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Maui (Lahaina / Hana) & Big Island (Kona / Volcano Village) recs sought

We are planning a trip this summer for about 10 days to Maui and Big Island; we'll probably be spending at least a couple days each in Lahaina or Kapalua and Hana on Maui, and in Kailua-Kona and Volcano Village on Big Island. We're looking primarily for food that's fresh, creative and local (each of those equally valued). High-end and low-end are all welcome, though we are not overly eager to do big-resort dining unless it's genuinely special. On the other hand, I know this may go against the plate-lunch ethos, but we’re less concerned with quantity than quality, though value is always appreciated. Japanese, Vietnamese, Filipino and Thai food, as well as any local specialties, are also welcome.

I know the dilemmas of going to a tourist destination, as a tourist, and hoping for non-touristy dining experiences (we live in Miami Beach), but that's the goal. We're mostly just hoping to avoid the caesar salad / fried calamari / petite filet mignon kinds of uninspired menus.

I've done a good bit of research, here's what is on the list so far, with some specific questions along the way:

LAHAINA / KAPALUA (listed roughly in the order of our interest):

Star Noodle
Merriman's Kapalua
Mala Ocean Tavern
Nagasako Okazu-Ya
Honokowai Okazu-Ya
Aloha Mixed Plate
Plantation House
Pacific'o / I'o

Further afield (KIHEI / KAHALUI / PAIA):

(I’m assuming these places are generally too far to trek for dinner if we’re staying in Lahaina / Kapalua, but may be potential lunch stops during daytime travel):

Monkeypod Kitchen
Eskimo Candy
Mama’s Fish House
A Saigon Cafe
Da Kitchen
Paia Fish Market


(We were planning to spend 2-3 days there; the more I research the more it sounds pretty desolate; two questions: (1) are these roadside places daytime only or are they open for dinner; (2) we will have a kitchen, are there places we can stock up to cook for ourselves?)

Bruddah Hutt
Cafe Romantica
Thai Food by Pranee
Nutcharee’s Authentic Thai Food
Jen’s Thai Food
Clay Oven (Hana Farm - Fri / Sat)
Travaasa Hana - Ka’uiki / Paniolo Lounge


Rapanui Island Cafe
Da Poke Shack
Ba-Le Sandwiches
Okolemaluna Tiki Lounge (I know there’s a recent thread on this)
Island Lava Java
Ceviche Dave’s
Huggo’s on the Rocks

Further afield on Big Island:

(am I right that Waimea / Kamuela is probably too far a commute for dinner from Kailua-Kona?)

Allen’s Table (this seems like exactly the kind of place I’m looking for)
Merriman’s Kamuela
Village Burger
Brown’s Beach House
Monstera Noodles & Sushi
Cafe Pesto
Ken’s House of Pancakes


Thai Thai
Kilauea Lodge
Kiawe Kitchen

So … thoughts on any of the above, places to cross off or add to the list, logistical advice?

Also: recommendations for farmers markets, farms that can be visited, good places to stock up for cooking at home for a night or two, and any local specialties we shouldn’t miss would all be welcome.

Many thanks in advance, and shout out if you're ever coming to South Florida.

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  1. In Lahainam you're missing Local Food and Leilani's Shave Ice.

    In Kihei, Kihei Caffe for brunch/lunch. One of my favorite places on our trip earlier this year.

    Also go to Yee's Orchards for their Golden Glow mangoes! The Golden Glows also have a very skinny seed, so you get more flesh off this variety than other types. They are also a bit larger and hefty than Mexican mangoes. Closed Mon and Fri. Only open 11-5. Easy to miss as it is literally a small hut at Kihei Road and Nohokai St. It is on the east side of the street. Great fruit, worth the effort to find it! 

    Did you mean to write Haliimaile General Store? Great pineapple upside down cake.

    I am not sure Mama's would be better for lunch. Part of the charm is having an early dinner and watching the sun set. You'd not be out that late either.

