By Axel Beers, Shan Kekahuna and Anthony Pignataro
If you’re like us, you eat food. This is a good thing, though on Maui, it can be a little overwhelming, given the fact that there are 32 million restaurants here (give or take a few). Some are incredibly opulent, while others are just cramped kitchens with a few plastic tables out front. Finding a consistently great, hopefully affordable meal with all this dizzying variety can be difficult and time-consuming. For this year’s annual Food Issue, we decided to let a couple dozen notable individuals around Maui tell us where they like to go. Their choices are literally all over the map (there’s an index at the end with contact information for every restaurant mentioned here), so if you can’t find a decent place on this list, it’s probably best that you stay home and cook your own meals. Enjoy!
Owner, Maui Comics & Collectibles
I can’t pick just three. At a time when more and more local restaurants are closing down, it’s a comfort to know Sheik’s, Sam Sato and Tasty Crust are still around and still affordable. At Tin Roof, local boy and culinary super-star chef Sheldon Simeon is always dreaming up new ways to present classic cultural dishes from the islands. They never disappoint. Poi by the Pound owner CJ Ho‘okano is from the Waialua valley where he sources most of his fresh-made poi. Their Fried Ahi Belly is addictive. And Ichiban Okazuya in Wailuku has some of the most consistent local/Japanese plates you’ll find anywhere.
Magician/Game Show Host
My top three go-to spots to eat on Maui are Choice Health Bar, the Farmacy and Rodeo General Store. My answers would’ve been completely different a year ago. I’ve recently been treated for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and can proudly say I’m in 100 percent remission. This extreme wake-up call suddenly made Health my top priority. These places have truly shown me that I didn’t have to give up amazing tasting food in the process. At Choice, the key for me is waiting until lunch is served at 11am. A magical special always appears on the chalkboard. At the Farmacy, I bounce all over the menu. At Rodeo, it’s a no brainer: salad trio.
Owner, Hi-Tech Surf Sports
My top three go-to spots to eat on Maui are Kimo’s, Da Kitchen and the last is a tie between Duke’s and The Gazebo. Kimo’s has a great location on the water, consistent food and great service. Da Kitchen has the best local food on the island, huge portions and fast service. The Gazebo also has a fantastic breakfast. All give back to the community. Usually, my wife will order fresh fish and I will order a steak or prime rib, and we’ll share. At Da Kitchen, all bets are off and we order whatever.
LEIMOMI “UPTOWN GIRL” RAMOS
The face at Uptown Texaco
Of course, my number one spot to eat is Uptown Texaco–not just because I work there, but because the food is made fresh daily and in front of you with pure love and aloha. Every day they will serve some different awesomeness. My number two place I love to eat is Poi By The Pound. I just gotta have that Hawaiian food, no matter what. There’s plenty love and aloha there, too. It’s my kind of place to eat with good vibes. My number three place to eat is JB’S Kitchen on Lower Main. They have amazing stuff there. The deep-fried tempura and dry mein there is da bomb and their deep fried tofu–mmmmmmm–is broke da mouth. I like to try different things wherever I eat–you can’t just have the same thing, it gets boring. Love you families!
UH Maui College Librarian
My favorite three are A Saigon Cafe, Hali‘imaile General Store and Japengo. At Saigon Cafe, I love Jennifer Nguyen and the food she makes. I appreciate that she’s into good wine. It’s the one place I can order a glass of good cab with my green papaya salad! Hali‘imaile General Store has excellent food and exceptional service. I love it when the servers cut up my Napoleon sushi plate for me. That’s service! As for Japengo, three words: Spicy duck balls!
Filmmaker, Get A Job and Kuleana
My top three go-to spots to eat on Maui are Aria’s, A Saigon Cafe and Mala. At Aria’s, the food is fantastic and the prices reasonable; and it’s a BYOB place, which is fantastic. Across the menu Saigon Cafe is fresh and fabulous, and the staff entertaining and efficient. Mala in Lahaina is another example of Mark Ellman’s genius. The cocktails are always first rate, the specials incredible and the Kobe Burger alone is to die for. My favorite entrees are the Bau Cho Sliders and the Kale/Beet Salad at Aria’s, Sweet & Sour Pork and the Bahn Hoi (Vietnamese burritos) at Saigon Cafe and the Kobe Burger at Mala–and a signature Mai Tai.
