Top 10 restaurants on Maui

Being isolated in the middle of the world’s largest body of water doesn’t mean you have to be isolated from top notch cuisine. On the contrary, so many cultures mingle in these off-the-beaten-path locales, some of the best food in the world can be had here. Maui’s cuisine is an example of one of these melting pot food cultures. Native cuisine, Asian accents, mainland staples, and completely new creations mix to form a very fun island dining experience.

Picking the top 10 restaurants on Maui is like picking the ten best places to drink in Ireland. The variety of menu options, price ranges, and atmospheres can be mind-boggling to a tourist only on Maui for a short time. Lucky for you we’ve done the research (read: extensive eating and sampling) and selected some of the best places to get your grub on. These picks cover a wide variety of cuisines and are hot spots for both locals and visitors.
Mama’s Fish House

Mama’s (photo above) is the place all romance-seeking couples must visit before leaving the island. Many walk away with tears in their eyes – both from the extraordinary service and food, and from the price of their check. Mama’s is not cheap. In fact, the prices are down right outrageous. But a meal at Mama’s is required dining, and for good reason, the restaurant has a long tradition of being the most romantic spot on the entire island. There aren’t many places that can rival the perfectly curved palm trees and immaculately manicured garden grounds in the light of a Maui sunset. After the valet parks your car, because there are no other parking options, stroll through the grounds to see the outrigger canoe and a traditional wooden tiki before being seated. The menu typically includes fish caught off the shores that day by local fishermen. The name of the angler who pulled your fish in will be listed on the menu above the description. The service is impeccable – we didn’t even notice when our glasses were being filled. The chef prepares some scrumptious dishes and incorporates fresh local ingredients such as coconut and macadamia nuts.

As mentioned, the valet parking is a must, since the space for your ride is non-existent beyond what is reserved for valet. The restaurant is located just beyond Paia on Hana Highway. There is no slow night at Mama’s, so reservations are highly recommended. Dinner for two and a bottle of wine will easily set you back a few hundred dollars. The food and service will impress, for sure, but it’s the million-dollar sunset you’re paying the premium for. If celebrating a special occasion, let them know when you make your reservation – a personalized card will await you along with other special treats.

Merriman’s at Kapalua

Mama’s may be the place the locals recommend to tourists, but Merriman’s is the place they keep to themselves. Merriman’s prices could put a dent in your vacation budget, but the food will be etched in your memory forever as one of the best dining experiences you’ve had. The chef, Peter Merriman, takes the “farm to table” concept and makes it a reality with this restaurant. Working hand-in-hand with local fisherman and farmers he has sculpted a menu packed with fresh-from-the-garden (and sea) foods that explode with flavor.

Merriman’s features several organic menu items and the friendly management and staff pride themselves on the restaurant’s support of locally grown foods. Of the menu items we tried, the butterfish with lobster was superb, and the scallops (pictured above) were creamy and seasoned to perfection. Since the fish is caught only hours before it hits your plate, it holds its full taste. Both menu items we tried paired well with the grenache we ordered. The wine list is extensive and has something for every taste. Merriman’s makes for an excellent alternative to Mama’s for your fine dining experience on the island. Located north of Lahaina, this indulgence is situated in the Ritz Carlton complex.

Fred’s Mexican Cafe

Now that we’ve gotten a few of the more foo-foo places out of the way, let’s talk affordable fun. Fred’s may not be a likely name for a Mexcian restaurant, but you’ll soon forget the name once you peruse their authentic Mexican choices. Fronting South Kihei Road, the main drag in Kihei, this double-decker restaurant/bar sees its fair share of traffic. Breakfast is a good choice at Fred’s, with excellent bloody marys and homemade muffins. Several shops and a busy local beach are located within walking distance making it a great lunch stop while you’re out exploring. Walk off that huge burrito after lunch, or just let it cook in your belly while sleeping in the sand. Lunches will cost $20-$30 for two including drink and tip, which is considered a cheap lunch on Maui.

Pupu Lounge Seafood & Grill

This is another Kihei favorite that doesn’t break the bank. Pupu means appetizer in Hawaiian, and you’ll find pupus all over the island. You can even buy a shirt here flaunting the fact that you ate their pupu. Interestingly enough, the Pupu Lounge isn’t the cleanest place. In fact it might be a little off-putting upon arrival with the dingy carpet and the scattered dirty tables. Squint your eyes a bit and allow enough time for your food to show up. You’ll be happy you stuck around. Seafood reigns here and they pride themselves on how fresh it is at the Pupu Lounge. Fried or grilled, they have a variety of the ocean’s bounty ready to be cooked up. Or if you prefer your food a little less cooked, try the ceviche. Ceviche is seafood, often shrimp or fish, that has been marinated in lime juice and spices. It is not cooked in the traditional sense. Instead the meat is broken down by the acidity of the lime juice. The Pupu Lounge has some of the best ceviche on the island, and if you like lime, cilantro, and seafood, you’ll be a happy camper.

