Matthew and I spent a lovely week in Maui this February, and if the flight out of Omaha was any indication, lots of Nebraskans head to Hawaii when the weather here gets particularly grim.
My list isn’t exhaustive, but it does include all the places I’d recommend, and if you’re headed to Maui, that I think you should check out.
We did other non-food stuff: whale watching, which was beautiful; shopping in Wailea; driving part of the Road to Hana. But mostly, we just relaxed and soaked up all those island vibes. Can’t wait to go back.
The “plate lunch” is a Hawaiian standard, and of the ones I tried, the one at Aloha Mixed plate is the best: tender braised teriyaki beef, fresh fish, shoyu chicken and the distinctly Hawaiian combination of a scoop of white rice next to a scoop of macaroni salad. They also served the best poke I had on the trip.
There’s no getting around it: Merriman’s is expensive. (So are a lot of places in Maui.) But it’s got beautiful views and high-end service, and was just a short walk from our resort. I generally don’t eat ahi tuna, but this was locally harvested and simply prepared, and so I treated myself. When the fish is this good and its left front and center to shine, I have nothing to complain about.
Matthew and I spent a day driving the Road to Hana, a breathtaking scenic route that has lots of things to do along the way. We made two food stops: Halfway to Hana, a snack shop that serves little loaves of tender banana bread made with the locally-raised apple bananas, and Hāna Farms, a darling fruit and food stand with an outdoor gift shop. I found the tropical fruit display particularly inviting.
Our group tried to get into the tiny Star Noodle without a reservation. Rookie mistake. But I wanted to sample the Asian menu really bad, so I made a reservation for one the next day while Matthew golfed. I should have known better: He saw my photos and demanded a return trip. So we had lunch at Star Noodle twice. No regrets. My favorites are the same as everyone else’s: the delicious pork steam buns and the crisp-tender fried garlic noodles.
We had perhaps the best meal of our trip at the gorgeous Mill House, situated on the Maui Tropical Plantation. Get there early, like we did, and take a stroll around the grounds, then grab a carefully-made craft cocktail at the bar. We could have ordered twice as much food as we did off the menu, because that many things intrigued us. As it turned out, we got full way too soon. Highlights: homemade spam musubi (don’t knock it until you try it) and manapua, a Hawaiian bao bun filled with delicious braised beef.
You can’t go to Maui and be into food without hearing people talk about Top Chef alum Sheldon Simeon. We stopped into his strip mall joint, Tin Roof, before we hit the road to Hana. I wished I’d done more research on kau kau tins and what to order; we liked what we got, but we didn’t love it. I’m chalking it up to being newbies more than anything else. All the ingredients we had were high-quality, and the line snaked out the door by the time we left.
Dole Whip and shaved ice are ubiquitous in Maui. You can’t believe how many places you’ll see serving one or both. Thanks to a reader suggestion, we got our shave ice at Ululanis, and it was a real treat. We got macadamia nut ice cream in the center and topped it with a trio of shave ice syrups and a drizzle of sweetened condensed milk. Dole Whip is probably the opposite of shave ice in a way: fresh, creamy, tart and fruity. Don’t choose just one. Get both.
Mama’s Fish House is a Maui staple, and it made all my Polynesian Tiki kitsch dreams come true. Yeah, it’s cheesy, and its full of tourists, and it’s expensive, but it’s also damn good. I had the best panang curry I’ve ever had at Mama’s. I also had the best Mai Tai of the trip. And the best crab cakes. And the best oysters. And one of the more unusual dishes I’ve ever had: a fresh papaya stuffed with stir-fried seasoned beef and warm fruit. You really should go to Mama’s if you’re in Maui. It’s worth the hype.
Gerard’s deviates a bit from the rest of this list. It’s Hawaii meets old-school French cuisine. It was the only spot where we saw foie gras, and it took some local ingredients, like snapper, and served them as part of a Burgundian dish, snapper dumplings in an acidic sauce made with sorrel. Inside, Gerard’s is formal and mostly decorated in tones of mauve with white tablecloths. If you need a break from wearing flip flops and shorts and feel a little fancy, this is your spot.
Poi by the Pound
If you’ve read my writing for a while, you know that Matthew and I take a lot of joy in our casual Valentine’s Day tradition. So when he picked out a strip mall joint called “Poi by the Pound” for our Valentine’s Day dinner, it couldn’t have been more perfect. I had another Plate Dinner, this one featuring mostly pork and a big bowl of poi, a sort of cool yogurt made using taro root. He got another Hawaiian specialty: Loco Moco, which is burger patties and white rice topped with brown gravy and a fried egg. If all of this doesn’t scream romance, I don’t know what does.