We are a 40 something couple from Seattle here enjoying a week without our 4 kids. We are hard working middle class people but no not mind splurging on great food while on vacation. We have received such valuable advice here that we felt the need to chime in and add our reviews so other travelers can benefit.
We left Seattle Saturday morning on the (blissfully) nonstop alaska flight to Maui, arriving without a hitch, hungry and in time for lunch. We immediately headed to "A Saigon Cafe" - a vietnamese place near the airport. Wonderful inexpensive food in a humble little restaurant. Very friendly funny owner. We shared a Mahi-Mahi hot pot which was delicious - savory chunks oftender mahi-mahi in a salty black bean sauce baked in a clay pot, you fish out nummy chunks and eat it with rice. hmmmmm. We also had a spicy eggplant dish (not very spicy, despite request for 5 stars) that was also delicious, as well as a good green papaya salad that comes with a very good lime dressing and peanuts. We could not finish it all - generous portions. The table next to us had a platter of crispy duck and broccoli that looked very good, they seemed to enjoy it and we will try that as well when we return to this fun little restaurant. Back in our car and on our way, we made the drive to Lahaina. There are lots of places to stay on Maui - each has their own personality - but for us, Lahaina is the best. We LOVE food, and Lahaina has the greatest concentration of fabulous restaurants within walking distance of each other. Since we LOVE food and don't want to become enormously fat, we also (thankfully) love to walk, and start each morning with a light breakfast and a 1 hour walk before we go out in search of awsome eats for lunch and dinner. Lahaina is perfect for walkers, as there is much to see, Whales breaching off shore, much people watching, safe comfortable streets, etc. We are not into golf, and do not like being stuck in a big resort, so the Kaanapali area is out for us. Kihei is nice, but fairly spread out, so it is harder to get from here to there on foot and driving and parking is sometimes such a hassle. We have found a gem of a condo place called Aina Nalu. They have one and two bedroom condos that are fully self sufficient with full kitchens, washing machines, TV's in bedrooms and living room, coffee makers, hair dryers, etc. We are just the two of us, but rented the 2 bedroom condo anyway as we like having the 2nd bathroom and its pretty much the same price anyway. We stayed here last year as well and both units were very much the same (I think the property provides the furniture?) and both equally nice. One was an upper floor unit, one was a ground floor unit, both were great. They are not ocean view, but are a short 2 block walk to the water. The property has a huge gorgeous pool with a fabulous big pool cabana with bathrooms, as well as smaller lounging cabanas. There are very comfortable lounging chairs all around the pool or places to lounge in the shade around the pool if you have had too much sun. There is a kitchen area in the pool cabana and some families met there for big potluck dinners - maybe nice for a big family gathering. We rented last year through the Aina Nalu directly and this year through Maui oceanfront rentals. Both times the unit for a week was under $200 a day. A very good deal for Maui. The couch in the living room is a hide a bed so this 2 bedroom unit could very comfortably accomodate a family of 6 - we have stayed in many hotels, condo's and rental homes on vacation and this one is a VERY good value. Once settled in our condo unit we headed out to the grocery store. Two good stores nearby, Safeway (just like back on the mainland, just way more expensive) and Foodland. We shop at foodland because we are mostly after fresh local fruit, good coffee (get the 100 % Kona, it is more expensive but well worth it) and Ahi Poke. The local fruit does not seem to be available at the safeway... we are always wanting some fresh avacodos, papaya (so yummy with lime), fresh pineapple, mangos (if in season) and Kula strawberries (which are very sweet, grown here on Maui). Fruit prices are about half as much at the foodland. Ahi Poke is Raw sashimi grade tuna, cut into chunks, mixed with soy sauce, onions and obviously other magical stuff because it is like crack for me. I love the stuff. Foodland (or all places!) has a great selection of different varieties and they will let you sample a piece before you decide. If you get up to the kaanapali area, there is an even BETTER place to buy Ahi Poke called the fish market, great