Where to Eat in Maui
Unlike many tropical destinations, you won't have to sacrifice taste in this island paradise. Maui has some incredible restaurants--some by famous chefs from all over the world--and some of my favorites too.
Morimoto Maui holds a special place in my heart, for a lot of reasons. This particular location is my fave. Perhaps it’s the setting (the views from both the restaurant and the outside bar, particularly if you are lucky enough to dine at sunset, are incredible), or perhaps it’s the luck we’ve had (see below where I describe our Omokase meal personally made by Chef Morimoto), but for some reason the Morimoto in Maui is better than any other Morimoto restaurant I've been to. I've eaten here more than a dozen times and they are just so damn consistent. The service and the food is incredible. The fish is fresh, the food is imaginative, and the setting is just so breathtakingly beautiful. It really makes for a perfect dining experience.
The last time I dined there was definitely one of the best dining experiences of my life. As most people know, I love Morimoto restaurant and usually eat there just about every night I'm in Maui (or Boca, or Vegas, or Napa...). But my last dinner took the cake. Chef was in the restaurant and was just sort of supervising and not in the kitchen at all when we got there. When he heard we were sitting at the sushi bar and requested sushi omokase (which isn't on the menu but we've done it there before), we overheard him tell our waitress that he would personally make our omokase meal. And that's exactly what happened--he stood in front of us and made each and every dish, explaining how it's made, where the fish comes from, the technique used and exactly how it is to be eaten. Everything was incredible (as usual) and to top it off, he's just such a rad dude.
Do the omokase at the sushi bar. Have the otoro and the foie gras oysters. These dishes are seriously amazing. Some of my other favorites include the beef carpaccio, the uni shooters with duck egg, and the duck fried rice. And their ramen is awesome too if you don't want sushi (the broth is mind-blowingly good). Their omokase is an excellent option as well--it’s one of my favorite ways to dine there because you get so much variety. I typically prefer the sushi omokase, but the regular omokase (off the menu) is another good option, as it allows you to try all of their most popular dishes.
If you’re into cocktails, they balls boast a pretty incredible selection of booze too, with just about every Hibiki ever made and cult following bottles like Pappy Van Winkle and super exclusive sakes. Their Hawaiian 75s (their version of a French 75 but with lilikoi) are so tasty. Plus, their outdoor bar is absolutely stunning and you can watch the best sunsets right from your seat at the bar. Morimoto is easily our favorite restaurant on Maui.
I have mixed feelings about the Spago in Maui. I've eaten here probably a little over a half dozen times and it's just never very consistent. I have had some of the best and worst meals here. Its inconsistent food is really unfortunate because when it's good, it's REALLY good. Like, maybe even top ten dining experiences good. But I've also had meals when the same exact dishes that were incredible before are not good at all. If you are lucky enough to be there on a good night, it's 5 star. If you're unlucky, it's more like 2 stars for an abominably high price.
With that said, here's the good: the lamb and the roasted chicken entrees are absolutely phenomenal when cooked well. Though the chicken seems like a boring option (and I rarely order chicken at restaurants, unless I'm at a Thomas Keller restaurant or something), the chicken at Spago is A+. Crispy, well seasoned skin surrounding a chicken breast that is super juicy. And the lamb just has so much flavor. Their ahi tartare cones (an appetizer) are also really good. And if you're lucky, there's a good chance you will see Wolfgang if he is in town, since he usually likes to come out and greet the guests when he is there. My understanding is that he’s typically there fairly often.
Quite possibly one of my favorite things at Spago is their "Rolling Fog Over Mount Fuji" cocktail. I don't think it's on the menu anymore but if you ask they will still make it. I think they took it off the menu because the price of Hibiki went up, so that's why you'll be looking at like $25 a cocktail if you order it. It is so incredibly good though. The smokiness of the Hibiki, paired with the sour taste of the lemon juice and Aperol and the frothiness of the egg white make it quite possibly the best cocktail I have ever had. It's also possible that my good dining experiences at Spago were influenced by the fact that I had like seven Rolling Fogs.... but who knows.