Star Noodle

Star Noodle is located in Lahaina – well sort of in Lahaina. At the top of Kupuohi Street there is a small warehouse district, and tucked into the back of this is Star Noodle. Its location makes it a somewhat hidden gem in west Maui. While most tourists in Lahaina stick to the shops and restaurants on Front Street, those who venture up the hill a bit will find something special.

Sure, Star Noodle is a fun noodle restaurant, as you would expect, but their pupu selection is extensive as well. This makes for a great place to appetize into bliss, and snagging food off a table mate’s plate is acceptable, and completely expected. Prices are affordable at around $10 a plate, making this is a place you can bring the family and keep the bill to a minimum with wise ordering strategies. Star Noodle opens for dinner at 5:30 and the locals flock, so be there when the doors open or be ready for a wait. If you do have to wait, it’s worth it.

Big Wave Cafe

Back in the south Maui town of Kihei there is a mythical breakfast joint which breaks the laws of the Maui universe – Big Wave Cafe. The food is excellent, the seating is open-air, and the coffee is delicious and hot. Breakfast is breakfast though, right? Wrong. Maui has its share of waffle, omelet, and muffin slingers, but Big Wave has something most of the others don’t, mainland prices. The regular menu prices are affordable but if you eat before 9am you will be treated to a combination breakfast with meat, eggs, coffee, and more for as little as $3.99. Trust me when I tell you that a Maui meal for two coming in under $10 is as rare as a mountain in Kansas. That is, unless you are a big fan of Taco Bell.

Ono Gelato

Ono means “Good” in the native language and “Gelato” is an Italian ice cream delicacy – and “good ice cream” is exactly what they do at Ono Gelato. They serve up this whipped creamy delight in three different towns across the island – Paia, Lahaina, and Kihei. Ono Gelato may be considered an ice cream shop, and not a restaurant per say, but it’s still a must-try eatery on the island. Made fresh every day, Ono Gelato believes that, “gelato tastes better with organic ingredients” and “cows should just say no to drugs.” After sampling enough flavors to substitute a meal, I agree wholeheartedly. Their locally grown fruits are busting with flavor and the organic whole milk gives the gelato a rich texture. With dairy and non-dairy versions of their frozen specialty, and flavors ranging from coconut to doughnut, everyone in your group should be able to find something to love.

Buzz’s Wharf

The atmosphere is decent, the service is fair, and the view of the harbor is good enough. So why did Buzz’s Wharf make the top 10 restaurants on Maui list? I have one word for you – shrimp. More specifically, the markea prawns flown in from New Caledonia in the south pacific. Buzz’s is the only place on the island you can get these delectable little sea monkeys. These prawns don’t taste like your average shrimp from the gulf of Mexico or Thailand though. The markea prawn tricks your palette into thinking you’ve just tasted a lobster rather than a shrimp. This doppelganger won’t set you back as much as its larger crustacean cousin.

The Tahitian platter costs under $30 and features the markea prawns. Dipping the tender meat into hot butter could convert even the most dedicated of lobster lovers. Dinner is the best time to indulge here. Enjoy watching the waves crash on the rocks, the lights of south Maui, and of the boats docked just outside in Ma’alaea harbor as you scarf down your lobster-like shrimp.

Sea House

Situated on Napili Bay, this favorite of west Maui has stellar sunset views. The sundown spectacle draws hordes of diners to Sea House every day. The location is directly on the beach, and perfect for romantics who want to enjoy the sun slipping below the horizon. The prices at lunch can accommodate a family on a budget. The combination of families at lunch and lovers at dinner is the secret to Sea House’s success – that and the food. Lobster, filet mignon, and a host of sushi and salad options provide enough variety to satisfy anyone. Sea House is located in the Napili Kai Beach Resort, north of Lahaina.

Cheeseburger Restaurants

Formerly known as “Cheeseburger in Paradise” this chain has adjusted its name due to some trademark conflicts with a certain island-hopping, guitar-strumming crooner. Cheeseburger Restaurants may seem like a generic brand for a business, and hopefully they’ll fix that, but their burgers are not generic in the least. Your cravings for meat will be satisfied here by plump portions of beef stacked with melted cheese and the crisp veggies of your choice. The original locations sits on the shore on Front Street in Lahaina, and this two-story open-air building is a fantastic place to catch a sunset, drink a talk cold one, and fill your belly. The fries at Cheeseburger are fat, salty, and delicious too. What did you expect from a high class burger joint?

