Go for the beaches and emerald waves, but why not eat like a king while you are there?
Spam and pineapple. Poi and poke. Shaved ice and sugar cane. These iconic island offerings are still on the menu on Maui. But recently, I’d started to hear rumblings about restaurants serving up fresh fare to rival the East Bay’s best farm-to-table hot spots. I was intrigued to meet the chefs and farmers who are defining the island’s modern food scene.
Maui definitely didn’t disappoint. From pop-up dinners on the coast to fresh markets in Hana, I found a bustling, collaborative, and vibrant food scene that embraces its seasonal, organic, and local ingredients like never before.
Here are my favorite finds, which may just tempt you to leave the beach.
Beyond the Resorts
Upcountry: Makawao’s accommodations include Hale Hookipa, a cozy historic home converted into a bed and breakfast run by Cherie Attix, a one-time Berkeley resident, former deep sea fisher, and doula, with insider tips galore. Nearby, Lumeria Maui is a stunning new retreat center housed in a former plantation estate. It caters to the yoga, meditation, and cleansing crowd, and is a short hop down Baldwin Avenue to Maui’s north shore, where water sports beckon. maui-bed-and-breakfast.com, lumeriamaui.com.
Paia: The Paia Inn is a hip boutique hotel in the center of town; don’t be fooled by the unassuming facade. Its stylishly modern rooms offer respite from the heat, as does the beach out the back door. Bonus points: It’s a good place to stop for a night before driving out to Hana for a day or more. paiainn.com.
Hana: For those who make the trek to Hana and want to stay put, the recently renovated Travaasa Hana (formerly Hotel Hana Maui) provides a slice of rustic luxury on the edge of the island. The resort features lush tropical gardens, spectacular seaside bluffs, and a peaceful vibe, and offers yoga with ocean views, lomi lomi massage, and a menu designed to nourish body and soul. travaasa.com.
In West Maui
Star Noodle in Lahaina gets my vote. Launched by Top Chef contender and Food & Wine favorite Sheldon Simeon (who recently became executive chef of Mala Wailea), the upscale bistro is tucked into an industrial park away from the busy main drag. Try dishes like Lahaina fried soup—a crave worthy take on chow fun, with thick noodles, pork, and bean sprouts—or a salad featuring Maui onions, shrimp, seaweed, and the young, curly, green fronds known as fiddlehead ferns, all sourced locally. End with a modern take on the popular Portuguese doughnuts known as malasadas served with chocolate and butterscotch caramel sauce and chopped peanuts. Fried, sweet, salty party on your palate.
A food writer from the area tipped me off to Star Noodle’s sister spot, the casual Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop, down the Honoapiilani Highway in Olowalu Village. Must have: an addictive, crunchy fried brussels sprouts salad coated in a kicky orange vinaigrette. Be sure to leave room to try a sweet treat such as yuzu-lemon tart or coconut cream pie. Then, take a nap. starnoodle.com, leodas.com.
The charming Upcountry area won me over with its browsable boho boutiques, historic cowboy town Makawao, and its fertile farm region centered around Kula.
At O’o Farm, in the cool, misty climate of Kula, the views and the spectacular organic bounty grown on fertile Upcountry soil beckon—as does the promise of a farm-to-fork lunch. Guests forage for salad greens that the on-site chef adds to a simple yet satisfying lunch of grilled fish, baked herb bread, and just-brewed Maui coffee. Savvy guests show up with a bottle of wine. Book tours in advance. oofarm.com.
At the Market Fresh Bistro, ex–New York chef Justin Pardo brings a seasonal, hyper-local sensibility to his menu, which features island specialties like micro greens, pohole ferns, and catch of the day crusted with kalo (taro plant). Insider tip: On Thursday nights, the bistro hosts a seven-course tasting menu celebrating a Maui farm and a region of the world, in keeping with the restaurant’s philosophy of cooking local ingredients with global flavors. It’s a long communal table dining experience enjoyed by both tourists and locals. Reservations recommended for dinner. Tip: Some folks swear by the blackened fresh-catch eggs Benedict for breakfast. marketfreshbistro.com.