GEORGE KAHUMOKU, JR.
In Napili Plaza, Mama’s Ribs & Rotisserie has beef stew and rice with mac salad–da best in da state of Hawaii and the world! I also change up with their best and crispest salads with extra tomatoes, veggie lasagna, Oriental chicken salad, ribs and chicken. Wednesday’s special is sweet & sour spare ribs and Friday’s special is teri salmon. I eat there two to three times a week! In Lahaina, Penne Pasta has da best spaghetti and meatballs, meat flatbread pizza and da best baked butternut squash in the world. My wife Nancy and I eat there at least twice a month. Nobu’s Pink Wagon by Lahaina Napa’s behind Pizza Hut has da best curry chicken plate lunch in the world for under $9 with rice, noodles, mac salad and green salad with miso dressing. I eat there every chance I get! It also has shoyu chicken, spaghetti and meatballs and other plate lunches but I only get the curry chicken.
KENNETH “LEE” NORRIS
On-Air Radio Producer & Host of Jazz Metropolis on Mana‘o Radio 91.7
Let’s start with breakfast. I’m not as big of a breakfast eater as I once was, so the Java Cafe is a great spot for a light European-style eatery. Argentinian family owned and staffed, it has a very friendly, personable and a rather hip atmosphere–right down to the various styles of house, deep lounge and jazz music which is always playing in the background. My favorite item is the stripped down waffle–just fresh blueberries and warm blueberry syrup (which I provide but they’re cool enough to let me store there). The switch up is called the Tuscan and it’s a panini and I love it. Happy Hour for me means Shearwater Tavern. It’s almost two different places: a great place for dinner and great bar kinda place. The place has a very Midwest feel–Chicago comes to mind. For me, the double order of the calamari or the chicken wings at Happy Hour prices “are you kiddin me’….” Although Ami Ami has now been around for a while, it still retains a very contemporary vibe, jazz and a very cool staff. Just the right things to accompany the Steak Frites or Medallions of Beef Tenderloin.
All Are Equally Loved… therefore, all are sharing ratings one, two and three: Milagro’s, Flatbread and Charley’s. All have great food, great service and great people. They treat us with aloha and are close to home! We always change it up what we get, but for sure include Upcountry mixed greens and a margarita never hurts to wash down the grinds… for healthy digestion, of course!
Here are my three favorites. Mama’s Fish House has incredible food, views and vintage Hawaii atmosphere. Plus, I got married there! Then Milagros, which has great food, fun vibe and entertaining people watching in Paia. And finally, Casanova. A nice Italian dinner with friends on a cool Makawao evening is always great.
WILL “COCONUT WILLIE” HUNT
I was born in a ding repair/surfboard factory in Paia just behind the Fish Market. My three all time favorite spots to eat would have to be the Upcountry Farmers Market, Bailey’s Café and the Haiku food truck Nuka for lunch. The Farmers Market has many things to offer, most of which are local and organic (including coconuts, of course). Bailey’s has really good local Maui beef, super good fried rice and a mean turmeric lemonade! Nuka has the best dry mein–it’s so good and affordable.
Government Affairs Director, Realtors Association of Maui
My wife and my top three go-to spots to eat on Maui are Paia Fish Market (all three locations), Stopwatch in Makawao and Fred’s Mexican Cafe’ in Kihei. The thing that makes them appealing to us is the relaxed laid back atmosphere, convenience and price. Oh yah, and cold beer. I’m not a pretentious guy and not really a “foodie.” I’m more down home regular guy who likes good basic food at a reasonable price. Give me a good burger, burrito or fish and chips and I’m happy. I have a few different favorites at each spot that we frequent. I don’t get the same thing every time but I do know what I like and what I don’t. I’ll usually rotate between four or five things on the menu. If you made me pick one thing I would say at Stopwatch I like their wings, at the Paia Fish Market I like the fish and chips and at Fred’s I like their margaritas… That’s lunch, right?