Cheeseburger offers a truly Hawaiian restaurant experience, but don’t be surprised when you hit Vegas and see that the chain has spread its wings and landed on the strip. A good restaurant can’t be held down.

The Cadillac of ziplines – Kapalua Sunset Zipline Tours

Even if you’ve been on a zipline before, you probably haven’t seen anything like the Kapalua Adventure Sunset Zipline Tour. First of all, as you may have noticed in the title, they offer a sunset trip, which means that you not only see stunning scenery in an adventurous context, but you see it under the sexy colors of the Hawaiian Sunset.

The zip course features sit-down harnesses — it’s like zipping in a hanging chair — and most of their tracks are tandem, meaning you can zip with a friend next to you or, if you’re the competitive sort, race.

Beyond the spectacular views and comfortable seats, the course itself is rather impressive on its own. It towers at 1,400 feet above sea level and has ziplines up to 2,300 feet long. It also includes a ropes course, a rock wall for climbing, a giant swing between two 60-foot telephone poles and a suspension bridge that looks like San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge (see gallery). They have retired military vehicles to transport you up the luscious mountainside, and can provide windbreakers for that high-altitude wind.

Even the first-timers in my group felt safe and comfortable — you know, once they got the first line out of the way. And everyone was floored by the scenery. Check out the gallery and send it to your friends or spouse for vacay leverage.

Visit their website to book a tour or charter your own, and be sure and ask about the Full Moon package if sunset isn’t enough for you and you’d prefer to fly through the dark.
This trip was paid for by Kapalua Resort & The Ritz-Carlton, but the views expressed within the post are 100% my own.

Kapalua, Hawaii – 23,000 acres of Maui Heaven

Kapalua, Hawaii is an exclusive resort destination which is something of a best-kept-secret on the island of Maui. I hadn’t heard of it a few months ago, and now I can’t wait to go back.

Before we get into the delicious details, allow me to briefly make my case for why vacationing in Hawaii is like, the best idea ever:
1. All the comforts of home. As I mentioned in my article about the rainforest, Maui has Office Max, Barnes & Noble, Baskin Robbins; everything you secretly didn’t want to go without on your vacation.
2. In addition to the comforts of home, there are also active volcanoes, rainforests, and all your tropical adventure activities like zip-lining, parasailing and more — and don’t you feel a little safer doing that stuff in America, where you know insurance must be bananas?
3. Your money is good here. No changing of currency not only means you don’t have to do math, but you are also less likely to be ripped off by locals whose dollars are worth something else.
4. No customs, no passports, no weird, unexpected laws.
5. The time change works in your favor. Wanna sleep late? You can get away with it, because if you’re coming from the continental US or Canada, Hawaii is a few hours behind. I came from New York, so I would get up at 6 AM feeling like I slept till noon.
6. It’s freaking Hawaii. And yes, it is that gorgeous.

Onto Kapalua and the three places you can stay. Here’s one:
%Gallery-73767%So. Unless you’re into boats, Kapalua is typically reached by flying into Maui’s OGG international airport, then driving about 50 minutes around the perimeter of the island. Yes, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but there’s a volcano in your way (pesky) and it’s a beautiful drive.

There are three places you can stay in Kapalua, making it far more exclusive than Lahaina (which you pass on the way), where everyone and their mother has a hotel. The first and most beautiful digs in this blogger’s opinion is the Ritz-Carlton Club and Residences, nestled stylishly on Kapalua Bay, just steps from some of the best scuba diving and snorkeling in the world. The Residences consists of 84 private ownership properties which start at $4 million. If that’s laughably steep to you, consider the Club — 62 fully-furnished, deeded one-twelfth ownership properties (basically timeshares) which start at $350,000. The Club and Residences are elegantly appointed and fabulously designed — the architecture is stunning and distinctly Hawaiian — and extremely convenient to golf, the brand new Kapalua Spa, and more. Ownership also includes exclusive access to the Ritz-Carlton Club and Residences’ dining and pool, which are not to be missed. Click here for more on all that.

Now, let’s talk about accommodations for those of us who aren’t into buying (or don’t have 350 grand to spare); there’s the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua and the Kapalua Villas.The Kapalua Villas are a great choice for families, as they’re condo-style rentals complete with parking spaces and a large pineapple in every fridge. The Villas are divided into The Bay Villas and The Ridge Villas — and though staying at The Ridge means a bit of a hike to get down to the beach, the views are spectacular, and there are swimming pools on-site up there. Guests of the Kapalua Villas also have access to the pool areas at the Ritz-Carlton hotel, as well as free shuttles to get you all over Kapalua, including to golf, free tennis, and fabulous restaurants like The Plantation House and Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar. The Kapalua Villas run from just $169 per night to around $599, depending on size (up to three bedrooms) and season. And though they may provide the comforts of home like your own kitchen, free phone calls, and a daily newspaper, there is still maid service. Because you’re on vacation.

