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Oahu and Maui authentic local food advise

  • q

Hello All,
Family and I are traveling to Oahu and Maui in February. I want to experience the Hawaiian culture as much as possible so I'm primarily looking for food that's Hawaiian (Polynesian, Chinese, Portuguese, Japanese, etc). I prefer the local holes in the wall to the fancy resorts but have a few fancy resorts on my list as well. I plan on being all over both islands so I welcome recommendations anywhere. Below is what I have so far (based off of research from these boards and elsewhere) but want to make sure I'm not missing any MUST-eats! Also, anything on my list overrated?? Also, looking for good places to buy local fruits while on the island. Thanks for the help!!

Helena's - Lau lau, short ribs
Like Like Drive Inn - Saimin
Leonard's Bakery - Malasadas
Ono Hawaiian Foods -
Rainbow Drive-Inn - Plate Lunches
Mana Bu's - Musubi
Side Street Inn
Highway Inn
Various shrimp trucks - any favorites?
Matsumoto for shaved ice
Taniokas Seafood or Fresh Catch for poke
Shige's Saimin Stand
Ted's Bakery
Boot's & Kimo's for breakfast

Paia Fish Market
TJs Wharehouse for bentos
Old Lahania Lua
Tom's Mini mart - shaved ice
Mama's Fish House

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  1. I hope you have a LOT of TIME and a burning desire to eat at Boots & Kimo's, the lines there are absolutely outrageous, no kidding. You might think of Cinnamon's also in Kailua, they too have
    lines but not as long. They serve lots of great pancakes and many types of Benedict available in
    half orders.

    1. In Maui, Yee's Orchard for fruit, Eskimo Candy for poke, Kihei Caffe for breakfast, Coconut's Fish Cafe for fish tacos, Ululani's Shave Ice (now with 3 locations), Local Food for plate lunch.


      1. I would skip Like Like Drive Inn for saimin and instead go to Palace Saimin. If you are out in Waipahu, then Tanioka's is a must for poke. If in town, then I would go to Tamura's, Alicia's, or Ono Seafood for poke instead of Fresh Catch. Also for shave ice, go to either Shimazu, Waiola, or Ailana rather than Matsumoto.

        1 Reply
        1. re: killersmile

          i would also recommend palace saimin over like like and shige's. new, easy hours are 11a-11p, closed sundays and mondays.

          also make it a point to go to liliha bakery for coco puffs and chantilly cake. the other baked goods aren't that great to are really bad. the diner food is delish, though.

          you may want to go a korean place if you don't have one near you on the mainland. we like han yang (in kalihi right by palace saimin) and shillawon. chois garden is more expensive, but very clean. my parents' current favorite is million, a real hole in the wall, and good.

          for japanese food, i like gyotaku. there are two locations, one in town, and one in pearl city/aiea. it's gyoTaku, not the similarly named gyokaku. there are many great j restaurants here.

          you may want to try bubbies ice cream or a dave's ice cream for unusual flavors like green tea or purple okinawan sweet potato.

          you should check to see if a food truck rally will be happening during your stay. http://www.streetgrindz.com/eatthestr...

        2. Star Noodle in Lahaina. And it's Old Lahaina Luau--"lua" refers to a bathroom.

          5 Replies
          1. re: honu2

            Star Noodle was good, overpriced, but good. If we hadn't had a gift certificate we had won at the MACC, we probably wouldn't have gone at all. I'd rather have something from the Honolua General Store. Some of the best food we had this past Feb/Mar was sitting in our car eating shrimp from Geste shrimp truck, watching the windsurfers near Kahului harbor

            1. re: rexster314

              I agree that Star Noodle is pricey, but it does serve Fried Soup, which is as local to Maui (and possibly Lahaina) as you can possibly get. As far as I know, there are no restaurants on Oahu who have this non-soup dish on their menu.

              1. re: honu2

                can you tell us more about this fried soup? alas, i am on oahu

                1. re: indelibledotink

                  Those who have told me about "fried soup" all grew up in Lahaina when the sugar plantation/mill was paramount. It's apparently a noodle dish, originally prepared and sold by a grocery store on Dickerson St. near the Buddhist Temple, which was served in a paper cone made from butcher paper. I've asked whether it was what we would call fried saimin on Oahu and was told the noodles were wider but it was the same concept of noodles, a little bit of meat and vegetables fried together and seasoned with a shoyu-based sauce. A small-kid time comfort food experience akin to eating shave ice on a wood bench outside the store on a hot day while walking home from school.

                  1. re: honu2

                    Very cool, honu! Thank you for the story.

