The Makani Kai opened up as a dream for Stewart and Jamie Bahl. His story, as he says, is typical: He brought his wife Jamie to Maui on a vacation from San Diego and she said she wanted to move here. When they found the waterfall-surrounded bar and restaurant at the Wharf Cinema Center, they saw that dream take hold.
The spot is downstairs at the Wharf. It’s an oasis in Lahaina with koi ponds, greenery and the rushing sounds of the outdoor waterways around the bar. There are a few flat screens by the bar and shaded outdoor seating.
“We thought, let’s make it some place we want to hang out at,” says Bahl. “We redid the whole bar, the surface was so sticky from over-varnishing. We sanded that all down. We changed the dining area up and redid the umbrellas. We brought in our fish taco recipe from San Diego.”
Their specialty at the casual eatery at the Wharf is seafood. Their seared ahi dishes, ahi tacos and ono entrees are all fresh caught. Dahl says when he got the place it was filled with freezers, which he was able to get rid of to create their fresh food menu.
“Our most popular appetizer is the Holoholo Pizza,” says Bahl. “We discovered it in the kitchen by accident. There was an argument over the correct way to prepare a tortilla and boom. We created a quesadilla, then topped it with more cheese, kalua pig and some green onion.”
The Holoholo Pizza is great, partly because you really can’t go wrong serving tortillas smothered in cheese and meat. Originally the restaurant was a breakfast, lunch and dinner place, but they tossed out breakfast and are now focusing on lunch and dinner.
Makani Kai’s menu has fish and chips, tacos, several different burgers and hot sandwiches and main entrees. Their island plates section serves kalbi, kalua pig, loco moco, teriyaki and a daily fish special, all served with rice and veggies. The pupus include ahi poke, chips and salsa, sliders, calamari and Asian fusion wings.
They also do drink specials all day, including blended tropicals and mai tais. Makani Kai has live music from Fridays to Sundays, noon to 3pm. Bahl says he wanted people to get to have live music earlier, not just dinner time. On Thursdays, Benny Uyetaki takes the stage at 5pm.
“Your typical vacationer is here 10 days,” says Bahl. “We get people that come repeatedly to eat and drink. That’s a badge of honor for us.”
Makani Kai Island Grill and Bar
658 Front St., Lahaina