LAHAINA, Maui, Hawaii
For my Hawaii vacation, I took a side trip to Maui, one of the Neighbor Islands of Hawaii and probably the most popular destinations for tourists. It had been a long time since I visited this island, known as the Valley Isle because of its huge green peaks and valleys that form this very large island just east of Oahu.
The dining scene has really grown over the years, and because it’s been so long since I’ve visited, many of the once popular dining destinations are now classics. During this trip, I visited these classics but also tried some of the new eateries in town. What I’ve discovered is that Maui has a mix plate of good food to offer, although it seems a bit pricey compared to Honolulu (even when I went to a local Japanese restaurant before flying out, the prices for basic Japanese food was on the high end).
Also, unless you’re just staying in one town (or one resort and golfing all day), you can expect to drive about 40 to 45 minutes from town to town as some places are pretty remote.
Here are some of the highlights of my time exploring Maui’s dining scene.
My first stop after landing in Kahului is lunch at Tin Roof, the tiny eatery in a strip mall not too far from the airport and owned by celebrity chef Sheldon Simeon (“Top Chef”). Simeon’s popularity has got him involved in several activities, including designing the menu for a local airline and developing a new restaurant.
For now, Tin Roof is his only property that’s opened, and it serves up simple rice bowls and noodles in a play on the local plate lunch style of dining. The tiny spot (there’s probably only 8 seats at a counter) draws a long line as everyone wants to try the food and get a picture of Chef Simeon, who happened to be there when I visited busy packing up the take out orders.
I tried the pork belly (of course) bowl ($9), which is a rice bowl topped with roasted pork belly that’s deep-fried to create a crispy skin and then garnished with tomato-onion lomi, patis vinaigrette, and half a six-minute egg. The flavors were very simple, leaving all the taste to center on the juicy, well-cooked pork belly slices.
The deets: Tin Roof, 360 Papa Place, Suite Y, Kahului, Maui. PH: 808.868.0753. Open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. No reservations. Major credit cards accepted. www.tinroofmaui.com
This longtime restaurant in a business park in Lahaina is actually where Chef Simeon made a name for himself working as its main chef. Even after he’s long gone, the restaurant still draws a crowd as I found when I dropped in for dinner. Luckily, I was able to squeeze into the last spot at the bar.
The menu has a mix of fusion plates playing up Asian and Hawaiian favorites. I actually went with the straight-forward “Local Saimin” ($8). Anyone growing up in Hawaii has eaten a bowl of saimin, which is like a local creation of the Japanese ramen.
Star Noodle’s version is an homage to the classic, with a broth that’s simple and sweet like saimin broth, and topped with the typical offerings of Japanese fish cake, tamago (fried egg) and, of course, Spam. This really hit the spot.
The deets: Star Noodle, 286 Kupuohi St., Lahaina, Maui. PH: 808.667.5400. Open daily for lunch and dinner, from 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. www.starnoodle.com
Aloha Mixed Plate
The plate lunch is a classic format for lunch in Hawaii where you get a main entree and served with two scoops of rice and macaroni salad. Many restaurants have tried to offer up versions of this classic, and Aloha Mixed Plate in Lahaina attracts a crowd not just for its menu but also for its proximity right by the water facing the Lahaina waterfront. So on a beautiful day, you can sit outside and eat some ono grinz with a view.
I went all out and got the luau plate ($17.95), also known as the Ali’i Plate (“ali’i is Hawaiian for chief or king). This has virtually all the classic items served up at a Hawaiian luau, including lau lau (salted pork wrapped in ti leaves), kalua pig, lomi lomi salmon, haupia (coconut pudding) and freshly pounded poi. And yes, two scoops of rice and a scoop of mac salad.
I enjoyed all the saltiness of the kalua pork, and the tenderness of the lau lau. My favorite part of the lau lau is how the salted pork pieces are offset by the boiled vegetables with chunks of taro. Typical Hawaiian food is a play between salty (like the ocean) and bland (to offset the salty), and this was all that.
The deets: Aloha Mixed Plate, 1285 Front St., Lahaina, Maui. PH: 808.661.3322. Open daily for breakfast, 8 to 10:30 a.m.; lunch and dinner daily, 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. No reservations. Major credit cards accepted. www.alohamixedplate.com
Ka’ana Kitchen at the Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort
Maui is home to many resorts that line some of the most beautiful beaches, so there are ample opportunities to treat yourself to some fine dining in an almost spa-like environment, like the experience I had dining one night at the Ka’ana Kitchen restaurant inside the Andaz Maui Resort in Wailea.
The menu can be a bit confusing to maneuver since the sections don’t necessarily describe the course or size of dish but more where the ingredients originate or how the food is prepared. Either way, you’ll be treated to lovely plated dishes, like the grilled octopus salad I tried with Big Island chevre, waterscress and asparagus ($21). It was sophisticated with clean flavors.
The fresh Maui fish dish I had for my entree ($44) was also elegant with a simple ginger soubise and hints of calamansi. If you can get a seat by the balcony, you’ll be treated to a gorgeous Maui sunset with dinner.
The deets: Ka’ana Kitchen (inside the Andaz Maui Resort), Wailea, Maui. PH: 808.573.1234. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. Open daily for breakfast, 6:30 to 11 a.m.; and dinner daily, 5:30 to 9 p.m. Website
Ululani’s Hawaiian Shaved Ice
For Maui, the go-to spot is Ululani’s, which has several locations around the island. I spotted one in Kihei and ended up trying a shaved ice with a scoop of macadami nut ice cream. There are tons of flavors to choose from as well as toppings like mochi balls. The ice is also nicely shaved (although I felt there needed to be a bit more syrup on mine).
The deets: Ululani’s Hawaiian Shaved Ice, various locations, Maui. www.ululanishawaiianshaveice.com
Hali’imaile General Store
This quaint restaurant has the vibes of the plantation days, surrounded by fields on sugarcane in Maui’s Upcountry area.
The “general store” is credited for contributing to the modern Hawaiian cuisine movement when it was taken over in 1988 by Chef Bev Gannon, who wowed locals and visitors with fusion dishes that spotlighted local ingredients.
The food is executed well. I never complain about a well done roasted beet salad ($14), like the one here that is served with goat cheese fondue, citrus segments, and pumpkin seed oil-balsamic drizzle.
My main of crispy half duck ($38) was a lot of duck that had been flash-fried to finish (my bad for not asking about deep fried items on the menu), and sat on celery root puree with persimmon chutney and Grand Marnier orange jus de volaille.
I ended my meal with the pineapple upside down cake served with cream. While it was nice and warm, the texture of the cake was a bit mealy and seemed a bit overwhelmed by the caramelized sugar.
Dining here takes you back in time, not necessarily to the plantation days but maybe to the 1980s. Maybe it’s the presentation of the dishes and the menu, which doesn’t hold any surprises and doesn’t seem to have changed much over the years.
The deets: Hali’imaile General Store, 900 Hali’imaile Road, Makawao, Maui. PH: 808.572.2666. Open for weekday lunch, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; and dinner nightly, 5 to 9 p.m. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. hgsmaui.com
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