If you are in the mood for a picnic, swing by the Upcountry Farmers Market on a Saturday morning for coconuts, lilikoi (passion fruit) preserves, and flaky, mango-filled pastries. Or stop by Kula Country Farms, a fourth-generation Maui farm stand featuring home-grown produce. Try the supersweet Kula strawberries. The Rodeo General Store in Makawao features house-baked breads, and locals give a nod to the herb-marinated steak sandwiches made with premium quality Maui Cattle Company meat. upcountryfarmersmarket.com, kulacountryfarmsmaui.com.
Head here for lunch after taking a dip at Baldwin Beach or snorkeling at Maliko Bay. Amid the plantation-era storefronts in this quaint beach community, you’ll find that casual joints rule. That includes Flatbread Company, a pizza palace, home to a huge earthen wood-fired oven that turns out pies with island flavors like Maui pineapple, Haiku tomatoes, and Kiawe pork.
Paia Fish Market draws long lines in search of a local catch, and the communal tables are often packed. But you can always get yours to go for a picnic on the beach. On a hot day, Ono Gelato beckons with sumptuous flavors such as Kula strawberry or Kona coffee, with macadamia nuts and chocolate chunks. Prefer to eat in? Stop by Mana Foods, a mecca for the wholesome food set, for the ingredients to make a meal from scratch. flatbreadcompany.com, paiafishmarket.com, onogelatocompany.com, manafoodsmaui.com.
The drive to this remote island town takes a couple of hours on a stunning stretch of road, with hundreds of hairpin turns and dozens of one-lane bridges. But allow more than twice that time to enjoy dramatic waterfalls, lush landscapes, and food stands selling banana bread and tropical smoothies along the way.
The National Tropical Botanical Garden’s Breadfruit Institute is the place to go for a crash-course education in the wonders of breadfruit, a carbohydrate-laden tree fruit that could play a role in ending world hunger. The institute’s grounds are home to 120 varieties of breadfruit—a starchy, relatively bland, vaguely potato-like Pacific Island staple with a slightly yeasty smell that brings to mind freshly baked bread. When steamed, this fibrous fruit benefits mightily from the addition of butter and salt, and is best enjoyed while admiring the stunning ocean views from the gardens. ntbg.org/breadfruit.
Schedule a farm tour ahead of time, and pick up fresh fruits and vegetables at Hana Fresh Market. Resident produce whisperer and native Hawaiian Sam Kalalau leads a compelling and knowledgeable tour of this organic hillside farm.
From the market, continue on to the Boerner family–owned Ono Organic Farms. Enjoy the tropical jungle–like property filled with fruit on a remote slope of the Haleakala volcano on one of the farm’s weekday tours. (Book ahead.) This tasting tour is a tropical feast: Visitors sample more than 20 different exotic fruits: from the familiar, such as bananas, papayas, and pineapples, to the lesser known rambutan—a red-shelled fruit that resembles a hairy strawberry, with a translucent, sweet-sour center— and cherimoya, a fleshy, flagrant custard apple with notes of banana, passionfruit, and papaya. Finger-licking good. hanahealth.org, onofarms.com.
Popping up all over
Locals of the slow food persuasion flock to monthly pop-up dinners hosted by Kupu Maui. The temporary feasts “pop up” at unique locations around the island, often farms. During my stay, dinner was served outdoors at long communal tables, at Waihee Coastal Dunes and Wetlands Refuge, a quiet, pristine shoreline that’s home to eight endangered species, on protected lands not far from the island’s commercial center, Kahului, even though it felt miles away. A pleasant sea breeze showed up, and the scent of ginger wafted in the air.
While a musician played Hawaiian steel guitar, James Simpliciano, a local farmer and chef who has cooked at some of the best island resorts, served up pupu (appetizers), including chai-smoked pork with lilikoi, and lamb tagine with aromatic Maui onion mirepoix and local taro. The spirit of giving back to the community is alive and well in the land of aloha: Farms donated much of the food for the meal, and proceeds from these events benefit local groups. Visitors welcome, book ahead. kupumaui.com.
Sarah Henry is a freelance writer who covers food, culture, and travel. She was a guest on Maui courtesy of the island’s Visitors and Convention Bureau.