The flavors that dominate Hawaii's foodscape are incredibly varied—from Polynesian favorites like kalua pork to farm to table Molokai sweet potatoes to comfort foods like spam musubi (a slice of grilled Spam on top of a block of rice and wrapped with nori) to Asian specialties that run the gamut from spicy noodle dishes to sushi.
It's not hard to find an excellent meal on the island of Maui. Whether you're looking for haute cuisine, an authentic Polynesia meal, or simple fare sold from a roadside stand, you'll find plenty of options across the island. Don't go back to the mainland without making these foodie stops...
We'll warn you. If you go to Star Noodle early on in your vacation, you'll want to go back for every meal. Their specialties—like yakitori, ahi belly, miso salmon, saimin, and Singapore noodles—are just next-level good. Located in the Lahaina Business Park, Star Noodle is a favorite with locals and tourists alike. And if you didn't make reservations, get there early (the restaurant opens at 10:30 am) to snag a table. Noodles are made in house and the bar offers sake flights, fruity specialty drinks (like a concoction of cranberry and yuzu, a citrus fruit from East Asia), and traditional cocktails. For dessert, sample Portuguese malasadas (donuts), mango pudding, or homemade ice cream.
Leoda's Kitchen and Pie Shop
Families and groups will feel especially welcome at Leoda's Kitchen and Pie Shop, which proffers a casual atmosphere. Order at the counter and then find a seat. The menu consists of delicious sandwiches (seared ahi tuna on grilled rye bread with avocado, caramelized Kula onion, jarlsberg cheese, and basil pesto), burgers served on potato rolls, hotdogs, savory handheld pies, and potpies. Side dishes are squarely on the comfort food end of the scale and include things like crisp French fries with garlic aioli, fried mac and cheese, and creamy scalloped potatoes. Interesting salads include the unusual fried salad of mixed greens, Brussels sprout leaves, celery leaves, radish, and mint tossed with a burnt orange vinaigrette. Even if you don't currently have room for dessert, order one of Leoda's delicious single-serving pies to go. Macnut choc praline, coconut cream, and yuzu-lemon tart are crowd favorites but there's also apple crumb, banana cream, berry, and pumpkin.
Braddah Hutts BBQ Grill
If you make the trek to Hana by way of the famous 68-mile-long Hana Highway with its narrow roads and 59 bridges (46 of which are hair raising one laners), you will be rewarded. Just head to Braddah Hutts BBQ Grill for lunch. This simple food truck with seating at picnic tables under a canopy offers amazing plate lunches like BBQ chicken and pork, short ribs, fish tacos, seared ahi tuna, and shrimp pasta. Sides are the ubiquitous scope of white rice and macaroni salad. This food truck does accept credit cards and is open from 11 am until the food runs out (usually before 2 pm).
Mama's Fish House
If you love seafood and fine dining in a beautiful beachside setting, don't miss Mama's Fish House. This establishment has been a favorite among locals for special occasions since it opened in 1963. The menu, which changes daily, features locally caught fish and seafood with appetizers like island prawns in a Taha'a vanilla sauce, wasabi-crusted calamari, a crispy mahi mahi roll, macadamia nut crab cakes, and ahi cheek with a soy-chili dipping sauce. (Meat lovers look no further than the beef Polynesian-style that's grilled in a ripe papaya.) There are a ton of main courses to choose from so be sure to order a mai tai while you mull over the options. Mama's offers a traditional Hawaiian platter that includes mahi mahi, Big Island wild boar kalua, octopus luau, and ahi poke with baked Hana banana, Molokai sweet potato, lomi-lomi, fresh poi, and Haiku lilikoi (passion fruit).
Few tourists give this hole in the wall a shot, but that's their mistake. For an inexpensive, satisfying Hawaiian plate lunch or a Japanese meal, there's no better spot than Sam Sato's. This place is renowned for its dry noodles, BBQ beef sticks, spare ribs, and—for dessert—azuki bean manju pastry and turnovers filled with coconut, pineapple-peach, or blueberry. There can be a long wait for a table during lunchtime. It's a perfect spot for anyone visiting the nearby Iao Valley State Park, too. Just keep in mind that it's only open from 7 am-2 pm Monday–Saturday.
Roadside Huli Huli Chicken
Anyone visiting Maui should be on the lookout for huli huli chicken, often sold at the roadside near beach parking or along the Hana Highway. Local cooks take their grills out to the road and prepare this island favorite that was originally developed by Ernie Morgado of Pacific Poultry. The secret to the teriyaki chicken recipe, which is turned over a hot grill until cooked through—is the marinade consisting of ketchup, soy sauce, brown sugar, honey, sherry, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, Worchestershire sauce, chili paste, and lemon.
Andrea M. Rotondo is a freelance writer based in New York City. She covers cruise news and luxury travel trends for Fodors.com and writes for a variety of outlets, including her website Luxury Travel Mavens. Follow her on Twitter: @luxtravelmavens.
Photo credit: Star Noodle courtesy of Stephanie Hua; Mama's Fish House courtesy of Leonard Hospidor; Leoda's Kitchen and Pie Shop courtesy of Leoda's Kitchen and Pie Shop; Braddah Hutts courtesy of Daveynin/Flickr; Huli Huli Chicken courtesy of Arnold Gatilao/Flickr