fresh fish, wonderful lobster salad ($19.99 a pound) and very fresh ahi poke (16.99 a pound). Honestly though, the foodland poke is almost as good. I am kind of a weird breakfast eater and like to start my day with a 1/2 cup or so of the ahi poke, a half avacodo with salt and pepper, some coffee and fresh fruit. Sometimes some maui potato chips too. Or some whoppers with the coffee. I had to throw that in because it was sounding like I was some weird healthy eater, which I am definately not. I am an equal opportunity snacker and all food that is good will do. Anyway - after shopping for a few items, we swam for a while, took a walk around town, then headed off to the Lahaina Grill for dinner. Had reservations, which was good as they were busy. Lahaina Grill is supposed to be THE restaurant, and I so wanted to be impressed... but wasn't. My husband had the lambchops, the presentation was beautiful, but the lamb was gamey - not like I have ever tasted lamb to be and not really a pleasant taste. It reminded me of the one time I tasted venison after a friend went hunting - full of a strong blood smell and not that great. I ordered the beef carpaccio which was very very good - quite generous portion and very well done. For dinner, I ordered a side order of roasted beets, which if you cooked them at home for your own family would be passable, but at the Lahaina Grill in Maui for an $8 side dish, I wanted to be wowed - they were boring. They tasted like cold canned beets. Nothing at all special there. I also had the $24 ahi appetizer, it was just ok. Honestly, not as good as that foodland ahi. certainly not worth anywhere near $24. Worst of all, the waiter seemed enchanted with the couple seated next to us and spent most of the evening standing between our two tables visiting and chatting with them and ignoring us. We waited a long 10 minutes after our coffee was finished and we were ready to go before he noticed and brought us our bill. We are pretty easy to please food patrons but for a very top rated restaurant, we felt they missed on both the food and the service. We will not go back.
On a much better note, we visited Mala for dinner the next night and absolutely loved it. We had made a reservation (also a good idea) and they were very busy upon our arrival but found us a table on the deck right away. This is a fairly loud and crowded little restaurant on the water at the north end of town by the Mala boat ramp. I would consider it a hidden gem. The locals have obviously found it and make up much of the crowd. The food is out of this world. It is a caual restaurant and you can wear whatever you want. The deck outside can be a little windy but it is beautiful and romantic outside and a better place to sit. If you arrive before dark you will see turtles in the water below. I ordered a ahi-bruchetta that is fabulous, even if you are not a real raw fish lover. There is a small piece of ahi sashima on top, but honestly, you could eat the bruchetta without the fish and it would be just as good. It is a crunchy earthy grainy type bread spread with something delicious and green and then some veggies (tomatoes? I can't remember). The dish is a total 5 star though. I then had the whole wok fried fish (a sea bass) with sauteed mushrooms on top of whipped potatoes. The sea bass was served piping hot and cooked to perfection - the very attentive waiter offered to help me debone it but I knew how to pull the big sweet hunks of meat from the bones - he brought me an extra "bone" plate and I ate the whole thing. The shitake mushrooms served with the fish were probably the best mushrooms I have ever eaten. My husband had the mixed fish stir fry and he nearly licked the plate, he loved every bite. We also had the beet and goat cheese salad - the disk of goat cheese comes to the table crisp on the outside and oozy warm on top of decadent beets - again, he ate every bite. For desert we had the carmel fruit thing (top of their desert menu - I can't remember the name) - we were pretty full by then so they offered to make us a 1/2 size portion of it to share - oh my god, it was delicious and beautiful and even at 1/2 size it was huge. It is a chocolate disk of some kind in the middle, surrounded with a pinwheel of gorgeous fresh fruits (6 or 8 kinds) each of which is at the perfect stage of ripeness, all drizzled with yummy thin carmel and I think there was fresh whipped cream in there as well. Absolutely a perfect finish. We asked the waiter to tell the chef that we had eaten at Lahaina Grill the night before and had FAR more enjoyed our experience at Mala.
