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Maui with toddler--trip report

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My husband and I spent 5 days on Maui with our 3 year-old daughter and had mostly hits and one sad miss. I've posted some highlights and b/c it looks like several people on this board are very concerned about where the locals eat, I've put a local-meter after each description with 5= we were the only mainlanders there to 1= the only locals there were the ones serving us.

Day 1 Ba-Le in Kahului: Arrival at the OGG airport, looking for food and fast after a 9 hour plane flight. We drive less than two miles and hit up the Maui Marketplace shopping center food court in Kahului. There are several choices here, including a Mexican place, the ubiquitous L & L BBQ, a nicer looking Japanese-ish place and our choice, Ba-Le Vietnamese Bakery and Cafe (http://latourbakehouse.com). I had ginger chicken, served with white rice and DH had sliced BBQ pork (also served with white rice). The pork was out of this world--sweet, crispy and sticky. After a long flight, this hit the spot. The chicken was also good, nice gingery flavor, the sauce was a little heavy for me (too much cornstarch?) but still very good. We also tried a manapua here, but it was not for me. I think I was expecting something closer to cha su bao. There's no ambiance here, as it's a small food court in a strip mall, but it was worth a stop if you're in need of food near the airport. Local-meter = 5.

Day 2 Breakfast at Sea Horse Restaurant in Napili (http://www.napilikai.com/dining-enter...): I know many people recommend the Gazebo just down the way, but with a jet-lagged toddler, I couldn't take the risk that we'd have to wait in line for food. So, we went to breakfast at the Sea Horse and it was awesome. First Brownie Point: They have a kid-friendly kids' menu, a coloring sheet, and crayons. Second Brownie Point: There are little finches that come and sit on the chairs, tables, and floor looking for food that were the perfect entertainment for my DD. First, the view is unbelievable--right on the water. Second, the food was great and not that expensive. I had the Molokai Sweet Potato Egg Frittata which looked like a breakfast napolean, with layers of blue sweet potatoes, spinach, onions, and tomatoes all ladled with with a wonderful spicy hollandaise sauce--the sauce really makes the dish come to life. DH had the All-American breakfast with eggs, rice, and pineapple sausage, which was very good. DD had pancakes with berries on top--not on the kids menu, but she's not huge banana fan, so they were happy to substitute berries for us. Despite being located at a fancy resort, this place felt very relaxed and comfortable. Local-meter = 1.

Day 2 Late Lunch at Maui Brewing Company (http://www.mauibrewingco.com): Overall, I'd say I was underwhelmed by this place. This place is pretty kid friendly, although many of the tables are very dark. We came when there were only 4 other people in the place, but I imagine that it gets busier at night. My monster loves shrimp, so she always wants me to order them. At MBC, they have a shrimp and feta salad on the menu which we ordered along with a BBQ chicken pizza. The salad was good, but only had 3 (very large and nicely cooked) shrimp on it. The pizza was fine, nice crispy crust, but the chicken was a little dry. Our beers were also OK. Local-meter = 1 (this is probably different at night).

Day 3 Breakfast at Sunrise Cafe in Lahaina: Yummy pancakes, nice spicy Portuguese sausage, great service and probably the best deal in Lahaina. Local-meter = 2

Day 3 Dinner Plantation House Restaurant: Yes, I read all the reviews on the boards and I knew this place was going to hit or miss for dinner, but I needed to try. You see, I went here for my 22 birthday with my girlfriends (our college graduation trip) and I remember that meal being one of the best in my life. Perhaps my memory was idealized or my 22-year old palate was too naive, but our recent meal did not live up to my 14-year old memory. What was the same was the view--the atmosphere here is beautiful. You're overlooking the ocean and the golf course and the entire restaurant is open air. The service was also spot-on. The kids' menu was chicken, fish or steak with mashed potatoes. Since my kid was on this shrimp kick, we ordered her the shrimp scampi appetizer for dinner. The shrimp were small, a little rubbery and the dish looked like something I might make at home (although I tend to use at least 26/30 sized shrimp and these were smaller)--the flavor was very one-dimensional. On a positive note, there were at least 10 shrimp on the plate. DH and I started with the best part of the meal, a braised short-rib appetizer. This was falling-off-the-bone yumminess, with a jammy red-wine sauce over some sort of barley (which struck me as odd) that was pretty good. Now for the disappointment: the fish entrees. We both had fish "Maui-style" which was "pistachio-crusted, on Maui onions, local tomatoes, upcountry spinach, with couscous & olive oil". I had ono and DH had something else (maybe opah). Anyhow, my fish was slightly overcooked and both dishes were bland and unappealing. The plate had no color, aside from a few strands of stewed tomatoes, and the couscous did nothing for the fish. We both added salt, but the flavor just wasn't there. At nearly $150 for dinner, this place just isn't worth it, IMO. Local-meter = 1

