Hawaii has a lot of culinary influences. I am by no means an expert, but from casual observation I would say there’s American, Japanese, Filipino, Pacific Islander (if that's even close to a correct term) and even Mexican influences in abundance in the islands. And obviously fish play a prominent role in most menus.
Setting aside out the big birthday party night for the moment (that’ll be a post on its own), and running through our trip chronologically, here are the palaces we ate at during our recent trip there in November:
Hula Grill - our first stop after arriving on Maui. Hulas is on the beach in front of the outdoor Whaler’s Village shopping mall. Featuring a patio with sand to put your feet in, Hulas serves up typical tourist fare – burgers, fish tacos and sandwiches and the like. We had fish tacos and a fish sandwich respectively – and beer naturally. While you’re not going to mistake Hulas for fine dining, it is a kick to kick back in the sand and have a good lunch under the palms and sip on a cold drink as you watch the waves roll in and the mellowed out people walk by. This is especially true on a first day. Thumbs up!
Mala Ocean Tavern – well, what’s the first dinner you would think of having upon arriving on Maui? How about some nice fresh fish? Nope. Not us. We knew fish would play a prominent role in our eating for the coming week, so we wanted to try out a place we had heard had incredible hamburgers. We were not disappointed. Mala is in Lahina Town and sits right at the ocean’s edge. Featuring a diverse, casual menu ranging from fish – of course – chicken, steak and burgers, this place brings a little flair to each of its offerings. For example, as we sat at our ocean side table with the nighttime Maui breeze coming in the window, the waiter brought us chips, salsa and guacamole to get us started. Except, that guac is not made from avocado. It’s made from edemame. And that salsa? It’s supped up with some soft of mango or similar. It's spicy anyway and a great way to start things off.
Since we were on a burger mission, we dispensed with the niceties of pondering other options and ordered straight up. A nice mai thai cocktail later, our plates arrived. The burgers featured Kobe beef patties, savory smoked applewood bacon, caramelized onions, cheddar or maytag blue cheese (I had the blue, Di had the cheddar), lettuce, tomato and served on a whole wheat bun. Sound good? We thought so. And IT WAS! Woooo, what a burger. The side of frites was quite nice too, but by no means a match for the main event.
With no room or sane thought of desert, we called it a night.
The Gazebo – one thing I wanted to do on my birthday trip was eat up some first class macadamia nut pancakes. Well, this mission was accomplished – twice. The Gazebo is a little restaurant that sits on the grounds of the Napili Shores condo resort and overlooks the ocean. It probably has 24 tables – maybe. It also has THE BEST PANCAKES we’ve ever had. And we were not the only ones who knew about this place. Sure enough, the two times we went their for breakfast, the was a pretty long line of people waiting to get in. None the less, if you’re going to have to wait 20-30 minutes in a line for a table, doing so with a spectacular view of the Pacific ocean, palm trees and the island of Lanai in the background ain’t bad!
Anyway, the Gazebo menu has all the normal breakfast items you would find almost anywhere, but they also have those pancakes. A “short stack” consists of two huge cakes. You can get them with macadamia nuts, bananas, both or a number of other options. The table is set with regular maple syrup and coconut syrup. And, each stack of pancakes comes with what the Gazebo staff call “sauce.” Looking more like whipped cream, it’s a concoction of syrup, sugar, crème and who knows what other sugary goodness. Suffice it to say that it’s nuclear A-bomb sweet and for my taste best served on the side for easy portioning as you like. But, no matter what you get, you also have that spectacular view. Well worth a visit if you ask me. Mission accomplished!
That place by Hulas at Whaler’s Village
Sansei - simply put, one of the best (if not the best) sushi we’ve ever had. Period. This is an upscale place in the Kapalua area, and the sushi, sashimi and roles here are inventive, tasty and incredibly satisfying. We went there with our now expanding group that included me, Diane, Matt and Kristine, Sean and Levi and Isabelle. The table had the panko crusted ahi sashimi sushi roll, Asian shrimp cake, shrimp dynamite, and a host of oh so simple, fresh and tasty sushi. Throw in a icy cold martini to start and a nice Japanese lager to wash things down...and well, that's living!
