The road to Hana is paved with…….not enough restaurants!
Sure, there is world class snorkeling, humpback whale watching and the infamous road to Hana. But if you are a chef or a foodie like me, you plan your trips around food and squeeze those things in only if there is extra time!
If you find that ludicrous, then this particular travel guide is not for you. There will be no beach recommendations or ocean excursions mentioned here. There will, however be a boatload of restaurants, farms and places to get a good drink in this post. Hey, even healthy locavores need to have fun too.
This is Maui for foodies.
If you are coming over from Honolulu and landing at Kapalua airport chances are you’ll be wedged in a puka shell sized puddle-jumper such as the one pictured above. I recommend flying into this airport, to avoid the hoards of tourists at the bigger and busier Kahului Airport––located on the other side of the island.
But be prepared, other than a tarmac and glorified hot dog stand you won’t find any amenities at this airport. Have a ride lined up or you’ll be walking to your hotel. Rental cars are a must have on this island.
Lahaina (West Maui)
The towns up and down the west side of Maui, including Lahaina are no doubt some of the most picturesque on the island. Large banyan trees, beautiful beach parks and views of Lana’i and Moloka’i line the coast.
We opted for an oceanfront Airbnb at the Kaleialoha Vacation Rentals for our accommodations. It was a cute little one bedroom with beach access, spacious lanai and fully stocked kitchen. There was a sea turtle that swam around below us every morning.
Places to eat near Lahaina
This is a great place to stop for a healthy vegan breakfast, lunch or (non-alchololic and sugar free) power drink. All of the produce used on the menu here is organic and handpicked locally. Menu selections include things like overnight oats, chia pudding, pad thai, kale and quinoa buddha bowls, acai bowls, smoothies and shots of noni juice.
When you are ready for pau hana (happy hour) and an epic sunset, cruise over to Merriman’s and grab a spot at the bar overlooking Kapalua Bay. Peter Merriman is one of the founding fathers of Hawaiian cuisine and helped pioneer the farm-to-table concept here. 90% of the food at this restaurant is locally sourced.
And they make a damn good mai tai too.
If you are craving classic, old world inspired cuisine and are having a foie gras void in your life (like I was) than this is where you come. It’s not cutting edge but it is decadent. Think escargot, Wagyu beef ravioli with black truffle, filet mignon and lobster. Pro tip––order a few things to share for the table and a nice glass of wine and leave it at that. This place can get pricy.
Hands down my favorite restaurant on the island.
Tucked inside the Maui Tropical Plantation through a path of botanical gardens and fountains made of old sugarcane cogs, you will find one of the most beautiful restaurants on Maui. And the best part? They farm the majority of their produce on site. The rest all comes from other parts of the island. Everything including the unbelievable table bread (Buttery Hawaiian dinner rolls and rustic sourdough rye? Come on!) and delicate pastas are made in house. Hats off to chef Jeff Scheer.
Just a man and his coconuts….
On the surface it would appear that Punakea Palms sells farm tours. But, after taking a tour here I know now, that what they are actually providing is an educational experience in natural farming, sustainability and the health benefits of coconut.
This is a family owned and run operation. In fact, the owners live on the property, so what you are basically taking a tour of is their back yard.
The owner’s son, Kai is the mastermind behind the coconut groves here. He is both the farmer and the tour guide. Kai starts the tour by giving you some background on the land you are standing on––old sugarcane fields with soil that has been heavily depleted from hundreds of years of burning the land to harvest sugarcane.
It is from here, that you realize Kai and his family aren’t growing coconuts to sell (there is surprisingly not a big enough market and coconut products are too labor intensive to be profitable), they are trying to save the land.
There are a few methods they use to do this: They grow a legume called halloa, which nourishes the soil with nitrogen providing the dry, scorched land with moisture; they water the palms with nutrient dense water from the valley and they have planted pine trees on the property to encourage more rain, helping to restore the ecosystem of the land back to the rainforest it once was before being turned into sugarcane fields.
Kai goes on to explain that coconut palms are indigenous to Hawaii and were the first trees to sprout up when the islands were first being formed by volcanos. They require warm tropical climates with a lot of rainfall, about 20 gallons of water everyday to be exact. He said that the coconuts themselves act as seeds. They fall from the tree and with sun and moisture they set roots and sprout up.
From here, Kai goes into harvest times and how to check what stage the coconut is in when picked.
At 5 months (or less) the coconuts are not ready. The water is a bit sour and the meat is underdeveloped, like jelly.
At 6 months the coconuts are young and the meat is starting to firm up.