          2. sadly I have to agree with those who suggest giving LikeLike a pass. Even Zippy's has better saimin than theirs. Palace Saimin, Old Saimin House, and Sekiya's are all options. Dillingham (the old Boulevard) and Takaka's (the offshoot of Dilligham) just don't have it any more. I enjoyed the Saimin at 49er Fountain in Aiea very much as well. But if you have sentimental reasons for hitting up LikeLike so be it.

            17 Replies
            1. re: KaimukiMan

              Aloha K Man..
              Friends in Aiea love Youngs Kalbee..have you been?

              Love Giovanni's Shrimp truck in North Shore for their crack on a plate, garlic shrimp.
              Maui, I would add Gazebo in Napili for one of the best breakfast and Surfing Goat in Upcountry...Kula lodge is a good stop before the crater.

              1. re: Beach Chick

                Jawz food truck at Makena beach is fantastic after snorkeling/swimming..heads up though since they just had a Tiger shark attack.
                : (

                1. re: Beach Chick

                  Beach Chick - Have you tried the fish tacos at Coconuts Fish Cafe? From most reports, these are some of the best fish tacos anywhere. They use big juicy chunks of fish (not the fish shreds that Jaws uses) and something like 18 other fresh ingredients. Everyone says they are fantastic! Can't wait to try them in January.

                  QBall - Ive only been to Oahu once, so my recs are all for Maui. I'd say put Coconuts for fish tacos on your must do list. And also, very important, it is *shave ice* NO *d*. ;-) The only shave ice you need to try is Ululani's! Their ice is amazingly powdery fine and their syrups are made from scratch with real local fruits. The lilikoi is my favorite with li hing mui powder! If you must try another shave ice place go ahead and compare, but don't miss Ululani's!

                  Also you might want to try Kamoda Store and Bakery upcountry in Makawao, but go early before they run out of their famous cream puffs and other yummies.

                  The Fish Market in Honokowai is another stop for great, not fancy, food at a good price. Their original chef, and his recipes, came from Mama's Fish House.

                  We've enjoyed Old Lahaina Luau a couple of times, it's a fun experience. Load up your plate with the Ahi poke and kalua pork, and try the poi with the pork. Some of the other food is barely edible and not worth the calories imho. You can get great kalua pork and poke at other places. Have you looked at the option of doing Feast at Lele?

                  Oh, another good place to try is Mana Foods in Paia. It's a natural food store with lots of cool local products, including unusual fruits and some good prepared foods too. I always stop and get some produce and red salt among other things.

                  Karen gave you a good list, too. We plan to try Local Food in Lahaina in January as well. I'll come back with our impressions of these places, and we can see if we agree or not!
                  Have a great trip!

                  1. re: terijoy

                    Oh wait, I do have one don't miss rec for Oahu. The Saturday Farmer's Market at the community college! So many wonderful things to try there! I especially loved the miso butterfish. We picked up lots of fresh fruits and herbs to muddle into some delicious drink concoctions too!

                    1. re: terijoy

                      Woops! Sorry Kathryn - I'll try again
                      Kathryn gave you a good list!

                      1. re: terijoy

                        for fish tacos on Oahu, South Shore Grill can't be beat.

                          1. re: Joebob

                            yeah, well i wrote that before my trip to Luibueno's last week. So I'll ammend it to best in town. Trust Joebob to keep me on the straight and narrow... LOL

                      2. re: Beach Chick

                        Staying in Makena in January..... snorkeling every morning...... I will not fear sharks.... I will not fear sharks..... I will not fear sharks.... ommmmmmmmm......

                        1. re: terijoy

                          The old saying 'What you fear, will find you' ..
                          Don't go too early snorkeling..dawn and dusk rules usually apply but not always.
                          Jawz food truck is great and I love Makena area to swim/snorkel.

                          Have a great time and surround yourself with the Aloha of the island and you will be fine!

                          1. re: Beach Chick

                            Thanks Beach Chick! I've always meant to try Jaws, but we usually only get to South Maui one or two days on our trips and I love MonkeyPod so we eat there. This time we will stay south for part of our trip, so we should def try Jaws and Coconuts too.

                            Promise i will wait until the sun shines brightly before i go into the water. I have snorkeled with a four foot white reef tip shark and was curiously not afraid. If a tiger shark wants me I probably won't see it coming. But the same goes for getting hit by a car crossing the street and I will still do that, as well as swim and snorkel in the ocean - following safety rules of course.
                            Then I'll go get me some fish tacos!

                            1. re: terijoy

                              Those fish tacos at Coconuts look fantastic!
                              I'll be in the islands soon and it's on my list terijoy..
                              Have you been to Bev Gannon's General Store?

                              Aloha and have a wonderful time!

                              1. re: Beach Chick

                                Hali'imale General Store is on my want-to-do list for our upcountry day this year. We never have enough days! Husband wants to do the wood fired oven pizza at Kula Lodge. Not sure who will win, but I bet Bev Gannon's food is better. However we can always do one of her other places in South Maui. What do you think, is Hali'imale her best? We really enjoyed our O'o Farm lunch tour upcountry last year too.