Alexander’s – located on the main road through Kehei, Alexander’s is a walk up fish and chips place. But, wow, this is not your normal fish and chips shack! You can get ono, mahi mahi or ahi grilled or fried along with French fries, papaya salad, rice and other delicious side dishes. We hit this place on our snorkeling day and it hit the spot after all that swimming around. Tables are all out doors with some under cover. No alcohol is served.
Sorento’s – Diane and I broke off on our own one night and went to this ocean-side restaurant in the Kehei/Wylea area. Sorento’s is a nice place situated right on the beach with great views out to sea and, at night, stars above the palm trees. We scored a table right at the front, so all the natural beauty was in view. Fish was on our minds. Diane started with the Salad Caprese and I had the Kula Spring Greens. For entrees, Diane ordered the fish of the day which was the Opakapaka and I had the Grilled Hawaiin Ahi. We also started enjoyed a reasonably priced-but-good Sav Blanc to accompany our meal. Service was attentive and I have to say we really enjoyed the experience.
Aloha Mixed Plate - for lunch one day we had lunch at this delightful open deck restaurant. Sampling big coconut shrimp in spicy sauce, Hawaiian style pork and plenty of drinks to go around, this place really hit the spot.
The patio grill at Matt & Kristine’s condo - after a few nights eating out, we thought it would be fun to get some fresh fish from a shop and cook our own diner on one of the grills our condo had. So we did. We stopped at the Fish Market Maui and picked up a selection of tuna and ono. The guys at the shop created a marinade for each of the fish based on what they thought would go well with it. My ono was dry rubbed with a “Maui Cajun” concoction. Diane had a “honey, wasabi, sesame soy sauce” marinade for her Ahi. Set with our fish, all we needed was some salad and extras from the grocery and we were locked and loaded for a beach side Hawaiian fish BBQ. All sent well as we took over the picnic tables and one of the grills in the small, ocean facing courtyard of Matt and Kristine's condo. Lit by the glow of tiki torches, we cooked up the fish and feasted - washing it down with several Primo brand Hawaiin lager beers.
Some random walk up grill – on my birthday, we knew we had to reserve space in our stomachs for the feast to be consumed that evening. And, because my birthday fell on Thanksgiving this year, not much was open. So, what were we to do for lunch? Sean and I headed in to Lahina Town with the notion to go to Maui Tacos and pick up some provisions for our crew chilling back at the pool deck at our condo. We soon discovered that it wasn’t open either. But, in the very same little strip mall there was a little walk up grill with a mixed menu of Filipino, Mexican and seafood. We thought, “what the hell, we’ll do it.” Not a bad choice. We ordered up a few fish sandwiches and fries and you know, it was really good! And cheap. It all went down well back at the pool over a few chilly beers.
Nick’s Fish Market – this restaurant is within the beautiful and expansive grounds of the Fairmont resort in Wylea. A tip from our friends Norm and Lisa sent us here for our last dinner on the island. Elegant, stylish and half open-air, Nick’s specializes in fish, but has a broad menu for all tastes and it did not disappoint. Sitting outdoors we enjoyed the view of palms, the ocean and, at one point during the meal, a Hawaiian in traditional dress lighting tiki torches. The fist here proved sublime and I would recommend this place to anyone interested in both ambiance and high quality dining.
Westin Hotel - as our last meal before heading back to the mainland, we took Diane’s mother and brother to breakfast over at the Westin. The hotel has a very nice open air veranda restaurant overlooking the ocean, and in the morning they serve a very nice breakfast. Quite a civilized way to wrap up the trip.
Other places of note – Bad Ass Coffee was a staple for us most mornings as it was a short walk from the condo. Within the same parking lot on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the Maui farmer’s market sets up shop. So, we had great access to fresh fruit, bread, salsas and more.