Day 4 Lunch at Honolua Store: I was looking forward to this place, but not quite sure what is was like based on the board descriptions. So, here's my attempt: the Honolua General Store is located within Kapalua resort (a very large resort with hundreds of condos, a golf course, shopping, and several restaurants). This place is like a fancy local market, that has a food counter in the back. It has the potential to be very uppity-feeling, but it's not. Golfers eat here, tourists eat here, but so do gardeners, resort employees, and local families. They give a discount to people who work in the hospitality industry, as one fellow diner was telling us. You can take your food to go or find a spot on the front or side porch picnic tables. I had the grilled chicken sandwich, DH had the mahi mahi sandwich, and DD had a hot dog. Both of our sandwiches were very well spiced--the pesto on the fish sandwich can be too much for some (as noted elsewhere on this board) but I liked it. The chicken sandwich has the potential to be a little dry, but it was well seasoned and a little mayo fixed it right up. If your kid needs more food, the general store sells snacks and a wide variety of drinks. It's very casual and kids can even run around on the grass (again there was bird-entertainment). Local-meter = 3

Day 4 Dinner at Roy's: OK, I needed to redeem myself with my husband after the disappointing dinner at PH the night before. So, I called that morning and they had a table open at 6pm, which is right when we need to eat. Compared to PH, the atmosphere is non-existent. Roy's is in a strip mall in Kahaha, looks a little like a large warehouse space and I could see into the dental office across the street. However, they do have an open kitchen, which I (and my DD) found fascinating. This place knows how to take care of children. The first thing they do is bring a quesadilla for DD--awesome! The server knew every fish on the menu, knew whether it was local or shipped in, and knew the texture and flavor of each fish (I guess this is what they should know, but this is not always the case). She also told me I could mix and match most fish and preparations. Sounding like a broken record, my kid wanted shrimp and broccoli for dinner. This was not on the menu. But, our server asked the chef and viola! They added $2 to the kid menu price b/c of the price of shrimp. I ordered fish while DD ordered steak, local beef from the big island. While we were waiting for dinner, they also brought out carrots and celery for DD--again, major brownie points! Dinner was divine--my Opah was grilled to perfection and sat over a bed of noodles and veggies in a dark ginger soy sauce. The flavor was complex, fruity, savory, slightly sweet and yummy. My husband's steak was topped with blue cheese (a little over the top for me) and again, grilled perfectly. But, the highlight was my daughter's shrimp. They brought her 4 jumbo shrimp on a skewer and they were also grilled. I wasn't able to steal a bite (don't mess with a hungry toddler), but she scarfed those babies down! On top of that, they brought out a homemade ice-cream sandwich for dessert for her (sprinkles and everything!) DH and I split the molten chocolate cake which was awesome. Yes, Roy's is a chain, but dinner here was great. By the time we left (around 8pm) there were lots of people and families waiting to get seated. Local-meter = 2.

Day 5 breakfast at Sam Sato's (on the way to the airport). Dry noodles. That's all I have to say (well, not really). If your idea of comfort food is a big bowl of salty noodles with just a pinch of chinese-style bbq pork on top, this is the place to go. The atmosphere is greasy spoon. The neighborhood is mechanic's alley. Go for the dry noodles. They also have yummy banana pancakes. Local-meter = 5.

Other than my heartbreaking disappointment at Plantation House, the food was wonderful and we found some bargains in between the splurges. My experience was that small children were welcome everywhere we dined. I bothered to put on a skirt and real sandals (not flips) for our nicer dinners, and I was the most dressed-up person in the restaurant, both times. Happy dining.

PERSONAL NOTE ABOUT SERVICE (YOU MIGHT NOT LIKE THIS). Several times on this board, I saw people complain about service--servers being unhelpful, unfriendly, or incomprehensible. My family is multiethnic and many people asked my husband if he was a local, so perhaps we rec'd better treatment than other mainlanders. But, time and time again, I observed what can only be called " The Ugly Mainlander" (similar to the Ugly American). At Sunrise Cafe, a woman asked " is the juice freshly squeezed?" to which the server replied, "well, it's freshly poured". I just about died laughing. She, however, scoffed and rolled her eyes, disgusted that they didn't have fresh squeezed juice. The level of douchery I saw on Maui was off the charts. The islanders who helped me and my family were warm, but reserved. My impression was also that they were very proud of their culture and island. They deal with (sometimes obnoxious and mostly clueless) tourists day in and day out--put yourself in their shoes. Just because you are staying at a fancy resort and driving a big American rental car and spending lots of money does not give the right to treat people like slaves on a pineapple plantation. Embrace the fact that you're a guest, enjoy the experience, and show some humility.