Even though the restaurant is very inconsistent, I would still recommend it as a must-go while on Maui. I’d give it four stars because the good times and those Rolling Fogs definitely make up for the bad experiences. I suppose I'll just need to drink more Rolling Fogs each time...
Monkeypod is a true Hawaiian staple. They are known for their liliquoi foam mai tais, which are absolutely incredible and a little bit dangerous (boy do they creep up on you…). They are seriously amazing. The restaurant has a fun, casual atmosphere with a reasonably priced menu. Bar-like food is what they excel at best (think things like deviled eggs, wings, burgers, etc.) but there are also some random gems on the menu too. We seem to always be there during the NBA finals (since one of the attorney conferences I go to is held the second week in June), and Monkeypod is one of the best spots to watch the games. So if you’re looking for a place to watch a sporting event, check Monkeypod out first. Note, however, that if it’s on a day where they have live music, they probably won’t be able to turn the sound of the game on—not a complaint, just something to keep in mind.
Ka'ana Kitchen, also at Andaz, is one of my favorites. They do modern Hawaiian share plates and the food is spectacular. It’s mid-priced with an upscale feel and incredible craft cocktails. If you’re looking for Hawaiian ingredients and traditional Hawaiian favorites, but with a modern culinary twist, Ka’ana kitchen is your best bet.
Mama’s is super famous and touristy, but worth it. We usually hit up Mama's for a mai tai and lunch after we land cause it's pretty close to Kahului. It's relatively spendy but not crazy for lunch (and just as good--I think the lunch and dinner menus might be the same, just priced differently), so I think lunch is your best bet. Their appetizers are actually my favorite. The fried fish collar, ceviche, macadamia nut crab cakes, and the crispy whole fish are my favorites. As Maui’s most famous restaurant by far, Mama’s surprisingly lives up to the hype. If it’s the sunset you’re after, be sure to book a reservation—and book one early.
Another great thing about Mama's is it's close to Paia, the cute little Maui town that is oh so boho-chic. Paia is just 10 minutes away, so you can pop in to one of many cute swimwear stores to grab a bikini for your trip.
You definitely need a res at Mama's though, so plan ahead, even if only going for lunch.
Duke’s Beach House
Duke's Beach House is kind of like Mama's. The food isn't mind blowing but it's famous like Mama's and it's very Hawaiian. Worth it for the Hawaiian feel and the views. Just be prepared for it being touristy (which usually makes me steer clear of places like that, but it's okay every once in a while).
For foodies, The Pint & Cork in the Wailea Shops features upscale appetizers, salads and sandwiches for lunch and dinner, with a nice selection of wine and beer.
I often hear people recommend Merriman's. I personally would skip it. It's got great views and is in an awesome location, but it's touristy and expensive and the food is just average. There’s a lot of that in Maui unfortunately.
I also would skip Lahaina Grill for the same reasons as for Merrimans. I’m not saying it's terrible, but I don't think it's worth the price. It's kind of the "nice" place that all the Midwestern tourists will go to for a splurge. If you want fine dining and want to spend that kind of money, go spend it at Spago or Morimoto. Or go to one of the restaurants at the Ritz.
The poké at Da Kitchen Cafe is super famous and good if you want cheap and easy. (UPDATE: I heard this place closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Let's hope it reopens!)
Get Lappert's Ice Cream. Once you can identify the smell, you'll be able to smell it from a mile away. They're known for their waffle cones. I'm not even a huge ice cream person but that shit is pretty damn good.
There's a pretty well known Hawaiian brewery that has a bar/restaurant in I think either Kaanapali or Lahaina. Kona maybe? I can't recall but their Bikini Blonde is my fave.
The Burger Spot at Ritz Carlton Kapalua (photo above with the sweet potato fries. Killer burgers with even better views.
And that's it! If you find some great restaurants in Maui, please let me know! I'm always looking for good new spots.
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