I know I said that the Ritz-Carlton Club and Residences was the most beautiful option, but the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua hotel is no slouch. The gorgeous, 54 acre property recently underwent a $180 million renovation, and includes a luscious spa and six dining options from the lobby bar with live music to fresh fish by the beach, as well as the extravagant and magical AAA Four Diamond restaurant The Banyan Tree, which sources 100 percent of its herbs from organic gardens located (and strollable) on the grounds. The Banyan Tree alone is worth your trip to Kapalua.

The Ritz-Carlton hotel is also equipped with residential-style rooms, so families who are looking for the hotel atmosphere but want to be able to cook are well provided for. Another amenity for both families, couples, and lone travelers is the Jean-Michel Cousteau Ambassadors of the Environment center on the property, which leads expeditions up to the Maunalei Arboretum Rainforest and takes guests snorkeling with underwater cameras in Kapalua Bay. You can ask about their monthly Give Back Getaway programs, or just arrange a trip to either destination privately with the center. Prices start at $299 and go up to around $6,500 for the lavish Royal Pacific Suite on the top floor.

Check out the gallery for photos of the Ritz-Carlton hotel, and visit to learn more about this top-notch, cook-pine-peppered, fabulously luxe destination.

This trip was paid for by Kapalua Resort & The Ritz-Carlton, but the views expressed within the post are 100% my own.

Wonders of the Kapalua Rainforest

I recently went on a “Maunalei Magic Hike” at the Kapalua Maunalei Arboretum Rainforest in Hawaii, and if you think you have to leave the United States to find rich, tropical biodiversity and exotic plant life you’ve never heard of, think again. The Maunalei Arboretum, just below Pu’u Kukui Watershed Preserve, is home to an endless supply of plants thriving in the volcanic soil — some local, some planted in 1926 by D.T. Fleming. And it’s less than an hour to the nearest Office Max.

I saw many amazing things up there — and ate guava and passion fruit right from the trees — but want to tell you in particular about three: banyan trees, moa and awapuhi.

Banyan trees are ficus relatives which grow to over 100 feet tall and have “aerial roots,” long roots that grow down from the branches and eventually plant themselves in the ground, where they continue to grow and eventually look like tree trunks themselves. The aerial roots can cause one banyan tree to look like a whole forest, as was the case with the particular tree above in the Maunalei Arboretum. This tree was so old and so vast, the ground space it covered was larger than my apartment — and you can swing on the aerial roots (click here to watch me do it) and even bounce on the root-filled ground beneath it (above). Can you do that on your ficus? I bet not.
Moa is, as our guide Jaclyn from Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ambassadors of the Environment center at the Ritz-Carlton (she’s featured in that root-bouncing video above) told us, is “nature’s gold bond powder.” Scrape the little yellow bits off this bright green plant and put them wherever you’re sweating — yes, even in your pants — it’s what Hawaiians have been doing for centuries. Oddly enough, “moa” means “chicken.” The weird, section-y, bumpy texture of the plant made ancient Hawaiians think of a chicken leg.

Awapuhi, also known as “shampoo ginger,” is an ingredient you might find in your Paul Mitchell shampoo. Why? Because if you squeeze that bud, it has a rubbery crunch and a natural shampoo pours out — locals have been known to use just that to wash their hair; no other ingredients necessary.

There are a lot of good reasons to visit Maui, but a hike through the Maunalei Rainforest is one of the best. If you’re still not sold, check out the views from the near-summit (mountaintops are sacred in Hawaii, the path stops just a few feet below) in the gallery!

This trip was paid for by Kapalua Resort & The Ritz-Carlton, but the views expressed within the post are 100% my own.

Hawaiian Cultural Celebration Hosted by the Ritz-Carlton

If you or anyone you know is going to be in Hawaii this weekend, there is a killer festival going on at The Ritz Carlton in Kapalua (maui).

It’s the 17th Annual Celebration of the Arts, and it’s going on from April 10 through April 12. This year’s celebration is based on the saying “Lucky we Live Hawaii.” Kama’aina (local residents) and malihini (visitors) alike are invited to The Ritz-Carlton to watch exciting performances and presentations, participate in discussions and crafts, and learn about the culture and history of Hawaii.

This award winning festival (Kahili Award from the Hawaii Tourism Authority in 2005), will feature entertainment by Hawaii’s 2008 “Female Vocalist of the Year” Napua Greig, and a killer lu’au on April 11th with all the hula and traditional, exotic food one should expect from a AAA Five Diamond Ritz-Carlton!

There will also be an Easter Brunch and non-denominational beachside Easter service and egg hunt on Sunday, so don’t worry that all that hula will get in the way of your prayin’.

Visit for more information!