Owner, The Love Shack
My favorite places to eat are Las Pinatas of Maui, I’m addicted to their hard shell tacos. They’re the only ones who use fresh tortillas, hot, juicy and packed with deliciousness. The Kitchen Sink burrito rocks. The Tiki Lounge has a great choice of food, I love sitting at the outdoor patio and appreciate all the servers. I usually order sliders and Mediterranean salad or Pizza, if I’m in the mood. Then of course Fat Daddy’s cause it just delicious, delicious, delicious.
Author, It’s Always Okay To Be Me
My three favorite Maui restaurants are Kimo’s, Lahaina Grill and Fu Lin. Kimo’s opened just after I moved here in the 1970s and I have been a fan of their food every since. Lahaina Grill has great food and service! You see the same staff for years! And I love Fu Lin’s fresh Chinese food.
Radio DJ, “Trance and Mackie’s House,” Da Jam 98.3
Marco’s is a go to place for my wife and me for pasta in town: Caesars salad, garlic bread and seafood pasta. As they say in China, Bada Boom Bada Bing! A Saigon Cafe has great Vietnamese food and great service. Especially from the funny waiter–”Whoop There It Is!” Love their crispy calamari, fried spring rolls and pho. It’s a perfect combo! And at Sam Sato, I need a Drymin, fries with mustard/mayo and a small bag of Manju at least once a week. If not, my “Radio Voice” goes bad on me. True story.
Executive Director, Nisei Veterans Memorial Center
For amazing noodles, and other menu items, that take your taste buds on a dining excursion evocative of modern-day Japan, you can’t beat Star Noodle. When yearning for a taste of the “Good ‘Ol Days,” nothing beats Tasty Crust. They have great staff and delicious menu favorites that you can rely on. Want to go to Japan for dinner but you don’t have the funding or time? No worries–check our Izakaya Genbe in Kihei for authentic Izakaya-style food in the heart of Kihei.
Actor, Radio DJ, local celebrity
I love everything on Aria’s menu, especially the Char Siu Bao Sliders and Friday Night Prime Rib special. Sheik’s is a sentimental favorite, as I waitressed there in high school, and the Chop Steak is still as good as it was back then. For Tasty Crust, one word: Hotcakes!
UH Maui College Chancellor
Leis Family Class Act has great food made by Maui College culinary students. They have four-course prix fixe menu and different menus weekly. I already love my job, but this was an unexpected perk to being Chancellor at the college. We eat Tokyo Tei’s Hakata chicken, pork teriyaki, shrimp tempura family style. They have the best shrimp tempura in the world. Growing up this was the go to place on special occasions. And at Komoda Bakery, the red hotdog in a Komoda bun pre-filled with mustard and ketchup and two lumpia prepared by Ms. Oen and one cone sushi make the best brunch in the world.
Executive Director, Imua Family Services
First and foremost, I’m going to go with Star Noodle for several reasons. It’s the perfect blend of all my favorite Asian fusions in one spot. Two, it’s the way I and all modern foodies like to eat, which is a tapas-style of ordering multiple dishes so you can sample plenty–versus the old school appetizer, salad and entrée-style of eating. For me, it brings me back to dim sum growing up at Chinese family table-style eating. And three, the food is drop dead delicious. Next up is Roy’s. OMG, that warm sushi dragon roll on the apps menu is crazy to die for. I have to get one for me and one for my son–no sharing. I would also have to give major props to Milagro’s in Paia for such a fresh and bountiful take on Pacific-Mex food. The Black Bean Nachos are a constant craving of mine, the Ahi Burrito is out of this world and the portions are so generous, making it great value. If I could pick a fourth, I would call out Hali‘imaike General Store. Its homey, Upcountry, laid back vibe with impeccable flavor and consistent quality is always dear to my heart.
MEGAN KANEKOA AND JACQUELINE GORING
Owners, Wailuku Coffee Co.
Of course, we love Wailuku Coffee Co.–it’s why we do what we do. But we love La Provence in Kula. It’s unique, delicious and a great excuse for a pastry. We also love Choice Health Bar in Lahaina. It’s a nice environment with healthy, tasty food. And we love Bistro Casanova in Kahului. It’s got great mojitos to go with its delicious pupus.