Prime harvest time for coconut water is 7 months. The coconuts will be heavy and when shaken you will hear water sloshing around inside of it. The meat at this point is the perfect texture to scrape out and eat with a spoon.
If making coconut milk is what you desire than you wait until the coconuts are firm, dry and light in weight.
As we sat on the grass under a shady tree (which you will need to take advantage of, since it gets very hot on this farm) Kai cracked coconuts and continued to educate us while we sipped fresh coconut water from bamboo straws.
Water fresh from a coconut is a flavor you will never find in any bottled version. Even if the brand uses non-heated methods for pasteurization.
Kai also dispelled the myth that pink coconut water occurs in nature. Apparently it is only a result of pasteurization.
Kai finishes the tour by teaching the group some of the ways to process coconuts for eating and drinking. He’ll show you how to use a traditional coconut stool shredder to grate the meat out of mature coconuts. You’ll also get to try your hand at using a more modern coconut meat removal tool to carve out the meat to make coconut milk with.
Making coconut milk is a surprisingly simple, yet labor intensive process, that involves carving out the meat from a mature coconut, pureeing it in a blender with a mix of coconut water and filtered water and then squeezing it through a nut bag.
The milk that comes out is rich and delicious and will last up to 4-5 days in the fridge. The coconut meat that you capture in the nut bag, by straining off the milk, can be dried and made into coconut flour.
This is the “city” on the island and where Kahului airport is located.
If you are a foodie, no trip to Maui is complete without a stop to the infamous Tin Roof, owned by Chef Sheldon Simeon
You may remember him from Top Chef season 10 and 14. He is on tap to host the new season of, YouTube show, Cooking in America and his new restaurant HALA this fall. I even hear he is planning to open a Tin Roof on Oahu. Fingers crossed!
His menu is a playful take on your typical Hawaiian plate lunch restaurant. He of course uses local meats, fish, produce and artisan-made products and prides himself on making honest food for his community.
His Mochica chicken is addictive. Crunchy and tender, glazed with a sweet sauce, furikake and asian rice crackers. The Pork belly is succulent and flavorful. Sides include things like spicy kale salad, ‘ulu mac salad, saimin noodles that you can get dry or with broth and what is called a dime bag (I’ve heard rumors on what people think this is–– some say it is a mixture of crumbled up rice crackers, doritios, furikake and spices).
Save room for dessert because they carry Pono Pies! Ridiculously good vegan and gluten free pies made with breadfruit. I tried the banana-coconut cream version and it was amazing.
Heads up these guys are only open 10am-2pm, they’re closed on Sundays and there is probably going to be a long line.
Actually, do yourself a favor, if you are flying out of the Kahului airport stop by here first to get some ono flight “grinds”!
…and don’t forget to throw down a few bucks for the Pau Hana Fund. (That’s the cash pot for after work beers for all you civilians.)
No foodie trip to Maui is complete without a tour of upcountry. As you drive out to the countryside away from the coast, climb higher in elevation to the center of the island up the Haleakala crater you will find farms rich in volcanic soil, stunning views and paniolos (Hawaiian cowboys).
Pa’ia is where upcountry starts farthest north by the coast. It is a quaint little hippie, surfing town full of great dining options, an excellent organic health food store called Mana Foods and lots of boutique shopping right on the edge of one of the best windsurfing beach in the world.
If you’re only in town one night grab dinner at Milagros. A Mom and Pop establishment serving some of the best Mexican food in Hawaii (believe me, in Hawaii it’s hard to come by). Grab a margarita and some enchiladas, or fish tacos, out on the patio and let the people watching commence.
This is known as cowboy country. In the days of King Kamehameha III he sent vaqueros (Spanish cowboys) from California to come and teach the Hawaiians how to wrangle their cattle. Up until WWII this town provided supplies to neighboring farms, and went all but dormant until a resurgence in the 80’s brought in upscale retail, yoga studios and hip eateries….and of course, there is a cowboy museum too.
Legendary bakery specializing in donuts, dinner rolls and their famous cream puffs. Locals say get there early. Past 10 or 11am they just about sell out of everything.
This tiny town is only a few miles long and is mostly made up of a few must-see businesses…
Home of Pau Vodka made from pineapples grown right across the street and other spirits made from locally grown ingredients. Tours run every hour.
We have had the cookbook for this restaurant sitting on our bookshelf for years. The food is highly regarded here, but what is equally impressive is their cocktail menu. Ask for Wendy, who has been bartending there for 17 years. The first bartender I have ever met whose favorite tool behind the bar is a blender. She has constructed an entire menu of blended libations. She uses local spirits (some distilled just across the street), fresh herbs, fruit and lots of love in every drink she makes. She’ll even make up a new one right there on the spot for you if you’d like. Be on top of your game, she’s got some good zingers you’ll miss if you aren’t paying attention.