    1. Maui..
      Plantation House for breakfast only...best seared rare ahi benedict with wasabi hollandaise..no wait, great food and pretty cheap for what it is at Kapalua Golf course and fab views..
      Bev Gannon's General store..lunch/dinner
      Sea House Napili...breakfast/lunch
      Gazebo..Napili...oceanfront shack with the best breakfast..line moves fast..
      Hula Grill/Duke's/Kimo's great for happy hour
      Jawz taco food truck at Makena and Big Beach...excellent fish tacos after snorkeling
      Mama Fish house lunch or early sunset dinner

      I would bring some provisions to Hana..


      1 Reply
      1. re: Beach Chick

        Definitely go to Mama's when there's still sunlight out. I prefer lunch to early dinner because prices are a lot lower.

      2. I didn't eat at any of the places you list in Hana, though I had heard very good things about the entertainment (though not the food) at the Paniolo Lounge. You should definitely plan to stock up in Wailuku *before* driving over to Hana: get a cheap cooler if you plan to cook at 'home' there. There really isn't much there in the way of stores other than the Hasegawa General Store, which has a bit of everything (and I mean that almost literally), but at a premium price, and not always in the best of condition or of highest quality. There are a few roadside stands and at least one farm stand with irregular hours. I think the only place to get fresh fish in Hana (to cook, not in a restaurant) would be from fishermen bringing in a catch. Totally worth spending a few days in Hana, but not for the dining out.

        I think Waimea is too far for dinner from Kona, although I would travel to Monstera for dinner, which I loved. And I'd recommend you get a kitchen there, as the restaurants in general are not as good as Maui but, unlike Hana, you can get terrific ingredients at fish markets, farmers markets, grocery stores, etc.all over the Big Island. Try to hit the Farmer's Market in Hilo, and the Keahou Farmer's Market is also very good. Here's a listing:


        Have fun!

        1. Volcano...your three suggestions are probably the best choices...with Thai the best value and the Lodge the best fine dining and charming ambiance. You can also check Ono Cafe at Volcano Garden Arts for vegetarian lunches.

          Great Sunday farmer's market in the community center on Wright Rd. Go early; not huge, but lots of produce and a fair amount of prepared food, pastries, coffee, etc. You may see people selling puppies, goats, almost anything. A real community event which is entirely different from the much larger but more commercial Hilo farmers market on Saturday, smaller on Wed, and a few stray vendors most other days, so worth checking on your way thru Hilo town.

          It is a long drive to Waimea from Kailua-Kona for dinner, but an hour may not seem so long to people from the Mainland used to long drives of many hours. If you do an excursion up the coast to Hawi and Kapaau/Pololu Valley in the afternoon and then take the lovely mountain ridge drive from there to Waimea before dark, you can have a great dinner and be back for bedtime....just go easy on the wine pairings!

          There is, or used to be, a farmer's market in Waimea, but I don't have any personal knowledge of it. I believe it is Saturday morning.

          1. Was on Maui over St. Paddy's Day and our favorites are among those you've mentioned. For breakfast, arrive at The Plantation House in Kapalua between 10 and 11 a.m. and you're almost guaranteed a front-row table to a kabillion-dollar view. I had the crab eggs Benedict, with hollandaise and red pepper sauce ($13.95), and hubby had the seared ahi tuna eggs Benedict with wasabi sauce. Always enjoy breakfast at Kihei Caffe, a rough-around-the-edges surfers' dive located directly across from the beach in Kihei. Food is good, ample and cheap. Hubby had the cinnamon roll French toast with coconut syrup and I had the loco moco with fried rice, an upgrade from sticky rice. Also enjoyed breakfast at Cane and Taro, Capt. Jack's on Front Street in Old Lahaina Town and Lahaina Coolers.

