I always hear about how folks come to Maui and want to eat where the locals do. A lot of places boast this but Buzz’s Wharf Restaurant is a family-owned establishment that locals truly love. Jerry and Eileen McDonald opened Buzz’s in 1967; the place has been passed down through generations of their family.
The restaurant dining room’s most notable features are the huge glass windows through which you will watch the harbor action, the surf spot Freight Trains (when it’s breaking) or the current renovation construction. You can also see all of the Kihei shoreline as well as Molokini and Haleakala. Come before sunset to take it all in.
The Braun-Miller family that owns the restaurant also farms Markea Shrimp in New Caledonia, importing their own for their menu. The Markea Prawn is their own trademarked name for the mouthwatering Pacific Blue Shrimp that they raise there, free of hormones, antibiotics and food coloring. They are especially sweet, with an al dente bite to them. There are challenges to farming this species, such as the high quality sea water their ponds require, and the added costs associated with their environmentally friendly approach. Later this year, Buzz’s will have them available to purchase for your home kitchen, too.
Their menu is all American steakhouse fare, with a few island-influenced touches. They start lunch at 11pm with a collaboration of house specialties like shrimp and chips, soups and salads, appetizers and sandwiches. The sandwiches are special: coconut shrimp, filet Diane, Ahi steak, fresh tuna salad and half pound burgers made with Maui Cattle Co. Beef and loaded with trimmings like two kinds of onions, sauteed mushrooms and blue cheese. The sandwiches and burgers cost between $11 and $18. Tasty words like cajun aioli, fruit salsa and red wine sauce embellish these carb and protein combos, and vegetarians have options, too.
At lunch you can also get their famous Markea Prawns. They’re served Tahitian-style with dill and parm or in shrimp poke or in cocktail form. Their prawns are good raw or cooked, but their poke preparation is lightly seared with tobiko lemongrass aioli. If you’re in the mood for soup, the clam chowder is made the New England way, so thick your spoon could stand up in it and full of great clam flavor. It is a meal unto itself, and their bread makes the perfect pillow to sup it up.
Pupu hour starts at 3pm and goes till the dinner hour at 5pm. This is a great time to enjoy cocktails and pupus, on your way to or from locations around the island. Their appetizer menu is full of quality seafood, and the steamers are astonishing in their white wine broth and garlic bread. Shiitake mushrooms are stuffed with crab and cheese, and fresh oysters, sashimi and fried calamari round out the pupus that will go perfect with their Mai Tai’s that feature their own Tahitian vanilla and other tropical drinks.
Dinner includes their hand-cut Angus beef steaks, and you can can have them prepared to your liking with choices like their Au Poivre (French for “pepper rub”), Diane’s sauce mushroom, Dijon and red wine), or bleu cheese-crusted. Entrees range around $20 to $50, and their portion size is generous. They are famous for the Hawaiian teriyaki steak, but this is no mere teri steak plate lunch. They have their own coveted family teriyaki recipe, and the steak is marinated and broiled, served with potato du jour, steamed vegetables and rolls and a green salad, if you wish.
You can get lobster tail but Surf and Turf is done here with Markea prawns Tahitian, and it is frankly better than lobster. These sweet prawns permeate all corners on the menu for good reason, you can’t get them anywhere else on Maui.
Another great dish with a twist is the Bouillabaisse, in which Markea prawns join scallops, clams and fish in a light white coconut lemongrass broth. The different seafoods melt in your mouth in this extraordinary soup, and it begs to be dabbed with their fresh rolls just like the steamer broth.
The fresh fish preparations are unique; the macadamia nut-crusted fresh fish with a coconut pineapple sauce was a sweet and savory delight. The macadamia crunch texture was great over the fish, and the sweet pineapple sauce was surprisingly dessertlike but still appropriate for the dish.
Speaking of sweets, you will find their Tahitian vanilla at play again alongside tropical fruit creations like their mango macadamia nut upside-down cake and mango creme brulee. Pele’s molten chocolate cake takes 20 minutes, so order it with dinner, but it’s a great value at just $10.
No matter what time you come to dine, be prepared for the detour. The harbor entrance that was next to the Lahaina side of Buzz’s has been closed. Instead, just turn at the stoplight next to the gas station and Carl’s Jr. and head right onto Maalaea Harbor Road and then drive into the familiar harbor. The Maalaea Harbor is getting a much needed pumping system for the boats, but don’t let these improvements stop you from enjoying Buzz’s Wharf.