                                1. re: terijoy

                                  Hali'imale and Mama's provided us with the best food.

                                2. re: Beach Chick

                                  Beach Chick, have you had your Maui trip yet? Did you try Coconuts?
                                  Well, we finally tried both Jawz and Coconuts fish tacos, and enjoyed them both, but didn't really find either to be rave-worthy. The Maui fish tacos I am raving about are from The Fish Market in Honokowai!!!
                                  They were exactly what I was hoping to get at Coconuts. Big juicy chunks of super-fresh ono, seasoned with a kick! Perfect corn tortillas, cabbage, nice tomatoes, really good salsa and topped with rich guacamole, yummmm.
                                  I should've been tipped off at Coconut's when the menu bragged about being low fat!! Hey, fat carries the flavor after all. Not that Coconut's wasn't good, they were. But I was expecting them to blow me away, and they didn't. The Fish Market did! And their other food was wonderful too. Also had poke and fresh fish to cook at home.
                                  I really recommend The Fish Market!
                                  Anyone else have an opinion on this place or Coconut's Fish Cafe?

                      3. re: KaimukiMan

                        the saimin at jane's on liliha is good as well

                      4. The Old Lahaina Luau was vile the night we went...I would seriously consider skipping it. However, Mama's Fish House is lovely. Be sure to ask for the table right at the front window for sunset, L-something...L-1?

                        1. Traditional Hawaiian cuisine is, to me, pretty bad. Carb loaded, greasy, underseasoned. Not good. Luaus are gross. Plate lunch places have always disappointed.

                          But fresh fish, locally sourced veg, creative chef sort of places are common. The Merriman's group of restaurants on Maui are great. Bev Gannon's places are great. Maui Taco is a nice local chain that has darn good tacos with an Hawaiian edge. Food trucks at Makena are good.

                          17 Replies
                          1. re: sal_acid

                            I beg to differ.. if you mean traditional Hawaiian food--it's healthy, except of the luau which included lots of pork fat. The traditional food calls for mostly raw fish and seafood, raw liver, opihi, spinach in coconut milk and kalua pig, boiled taro and sweet potato. The other greasy stuff is fusion of food from all over, e.g. Chinese, Korean, Japanese, fried food chain and the like. Usually Hawaiian food is pretty bland and simple. That is why back in the old days, the Hawaiians are much healthier than their present counterpart.

                            1. re: roro808

                              I don't know what it is about macaroni salad in the islands but damn its good..must be Best Foods mayo...da kine!

                              1. re: Beach Chick

                                Thanks for the recommendations everyone! Keep'em coming. I'm going to have to hit the gym more so I can fit these all in...

                                I'm going to try and add
                                Coconut's Fish Café
                                Palace Saimin
                                Yee's Orchard
                                Dave's Ice Cream
                                Star Noodle - sounds controversial...
                                Geste Shrimp Truck
                                Fish Market in Honokowai

                                We'll be traveling with my 20 month old son so we decided to do the Old Lahaina Luau instead of the feast. I know what to expect out of a Luau and won't be surprised if the food isn’t top notch.

                                1. re: Beach Chick

                                  yep, best foods and PLENTY

                                  a typical hawaii recipe for mac or potato salad has about 50 percent more mayo.

                                  1. re: KaimukiMan

                                    Any clue where to get some good opakapaka (snapper)? I've heard it's good to eat but haven't seen it on any menus that I've been searching.

                                    Preferably on Maui (my Oahu plate is pretty full already...)

                                    1. re: Qball

                                      I've had it at Roy's Waikiki..
                                      It's one of the most common fish on the menu in the islands along with Ahi..
                                      Try Mama's on Maui, Bev Gannon's General Store.
                                      It's a lovely clean fish and served year round.

                                      1. re: Qball

                                        Opakapaka, Monchong, Ono, Opah, etc. are rarely 'staples' on any restaurant's menu, more of a special depending on what looked good to the buyer/chef that morning.

                                        1. re: KaimukiMan

                                          The thing about opakapaka availability is this: on Oahu at least, the restaurants, supermarkets and hotel all buy the fresh fish they serve/sell at the morning fish auction that takes place at Pier 38. Assuming that the opakapaka being served is not a frozen import, then whether or not it is on the menu will depend on its availabity for sale at the auction and the buyer/chef 's decision to buy. Often it appears the "catch of the day" on the menu or a special item advertised for sale in supermarkets that is "depending on availability." Or if a lot of opakapaka was caught, it will appear everywhere on the same day.