            The Star Noodle was the best luncheon site we found. Highly recommend the shrimp tempura appie, two colossal shrimp with a dark and yummy dipping sauce and a light and very special tempura. Hubby also had the bbq pork buns and we shared a bowl of pho. Be sure to check out the restrooms. They're unusual. Arrive by 11:15 to avoid the rush. The place really fills up after 11:30. Another favorite lunch spot is the Kula Lodge up Haleakala, which we hit en route to the lavendar farm. It is much cooler up the mountain so the huge fireplace is a welcome sight and a rarity on the Islands. It is possible to see the ocean off Kahului on the windward side and off Lahaina on the leeward side at the same time from such an altitude. Since we were headed Up Country anyway, we stopped at the bakery in Makawao to buy their wonderful masaladas, but, alas, they are closed on Wednesdays. We won't make that mistake again. The Saigon Cafe, by the way, is in Lahaina, not Kihei or Kahului. Hole-in-the-wall place but good food. Great for takeout. Stop at Costco when you exit the airport on arrival to find good buys on wines, liquor and snacks. I buy my coffee at the coffee plantation/shop/bakery located at the base of the smokestack in Lahaina (Maui Coffee Co., I do believe). At home in Oregon, I drink Molokai Island Princess coffee, which I order online. It is made with whole vanilla beans. OMG. I hope they serve this in heaven because it's manna for me here on Earth. Best mai tais we found are served at The Mai Tai Lounge on Front Street. They're only $5 each during the daily happy hour. Nice people, too. We did a bit of everything for dinner, from cooking in our condo to Mama's, Lahaina Coolers, Cool Cat, Bubba Gump's, "the Moose", Longhi's and Kimo's. Wanted to do a dinner cruise but just couldn't squeeze it in. Be sure to pick up a Maui Gold pineapple or two. Only 99 cents each at Safeway while we were there. So I made pineapple daiquiris...tee hee. A local creamery makes a macadamia nut ice cream that I'd read glowing reports about but I couldn't find any when I looked for it. Next time! While on the island, hubby surprised me with two tickets to the Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band concert at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center. Be sure to check their entertainment schedule online before you leave so that you don't miss something really, really fun! Have a great trip, Frodnesor, and report for us upon your return! Aloha.

            2 Replies
            1. re: pilotgirl210

              Pilot girl, did you mean to say that A Saigon Cafe is in Wailuku rather than Lahaina? This is the place where the staff loves to joke with you and often makes a fun production of demonstrating how the foods are put together. My kids especially enjoy eating there. It's a nice stop after visiting Iao State Park. In Lahaina did you maybe mean Pho Saigon or Saigon Seafood?

              1. re: terijoy

                Mea Culpa, terijoy!! You are absolutely right. I believe it was Saigon Seafood in the Whaler Mall by the Banyon tree? Little hole-in-the-wall place but good food. Would go there again. But I could eat Chinese/Vietnamese/Thai cuisine all the time. Hubby loves Mexican, and I absolutely hate it, so if he's buying we do Mexican, if I'm buying, we do Asian....tee hee. It works for us.

            2. We have now done Mala, Lahaina, three times, and I just do not get it. It's moderately OK, but nothing beyond. Have not dined across the Island, so cannot comment there.

              Personally, I would substitute Longhi for Gerhard's, which is nearby. I find the food, and the service much better.

              Loved I`o, and would recommend it.

              On Big Island, Cafe Pesto has always come through for us.



              1. Lots of good suggestions here, much appreciated. Some follow up inquiries:

                - what's the likelihood of finding fresh fish (to cook ourselves) in Hana? Is there a marina where we might be able to buy from fishing boats?

                - one of our nicknames for my daughter is the "Fruit Bat." She loves just about any exotic fruit - mango, papaya, lychees, mamey, canistel ...I've noted the recommendation for Yee's Orchard for mangoes and Maui Gold pineapples - any other fruit suggestions (again, Maui & Big Island)? When is lychee season in Hawaii?

                - let's focus a bit on local specialties: I've got poke, lau lau, lomi lomi salmon, kalua pig, loco moco, musubi, malasadas, manju, shave ice on my list. "Musubi' sounds a lot like onigiri? Has spam musubi completely taken over or can you find other kinds as well? "Manju" sounds a lot like mochi? Best places (Maui, Big Island) to find all of the above? Anything else we should be looking for?

