Island Inspiration: Where to Eat and Drink in Maui
Dive into berry-laced cocktails, bright sushi, pork-studded rice bowls, silky-soft mocha and more at these restaurants and bars across the island.
Local Favorite: Sam Sato’s
Go to: Sam Sato’s
Perfect Pit Stop: Leoda’s Kitchen & Pie Shop
Shave Ice: Ululani’s
Few visitors leave Hawaii without slurping up shaved ice — or shave ice, as locals call it — which is more exquisite than a regular snow cone. The ice here is shaved fine: Ululani’s arguably has the fluffiest, finest ice on the island, if not the state. The flavors are irresistible too, with unique offerings like lychee, tiger’s blood, wedding cake, pickled mango and wet lemon peel as well as perennial favorites like strawberry and vanilla. Ululani’s is so popular that there are now six locations around Maui, but the main one is in Lahaina, on Front Street, right by the ocean.
Tropical Paradise: Mill House Maui
Popular Watering Hole: Mala Ocean Tavern
Maui restaurateur Mark Ellman has the magic touch, and he works it with Mala Ocean Tavern, which has locations in Lahaina and Wailea. The restaurant has a hip vibe but is Maui casual, so you can wear shorts and a T-shirt there and still feel comfortable. Sitting at the bar is a treat, since the bartenders are so friendly, but the place is constantly crowded, so you may have to sit wherever you can. The cocktails are always fresh and lively, often with fruit pulp in them. If you’re looking to nibble on something, Ellman offers a selection of small plates — organic when possible — using whole grains, no preservatives, no hydrogenated oils and everything in proportion. But the food offerings are so creative and sophisticated you almost forget that they’re good for you. Almost.
Best Dining View: Merriman’s
Old-School in a New Spot: Tin Roof Maui
Authentic Italian: Taverna
Food Truck: Maui Fresh Streatery
Burgers: Fatt Chicks Burgers Brews & Grill
Elevated Local Food: Star Noodle
Stylish Dining with a View: Ka’ana Kitchen
Romantic Dinner: Humuhumunukunukuapua’a
Pizza and Cocktails on the Waterfront: Pi Artisan Pizzeria
Hidden Gem: Paia Inn Café
Way Off the Beaten Path: The Preserve Kitchen + Bar
For Chocolate Lovers: Maui Specialty Chocolates
Though hidden back in the industrial area of Kahului, Maui Specialty Chocolates is a must-visit, especially if you plan to bring gifts home to people. The shop specializes in chocolates, of course, but people come here to get the mochi — pillowy-soft, sweet rice cakes filled with chocolate, or peanut butter and chocolate. When you bite into the silky-soft mochi, an almost-molten chocolate center gently oozes with very subtle, not-too-sweet flavor. It’s the most-tender mochi in Hawaii, and no one seems to know what the folks here do to make it so soft. It’s recommended to eat these treats within two days, although they probably won’t last that long.
Healthy Mexican Fare: Sangrita Grill + Cantina
Tasty and Affordable in Lahaina: Aloha Mixed Plate
Food Truck Oasis: Hana Ranch Food Truck
Dessert: Tasaka Guri Guri
It's impressive that Tasaka Guri Guri has been in the same spot in Maui Mall for 40 years, but more so that it's been a Valley Isle treat for more than a century. When Jokichi Tasaka emigrated from Japan in the early 1900s, he developed a unique dairy-based hybrid of sherbet and ice cream that cooled people off on warm Maui days. It's a local staple to this day. There are only two flavors — strawberry and pineapple — and at $1.30 for two scoops, you might as well try both, which are served in no-frills paper cups. It's not too creamy, not too tart, and definitely refreshing in the tropics. You can also pack a container in dry ice to go, but don't even think about asking for the recipe; despite various copycat attempts, it has remained a secret for generations.
Photo courtesy of Catherine Toth