When we talk to people who just came back from vacationing in Maui, they tend to go on and on about beaches, balmy weather, and unfortunate tan lines. Food's not always mentioned, and we think that's sad. Maui has a ton of great places to threaten that beach body you worked so hard on (or not, that's cool, too) – you just need to know where to find them.
The secret is to go local. Leave the resort areas and head to restaurants that highlight their use of ingredients grown on the island. Skip anything that sounds familiar and order the local version instead. That means saimin over ramen, teriyaki beef over steak, and kalua pig instead of pork chops.
Now go forth and chow down on all kine local grindz…err, delicious food.
If there's one place on the entire island that you have to try, Ululani's is it. Their shave ice is the best in the state, standing out thanks to their syrups, most of which are made from real fruit. Go tropical in your flavor selection, add Maui-made Roselani ice cream on the bottom, and then top it all off with mochi (sweet Japanese rice cake). Thankfully, this original Kahului hut has been joined by five additional locations across the island, so you can eat this every day you're there. That's what we do.
Da Kitchen is a great way to immerse yourself in local food immediately upon arrival. And we truly mean immerse, because the portions are huge. From kalua pig (smoked pork slow cooked in a dirt oven) to six varieties of loco moco (mounds of rice topped with a hamburger patty and a fried egg and doused in brown gravy), Da Kitchen has all the local favorites. Start off with fried SPAM musubi – SPAM pan-fried in teriyaki sauce and wrapped in rice and seaweed like a giant sushi roll – before ordering whatever meaty plate lunch option sounds best.
The poke at Foodland puts all the tuna tartare you've ever seen to shame…and it's from a supermarket. Go here for some super fresh poke made out of ahi, crab, salmon, mussels, and more. You can go to any Foodland and get it by the pound or spooned onto white or brown rice, but our favorite is the Kihei location, which has the added bonus of being across the street from the beach.
Ka’ana Kitchen is the exception to our “leave the resort” advice, mostly because it more than satisfies our "eat local" rule. With its ocean views, airy dining room, friendly staff, and top notch food and cocktails, this is where you go for special occasions and to experience fine dining, Maui-style. And also for an amazing all-you-can-eat brunch that has its own mixologist.
Don’t be fooled by Leoda’s middle-of-nowhere location. This fast casual spot has fantastic sandwiches on bread they make themselves, salads, and great breakfast options. But the real reason you want to come here is pie. The sweet ones like chocolate haupia (coconut), Olowalu lime, and banana cream will make you want to make it your whole meal.
If you came to Maui with a dream of sitting outside and drinking tropical drinks with umbrellas in a tiki bar while gazing out at the ocean, this is your place. If said dream also includes you strumming some tunes on an ukulele, that can happen here, too, during their free Friday morning lessons. Island fantasies aside, the Barefoot Bar at Hula Grill is your best bet for non-splurge food and drinks with an ocean view.
The same family has been serving classic donuts since the early 1900s, and their no-frills shop still looks pretty much the same as it did back then. Demand for their legendary cream puffs and stick donuts is high and hours can be erratic, so call ahead to make sure that they're open and haven't sold out of the fan-favorites.
Ever eaten on the slopes of a volcano? Want to? This former pineapple plantation general store is a gorgeous spot for a classy meal before or after a day exploring UpCountry Maui’s farms, pastures, and spectacular views, especially from the top of said volcano. Don’t worry, the volcano is dormant, so there’s only a tiny chance it will erupt while you’re there.
This order-at-the-counter seafood spot has so many kinds of local fish on its menu, you probably haven't heard of some of them. They're all caught-today fresh, reasonably priced, and prepared however you want, from grilled to taco-ed to burger-ed. Make new friends at the communal tables while you wait. Or hoard all the silverware and make enemies. Your call.
If all the stuffing of your face is making you seriously crave some greens, Maka by Mana is your antidote. The vegan, gluten-free, and mostly raw restaurant serves healthy salads, wraps, and sandwiches. Even those of us who find “raw,” “gluten-free,” and “vegan” the least appealing words in the English language will find something to like here. They also have kombucha on tap (because of course) and a big list of juices and smoothies.
We know. You didn’t come all the way to Maui to eat Thai food. But you did spend over two hours driving 40 miles of hairpin curves (and, yeah, saw waterfalls and bamboo forests and stuff), and now you’re hungry. So head to this food truck and order its signature crispy opakapaka (red snapper) with green mango salad. Take it to go and picnic at picturesque Hamoa Beach just outside of town. You’re welcome.