Radio DJ, “Trance and Mackie’s House,” Da Jam 98.3
I love the spicy tuna at Genki Sushi and, of course, you don’t have wait to order. The staff is friendly and the kids love to order off of the iPad. I like to order “family style” and have five or six plates of food on the table for everyone to share and Tiffany’s is perfect for this. My favorite has to be the sweet and sour pork. I know there’s a big debate on who has the best pizza but for me Jersey-style pizza is king and Serpico’s wears the crown! Light sauce, fresh ingredients and crispy crust–Serpico’s is real deal pizza.
A perfect day of grinding in Maui would start with the sunrise and chicken and waffles at Down the Hatch in Lahaina. I would wash that down with a carafe of mimosa or a margarita shave ice. For lunch, I would make my way to Cafe Mambo in Paia for the crispy duck burger. It’s a quaint little cafe with a premium view of all the action on Baldwin Avenue. For a tasty/healthy snack, I would take a two-minute walk to Paia Bowls for an açaí bowl with fresh fruit, granola, coco shavings and goji berries. Finally for dinner, I would take Baldwin to my neck of the woods in Makawao to the Stopwatch. I would start with homemade jalapeno poppers and hot wings with blue cheese. For my main course, I would devour the French dip and crispy golden fries.
AMANDA JOY BOWERS
Artist and Owner, Skelefin Studios
First, the Mo’Ono truck. I love these girls as much as I love their açaí bowls. Don’t forget to add poi, lilikoi butter and Greek yogurt on top. Then Flatbread Pizza: One word, Mopsy. For dessert, they warm up chocolate chunk banana bread in the fire oven and serve it with vanilla ice cream. Da best. Then there’s Nuka. I’m from Haiku so I love how this place transformed into an ono sushi spot with yummy martinis. It’s where I like to go with my girls or go on a date, haha!
Owner/Curator, Story of Hawaii Museum
At Tin Roof, Sheldon Simeon has done a great job of combining affordable prices with great local and ethnic food that’s accessible. The HI Thai food truck/restaurant on the corner of Market and Vineyard has real deal Thai food that’s affordable. And then Mama’s Fish House–my wife’s company does trade with them so I eat there but don’t spend real money other than tipping. All in all, if money is no object the combination of ambience, location and exquisite cuisine is incomparable.
RESTAURANTS MENTIONED IN THIS STORY
Ami Ami, (2259 S. Kihei Rd.); 808-875-7522; Cafeoleirestaurants.com
Aria’s Restaurant, (2062 W. Vineyard St. Wailuku); 808-242-2742; Ariasmaui.com
Bailey’s Café, (810 Haiku Rd.); 808-276-5753
Bistro Casanova, (33 Lono Ave., Kahului); 808-873-3650; Casanovamaui.com
Cafe Mambo, (30 Baldwin Ave., Paia); 808-579-8021; Cafemambomaui.com
Casanova, (1188 Makawao Ave.); 808-572-0220; Casanovamaui.com
Charley’s Restaurant & Saloon, (142 Hana Hwy., Paia); 808-579-8085; Charleysmaui.com
Choice Health Bar, (1087 Limahana Pl., Lahaina); 808-661-7711; Choicehealthbar.com
Da Kitchen, (425 Koloa St., Kahului); 808-871-7782; Dakitchen.com
Down the Hatch, (658 Front St., Lahaina); 808-661-4900; Dthmaui.com
Duke’s Beach House, (130 Kai Malina Pkwy., Ka‘anapali); 808-662-2900; Dukesmaui.com
Farmacy Health Bar, (12 N. Market St., Wailuku); 808-866-4312
