.