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Sam Sato's
1750 Wili PA Loop, Wailuku, HI 96793

Sea House Restaurant
5900 Lower Honoapiilani Rd, Lahaina, HI 96761

Sunrise Cafe
693A Front St, Lahaina, HI 96761

Plantation House Restaurant
2000 Plantation Club Dr., Kapalua, HI 96761

Maui Brewing Co
4405 Honoapiilani Hwy Ste 217, Lahaina, HI 96761

Honolua Store
502 Office Rd, Lahaina, HI 96761

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  1. Great post. My wife and I are also fans of the Sea House (not Sea Horse) especailly for breakfast.

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    Sea House Restaurant
    5900 Lower Honoapiilani Rd, Lahaina, HI 96761

    3 Replies
    1. re: mander

      Thanks for the correction, mander!

      1. re: mander

        Nice TR... thanks!

        We are going to Maui next week and plan to go to the Sea House and Plantation House for breakfast. We also have reservations at Mamas for lunch and Merrimans and I'O for dinner.

        Getting mixed reviews on the Plantation House as our friends just returned from Maui and dined there for dinner with 2 children and loved it. I have heard it is good for brunch.

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        Plantation House Restaurant
        2000 Plantation Club Dr., Kapalua, HI 96761

        Sea House Restaurant
        5900 Lower Honoapiilani Rd, Lahaina, HI 96761

        1. re: boltsfan

          Great trip report. Nice to see your daughter is a good adventurous eater!

          Sea house will be a must try. Great menu and even better I'm lovin the happy hour 2-5pm $5 pupus. Sweet!

      2. Thanks for the report. I much prefer Tasty Crust in Wailuku to Sam Sato's for local fare. Give it a try next time you're back in Maui.

        Good comment about service and attitude. I think that is great advice in general, regardless of where one travels.

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        Tasty Crust Restaurant
        1770 Mill St, Wailuku, HI 96793

        1. We went to Ba Le. Our daughter and I has shrimp (salad) rolls and I followed with half a chicken sandwich(sub) I probably could have eaten the other half but we were going to Ioa valley and I may have been too full if I did.

          My wife and our son split coconut shrimp that were excellent. Crispy dry shrimp with lettuce, noodles, mint, cilantro and sprouts. Initially I thought we were at the wrong mall as the food fare was tucked in the corner and it was an out door style mall.

          Earlier I had to try a Zippy's burger, got it plain to sample the beef, pretty good but fried, I would have preferred grilled.

          1. What a lovely and detailed report that is sure to be helpful to many, assuring that even the nicest places on Maui are ohana friendly and keiki friendly.

            I do take a bit of issue with your local meter, although I am sure you meant it with good intent. I am sure that there were many locals at many of the places you went. It is simply impossible to take a sweeping look at an establishment and declare it filled to capacity with tourists and no locals.

            Now on your note on service! LOL!!! I couldn't agree more with the occasional Ugly Mainlander. That waitress was funny, the tourist - not so much.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Bellachefa

              Well in the text we constantly read "Sea HORSE" when it is "Sea House." Roy's in KAHANA not KAHALA is closed with a new Roy's set to open in Kaanapali this year at the golf course. I don't see the point of "local meter" either, very Yelp! in style. And yes, it is funny when you refer to the "Ugly Mainlander" I always wonder why for example they get all mad when you ask are they enjoying their visit and they snort "I'm JUST VISITING" well, I'd have to imagine so and be glad you're not moving here.

            2. We found Mama's ribs and rotisserie in Kehei at Kukui mall. I could not make it to the one up Lahaina way but this one is spectacular for chicken and one of the nicest guys we have met, that's saying something here as we have only had one bad experience with service and the server was nice, she just abandoned us. There seems to be several Ba Le's here don't know if they are the same either.

              1. Wonderful post. We also experienced nothing but kindness and warmth from the locals as well. We are multiethic as well but I think what makes the difference is your attitude, openess and spirit. I think the locals read into your attitude or lack of one. One server told us a horrific story of being called stupid for placing the wrong dish in front of someone. Unacceptable in any part of the world. Visitors should plan to slow down. You aren't in NY or LA but that's the whole point!