Fat Daddy’s Smokehouse, (1913 S. Kihei Rd.); 808-879-8711; Fatdaddysmaui.com
Flatbread Company, (89 Hana Hwy., Paia); 808-579-8989; Flatbreadcompany.com
Fred’s Mexican Cafe, (2511 S. Kihei Rd.); 808-891-8600; Fredsmexicancafe.com
Fu Lin, (1312 Front St., Lahaina); 808-661-7071; Fulinchinese.com
The Gazebo, (5315 L. Honoapi‘ilani Rd., Napili); 808-669-5621
Genki Sushi, (70 E. Ka‘ahumanu Ave., Kahului); 808-873-7776; Genkisushiusa.com
Hali‘imaile General Store, (900 Hali‘imalie Rd., Makawao); 808-572-2666; HGSMaui.com
HI Thai Food Truck, (91 N. Market St., Wailuku); 808-280-8936
Ichiban Okazuya, (2133 Kaohu St., Wailuku); 808-244-7276
Izakaya Genbe, (1280 S. Kihei Rd.); 808-214-5457
JB’s Kitchen, (752 L. Main St., Wailuku); 808-244-9616
Japengo, (200 Nohea Kai Dr., Ka‘anapali); 808-667-4727; Japengomaui.com
Java Cafe, (1279 S. Kihei Rd.); 808-214-6095
Kimo’s, (845 Front St., Lahaina); 808-661-4811; Kimosmaui.com
Komoda Bakery, (3674 Baldwin Ave., Makawao); 808-573-7261
La Provence, (3158 L. Kula Rd.); 808-878-1313; Laprovencekula.com
Lahaina Grill, (127 Lahainaluna Rd.); 808-667-5117; Lahainagrill.com
Las Pinatas of Maui, (395 Dairy Rd., Kahului); 808-877-8707; Pinatasmaui.com
Leis Family Class Act, (310 W. Ka‘ahumanu Ave., Kahului); 808-984-3280
Mala Ocean Tavern, (1307 Front St., Lahaina); 808-667-9394; Malaoceantavern.com
Mama’s Fish House, (799 Poho Pl., Paia); 808-579-8488; Mamasfishhouse.com
Mama’s Ribs & Rotisserie, (5095 Napilihau St., Napili); 808-665-6262; Mamasribsmaui.com
Marco’s Grill & Deli, (444 Hana Hwy., Kahului); 808-877-4446
Milagro’s, (3 Baldwin Ave., Paia) 808-579-8755; Milagrosfoodcompany.com
Mo’Ono Food Truck, Instagram.com/moonohawaii
Nobu’s Lunch Wagon, (1058 Limahana Pl., Lahaina)
Nuka, (780 Haiku Rd.); 808-579-2939; Nukamaui.com
Paia Bowls, (43 Hana Hwy., Paia); 808-214-6504; Paiabowls.com
Paia Fish Market, (100 Hana Hwy., Paia); 808-579-8030 / (632 Front St., Lahaina); 808-662-3456 / (1913 S. Kihei Rd.); 808-874-8888; Paiafishmarket.com
Penne Pasta Cafe, (180 Dickenson St. Lahaina); 808-661-6633; Pennepastacafe.net
Poi by the Pound, (430 Kele St., Kahului); 808-283-9381; Poibythepound.com
Rodeo General Store, (3661 Baldwin Ave., Makawao); 808-572-1868
Roy’s, (2290 Ka‘anapali Pkwy.); 808-669-6999; Royshawaii.com
A Saigon Cafe, (1792 Main St., Wailuku); 808-243-9560; Asaigoncafe.com
Sam Sato’s, (1750 Wili Pa Loop, Wailuku); 808-244-7124
Serpico’s, (7 Aewa Pl., Makawao); 808-572-8498; Serpicosmaui.com
Shearwater Tavern, (1279 S. Kihei Rd.); 808-793-2324; Shearwatermaui.com
Sheik’s, (97 S. Wakea Ave., Kahului); 808-877-0121
South Shore Tiki Lounge, (1913 S. Kihei Rd.); 808-874-6444; Southshoretiki.com
Star Noodle, (286 Kupuohi St., Lahaina); 808-667-5400; Starnoodle.com
Stopwatch Bar & Grill, (1127 Makawao Ave.); 808-572-1380
Tasty Crust, (1770 Mill St., Wailuku); 808-244-0845
Tiffany’s, (1424 L. Main St., Wailuku); 808-249-0052; Tiffanysmaui.com
Tin Roof, (360 Papa Pl., Kahului); 808-868-0753; Tinroofmaui.com
Tokyo Tei, (1063 L. Main St., Wailuku); 808-242-9630; Tokyoteimaui.com
Upcountry Farmers Market, (55 Kiopa‘a St., Pukalani); Upcountryfarmersmarket.com
Uptown Texaco, (2085 Main St., Wailuku); 808-244-0869
Wailuku Coffee Co., (26 N. Market St., Wailuku); 808-495-0259; Wailukucoffeeco.com
Cover design: Darris Hurst
Photos: Sean M. Hower