                - Hunt - another friend recommended Longhi's as well. I feel kind of silly going out for Italian in Hawaii. Is it that good or is it a "good if you're in Hawaii and in the mood for Italian" kind of place?

                4 Replies
                1. re: Frodnesor

                  We were dazzled by the array of mango and banana varieties at South Kona Fruit Stand http://www.southkonafruitstand.com/

                  1. re: Frodnesor

                    If you go south of Wailea, where the road narrows into two lanes, you will find a wonderful fruit stand just off the road with all manner of offerings. At least we found it in March. It is along the road by the large stand of cactus. There is also a fruit market on the main highway just south of Lahaina.

                    1. re: Frodnesor

                      To answer some of your questions:
                      Lychee season runs from now through the summer.
                      Musubi and onigiri are one and the same, although some musubi are shaped differently, i.e. spam musubi.
                      Here in Hawaii I think most people associate manju with the flaky pie crust type manju, not the steamed type or "mochi wrapped around filling" type the way the Japanese define manju. Best examples of this type of manju are Home Maid Bakery or Sam Sato's on Maui and Lawai Manju on Kauai.

                      1. re: killersmile

                        OP is visiting in the summer, perfect for lychee season. If going to Hawaii in winter, a relative of lychee, the rambutan, will be available. It may be not quite as juicy and sweet, but it looks so cool, I can't resist buying it!
                        This link says that in Hawaii it's sometimes called a "hula berry". Check out the photo to see why.

                    2. Of our 4 nights in Volcano I cooked twice and we got take out from Thai Thai twice. So good we canceled our res to K Lodge.

                      1. Looks like Allen's Table in Kamuela has closed? Anyone have any news on this or where the chef, Allen Hess, has landed?

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Frodnesor

                          The poke is great at the fish counter of the supermarket in Waikoloa Village (up the hill from Waikoloa Beach). There is only one possible supermarket, you can't miss it. I make a beeline there for the poke and a tub of Hanalei poi, asap, upon landing. It's not a restaurant, but you sound like you might enjoy it, anyway.
                          I agree about Yee's mangoes and the Kihei Caffe on Maui. Eskimo Candy is a fish market in Kihei with equally good poke.

                          1. re: Frodnesor

                            Ken's House of Pancakes in Hilo is a place that we remember fondly. But just know going in that it's a popular local diner; no more, no less. Loco moco, saimin, portuguese sausage, etc. We have eaten there both morning and evening. Once in the evening, they shunted us over to a separate room that had nothing but tourists in it. So much for the local atmosphere.

                          2. Frodnesor, you asked about farm tours. Upcountry on Maui I love the O'o Farm lunch tour. This farm is owned by and provides produce for James McDonald's restaurants Pacific'O and I'o. It's a beautiful and delicious tour, especially if you are a food and garden geek as I am. If you want to see how Maui's local produce is grown and try it fresh from the gardens, prepared for you in a beautiful outdoor mountainside setting reserve the O'o Farm tour. http://www.oofarm.com/tour-luncheon/ You can even try coffee cherries from the trees and their delicious Aina coffee with Hawaiian chocolate truffles for dessert.
                            After lunch visit Surfing Goat Dairy, the lavender farm and the winery, along with local fruit stands. It's a lovely day.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: terijoy

                              Another really great tour company on Maui is http://www.mauicountryfarmtours.com they do a beautiful job and are fabulously personal and knowledgeable. I can't recommend them enough! Wish I were going again!

                            2. We are mid-trip right now and grateful for some good suggestions. Will recap when we return, but presently seeking a particular piece of advice:

                              Best sushi in Kohala Coast area? Was going to go to Norio's in the Fairmont but it is closed the days we are there. Sansei or Monstera? Or something else?

                              Also answered one of my own questions: Alan Hess is now at Canoe House, where we hope to go one of our nights there.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Frodnesor

                                My experience with the Maui Sansei taught me that it's good for fun maki rolls. And any discounts you can get (early bird etc). But that's about it.