Last year we drove the road to Hana - a pretty drive, but we have been to costa rica and belize and once you have driven down a jungly road, "what's the big deal?" so this year we decided to explore upcountry. Being an animal and flower lover, we decided to go see Surfing goat dairy (cute name, the goats do not surf) and Ali Kai lavendar farm. I did not really get either one. At the lavendar farm, there is a $12 guided tour through the landscaping, or you can just walk through on your own for free. The lavendar was not blooming in February, so it was a bit blah. They have lovely flower beds around the house, and a cute gift store with very high prices. It just did not seem like much of a destination. We then headed over to the goat farm and again were disappointed. Their on-line web page promises "play with our goat kids" - but they have signs up that say "no way, payed tours only". You can clearly see all of the goats in their pens, so I guess you take the payed tour just to be able to go in and pet them. You can buy their cheese there, but you can also buy it at the grocery store, so again - not much worth the drive. There were some goats in pens right at the entrance and you can (gosh) pet those ones for free through the fencing, so at least I got my animal love fix without having to pay much. We certainly don't mind paying for tours, but we usually find them too long and get bored before the tour is over. So, back in our car and on our way. We were now hungry, so headed to the haliimaile general store. We have had some fabulous meals here in the past. It is very expensive but very good. They close for lunch at 230, so don't be too late. This time we had an off experience - not related to the food (it was excellent) but related to the service. Our server took our drink order and then said she would come back to take our food order. 10 minutes later, no drinks, but she is back for our food order and aske us "so just water today?" we gave her our drink order again (my husband had the $3.50 dollar diet coke which she brought to him in what looked like a 6 oz tall skinny glass which he finished in 3 gulps. She asked if he would like a refill and added "refills cost $2." Hmmm, I am thinking that a restaurant that charges upwards of $50 for two people to have a light lunch should maybe consider giving FREE refills of the 10 cent soda out of the soda machine, but he said "yes please". She did not bring his refill. He finished his meal, we waited a while, THEN she showed up with his refill. this time in a large glass. Very weird. Definately not the attentive service I would expect from a restaurant of this caliber. And our late arriving refill was dutifully noted on our bill with a $2 charge. It kind of soured us for the whole Hallimaile general store experience. It is a heck of a drive from lahaina - worth it to be pampered a bit, not worth it for inattentive service and a $25 lunch salad.
Again, on a better note - we have found some FABULOUS lunch spots. We are equal opportunity diners and are just as happy munching $5 meals as $50 meals, caring more about friendly personel and delicious quality food. We found Leodas Pie kitchen - it is on the road coming into Lahaina from the airport, before you get into town, on the right hand side of the road by a little mini market and fruit stand. Just about everything in there is fall over good. It is a beautiful little restaurant (think martha stewart type decor) with god-like food. They make pies of many kinds as well as hand pies (pie crust folded over with savory fillings). They also make sandwiches - it is now my personal quest to sample everything on their menu. We split a Hamn sandwich (fresh bread made on premise toasted with ham, cheese, basil pesto and a tomato relish - probably the best sandwhich I have ever eaten) and a corn handpie. The crust was delicous (maybe a bit too thick?) and the corn and cheese filling was wonderful. My only criticism about the crust was it was so very good I wanted to eat the whole thing and could feel my thighs getting bigger as I nibbled. I was too full for a mac nut tart but my mouth is watering for one.
We also found a little tiny taco place called Ono Taco - up near Kaanapali - a little green house with a very nice guy making fresh hot taco's. They are $3 each. We tried the fish tacos, shrimp tacos, beef tacos. ALL of his condiments were delicious, fresh homemade salsas and guacamole. All three varieties of taco were wonderful, but the SHRIMP TACO's were out of this world. My recommendation is get 1 fish taco, two shrimp tacos, top with onion and cilantro, a spoonful of guac, and the medium salsa, and slide right into heaven. That good. And for $9. cant be beat.
As far as shave ice - there is lots of debate here.... I am a little rogue because I prefer the shave ice at Local boys (near the banyan tree). I like the texture of their ice, I love their juices (not quite as sweet as some others but with more flavor I think) and I love the sweet gently very kind people that work there. I was walking by this morning at 930 wanting a shave ice, the owner (one of the local boys) was cleaning up inside - he let me come in through the closed door and said "we are not open yet but I can make you a shave ice" with a big smile. Just a totally authentic kind person. You can get free mochi balls (try it, very good) and a cream cap (sweet cream poured over the top of your shave ice, SO good) for free. $5 for the medium sized shave ice - delicious flavors (try the local girl). Heaven.
Being animal lovers, we wanted to get closer to the whales that we see blowing and cresting out in the water offshore. It seemed to us that there was a lot more whale activity in the afternoon than in the morning so we booked a 4pm whale watching tour with Hawaii ocean rafting (from the harbor behind the banyan tree). You go out for two hours in a big inflatable zodiac. You can just wear shorts and a t shirt, you don't get wet. The boat is very stable and safe and holds 10-16 people. The water gets a bit rougher in the afternoon on some days so make sure you don't get seasick from waves - pretty stable boat though. The trip costs $39 each and is totally cool. 2 hours is plenty of time to spend with the whales. You zip right out in the very fast zodiac and are in and amongst the whales as they breach (lift their heads out of the water) and chase each other around. Noni - the woman on the boat with the captain - puts her head down into the water with a mask and snorkle on and calls to the whales - they actually come closer when they hear her. We learned that all the whale activity is a female being pursued by males, the largest (or sexiest one) stays close to her until she is ready to mate and the other less desirable males chase the couple around wishing they had a date. It makes for lots of afternoon whale action and the tour was totally fun and a bargain for the wow factor. The captain ( I can't remember his name) were very fun and informative. An appropriate tour for all ages and I think way better than the larger boats because the zodiac puts you closer to the whales.