A fine glass art and glassblowing studio that you can take a free tour of. Sculptures are inspired by Hawaii sea life and volcanic formations and they are incredibly beautiful.
Learn everything from how pineapples are grown, harvested and processed. There will be pineapple to sample and even bring home. This is a pretty famous attraction on the island so book your tour in advance.
Positioned on the slopes of the Haleakala crater, a dormant volcano and the second largest mountain in the world, is the town of Kula. Miles of pristine farmland boasting some of the most beautiful panoramic views of the ocean that you will find on the island.
A wonderland of over 7 varieties of lavender broken up by walking trails, gazebos and zen gardens. Farm tours are available daily.
Pineapple wine? Yep, and many other interesting varietals as well. Sip on exotic wines as you enjoy the beautiful vineyard and breathtaking views.
I love the story of this place. Thomas and Eva, husband and wife team from Germany, were a couple of surfers who came to Maui to “retire.” Over 9 years later they own the only certified humane goat farm in Hawaii, one of two goat farms in the entire state and make award winning goats cheeses that have found their way on to menus all over the country including, at the White House (the variety, Utterly Delicious was served at President Obama’s inauguration).
They raise about 200 goats by hand. They are completely self sufficient in terms of energy (Hawaiian Sea Spirits is the only other farm on Maui that can say that). Their whole farm is decorated with broken surfboards that they rescued from becoming landfill at the dump (they traded the county goat cheese for them).
Their cheeses are light and mild. Pasteurization done immediately after the milking process removes any gamey flavor the goat’s milk could impart. They offer 30 different variations of goat cheese including a cheve that sits in rennet 24 hours, and aged cheese called ping pong and over the top varieties like “Midas Touch” (dusted with 23k gold flakes) and “Perigord” (covered in black truffles and truffle oil.).
My personal favorites were their feta and the Ole, which is flavored with jalapeños, artichokes, lime and cilantro.
Not to mention the goats are damn cute. I loved that they had a special pen for the female goats that were too old to milk anymore called “The Golden Girls Caralle.”
You gotta love a farm that offers you free food right off the bat as you walk in. Of course I helped myself to some bananas and of course they were delicious.
This is Earl, an ex-bartender and the distillery’s entertaining (and extremely knowledgable) tour guide. He walks you through the USDA certified organic farm filled with varieties of sugarcane from all over the world, the distillation process and concludes the tour with a tasting. An education in finely crafted booze you will never forget.
The distillery is known for two premium spirits. Master distiller, Bill Scott has created Ocean Vodka and Deep Island Hawaiian Rum, both crafted in a state of the art eco-friendly facility using sugarcane grown organically on the property.
As you tour the grounds you will be invited by lush, colorful landscaping.
They make a 150 proof white rum that has nuances of banana, coconut, vanilla and marshmallow.
While Rum is defined by its ingredients, vodka is defines by its distillation process.
Earl explains that they first mix the sugarcane with distillers yeast for three days until it ferments. They then take that 10% alcohol “sugarcane beer,” heat it and distill it until it reaches 40% alcohol. This is now called a “sugarcane spirit”. For the vodka, they distill it 40 times until it is super clean. From here they blend the spirit with their very clean and fresh ocean mineral water. This water is part of their claim to fame. It started as a glacier in Greenland. Over the span of 2000 years the world’s current carried it to Kona Hawaii, where it is then tapped into 3000 feet below sea level and brought to Maui to their farm.
Since the only things that matter for the quality of vodka are water, fermentation and distillation Hawaii Sea Spirits has vowed to nail all three.
Back at the bar Earl pours shots for everyone. The vodka is slightly sweet, doesn’t burn going down and actually enhances other ingredients when mixed into a cocktail.
He explains that their rum unlike most other rums is made from fresh sugarcane juice and not molasses. It has not been aged or spiced and because of that is completely clear in color. It smells like coconut and tastes like banana bread.
Organic farm that produces all of the produce Pacific’o restaurant in Lahaina serves on its menu. Their farm tour includes a gourmet lunch with freshly harvested ingredients while enjoying a cooler climate with breathtaking views.
All foodie obsessions aside no trip to Hawaii is complete without a trip to the beach. So do like the locals do––enjoy some good food, quality time with your friends and family and take an afternoon nap by the ocean…. island style.
Sarah Burchard is the author of The Healthy Locavore, a natural foods chef and experience host whose writing focuses on cooking, holistic health, supporting community and eating locally grown and made foods.