As far as beaches - we love Fleming state park - beautiful, but the downside is the water is a little unsafe - strong undertoe and crashing waves on the beach - fun for boarders but not safe for little ones. This beach is usually very windy too, so hard to relax on a beach towel with the constant turrent of grainy sand thrown at you. We had a very enjoyable day at the beach today on "baby beach" - totally still water protected by an outer rim of rocks. Shallow calm water to swim in - not much fish action for snorklers. The perfect beach for a lazy day of sunning, reading, picnicking - close to town (you can walk - we did) and a safe spot to get wet when you are hot. There are also a number of beaches on the way out of lahaina (the road to the airport) that are beautiful and you can pull your car right up to the sand. Great place to drink wine in the sand and watch the whales off shore in the evening. (OOPS, i did not say that - I am sure that wine drinking on the sand is a no no).
Last night for dinner, we went to David Pauls and had a fabulous meal. I ordered tuna carpaccio for an appetizer and could not decide between two fish entrees (salmon and pink snapper). The waiter suggested that I could have a 1/2 portion of each as a split entree - this option is available for any of the seafood choices - how wonderful! They brought me two plates that actually seemed like a pretty generous single serving each, all of the side dishes for each were included and it was an awesome way to go. Both the BLT salmon (think pan seared salmon on top of sauteed butter spinach, with crispy bacon pieces and roasted tomatoes) and the pink snapper with sauteed maui onions, polenta and onion Jus were 100 % awesome. My husband had an equally delicious new york steak and a "to die for" beet salad (what is it with us and beets?) that was so nummy he did not even give me a bite. even their bread rolls are delicious and served with avacodo butter. I had a glass of wine (I am not really "in the know" about wine, but like it) that was a pinot noir and called something like moemi? It was hands down the best glass of wine of my life. It tasted like a whole culinary adventure in a glass. definately recommend it. The chef (david paul, who used to be the chef at Lahaina grill) came out to greet diners and could be seen hard at work in the kitchen - seems to really care about your dining experience. The waiters are respectful, friendly, helpful. They care about what you like and want you to have a good time. They make suggestions to enhance your experience. This is everything I want in a restaurant. It is a beautiful ocean front location - fabulous carefully prepared food, attentive and helpful wait staff - a perfect 10 of dining. If you were looking for a perfect fine dining experience, I would come here. If you were looking for all of the above but wanted to wear casual clothes and did not mind a louder atmosphere, I would go to Mala. I would not spend my money again at Lahaina Grill or Hallimaile general store. I would HAPPILY go to Ono tacos for lunch, Leodas pie kitchen for lunch or dinner, and one more great lunch spot I forgot to mention - Cilantros. It is a casual take out (or dine in) fast food looking restaurant that is anything but fast food. They have delicious fresh prepared mexican food. I have food fantasies about the "mother clucker flautas". They are rolled up flour tortillas stuffed with awesome delicious shredded chicken and spices, topped with some kind of delicious sweet green sauce and a sour cream sauce, comes with beans (get the black beans) and rice. the come perfectly crispy and totally fresh, eat them right away for best effect. The roasted chicken here and the pork is also totally awesome. Thats all we have sampled at Cilantros, but highly recommended.
Headed off to Star noodle tonight -
Have reservations at Merrimans on Friday
Probably will go to Mala again this week
Thinking about going horseback riding or biking down the crater
Have a bottom fishing trip (630 am! yikes!) scheduled for Friday morning out of Kihei - we will see how that goes.
Oh - had a fabulous "zen" massage from Maui zen, $125 for 90 minutes. Specifically request Mary-Jane if you can - best massage I have ever had. Also - a great walk is straight up the lahainaluna road up to the lahainaluna school at the top. Takes about 1/2 hour - gorgeous view from up there, and the more you walk the more you get to eat!
Signing out - hope everyone is having as wonderful a vacation as we are.
Ok - sorry so wordy, I get excited when talking about good food