                                        2. re: Qball

                                          If you happen to be at West Oahu, try Fried Red Snapper with Chili Garlic Sauce at Thai-Lao in Kapolei. Absolutely delish., but prepare to eat informally by using your fingers :)

                                          1. re: Qball

                                            I'd also suggest trying Moi and Opah (!!), if you see it. YUM.

                                          2. re: KaimukiMan

                                            Aloha my bruddha K man..
                                            50 percent MORE Best foods..no wonder I love it..

                                      2. re: sal_acid

                                        >>Traditional Hawaiian cuisine is, to me, pretty bad. Carb loaded, greasy, underseasoned<<

                                        Then I would politely suggest you have no idea what traditional Hawaiian cuisine is. Other than poi, there was very little carb in the traditional Hawaiian diet, it was all fish, pig, chicken and vegetables.

                                        And then you recommend tacos? Seriously? And food trucks?

                                        1. re: scottca075

                                          Didn't mean to offend.

                                          Clearly I am referring to what seems to constitute current hawaiian cuisine as presented to tourists..plate lunch places as well as the stuff that appears at luaus.

                                          I did go on to say that there was a lot of good stuff too.

                                          Food truck fish tacos I've had have been anything but greasy.

                                          1. re: sal_acid

                                            First of all we don't have "food trucks" anywhere in the state. the correct term is "lunchwagon." And there are some really good lunchwagons out there.

                                            Only the Alii got pork, but the ancient Hawaiians in addition to poi did eat a lot of sweet potato, brought with the earliest polynesians. It was so much a part of their diet that antropologists use the varieties of sweet potato as one method of tracing the spread of pre-contact polynesian peoples throughout Oceania from New Zealand in the South to Easter Island in the East, to Hawaii in the North.

                                            Finally what Sal refers to as "Current Hawaiian Cuisine" is local food, vastly different than Hawaiian food.

                                            I think that places like Alan Wong's, Chef Mavro, Roy's, Sam Choy's, Gannon's and the like pretty much refute the idea that Local Food is inherently uninteresting.

                                            1. re: KaimukiMan

                                              Clearly I have run afoul of terminology.

                                              Completely agree w the high class local food being great (think I said as much earlier without calling it "local food") Gannon's, Choy's and Alan Wong's stuff I've loved (and said as much earlier :-)) I just had a really great meal at Wong's new place, Amasia. At risk of another terminology faux pas,I'd call it an Asian tapas place that also has good mostly traditional sushi.

                                            2. re: sal_acid

                                              No offense taken... well at least no permanent damage was inflicted, I recover from these grievous wounds pretty quickly. :)

                                              I am not a fan of the shrimp trucks and don't really consider them "local" food, and certainly not "traditional" (which is the distinction 'local' vs 'traditional', local is the blending of cultures, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, American, Filipino with Hawaiian and traditional being 'pre-contact' foods).

                                              Lunchwagon is the older term, but the hipsters are winning and taking over, Honolulu has monthly 'food truck' events now. It is hard to stem the tide.


                                              1. re: scottca075

                                                I'm an old fuddy duddy, fundamentally opposed to the californication of Honolulu. Your tolerance is apprciated Scott.

                                        2. Hi Qball - not sure where you'll be staying in Maui, but here are some of our favorites and not-so-favorites, mostly in and around the Lahaina/Kaapalua area. In no particular order:

                                          Paia Fish Market - we go every trip, it's casual, it's tasty, it's fresh. Fish tacos (duh).

                                          Saigon Seafood - a new find this past September, crazy ugly location (looks like 3 adjoining rooms on the first floor of a converted, dilapidated Motel 6), shockingly fresh and delicious vietnamese food. We went for dinner 3 times during a 10 day trip. (eek). Banh xeo and green papaya salad were favorites.

                                          Hali'imale General Store - lovely, comfortable restaurant - you might do the Maui Gold Pineapple Tour in the morning, then walk across the parking lot for lunch, makes for a fun half day. The food is good but not (IMHO) mind-blowing. But ambiance+food+pineapple upside down cake (I don't even LIKE pudc, but this was pretty tasty) make it a worthwhile visit, 'specially if you're there for the pineapple tour anyways.

                                          Banyan Tree - expensive, but lovely and we always enjoy it. We always do the chef's tasting menu at restaurants like this, and BT has never failed to wow us. Creative, interesting food - not particularly "Hawaiian", but certainly using mostly local product (some grown on-site at the Ritz).

                                          Leoda's Kitchen and Pie Shop - side of the freeway, no alcohol (so go for lunch), but lovely sandwiches and a couple of hot dishes (burger, chicken fried steak), all made from locally sourced, mostly (all?) organic product (including their meats). Note: I saw that you are looking for fruit stands. Do NOT go to the fruit stand about a hundred yards down from Leoda's - that guy sells rotting fruit to the unknowing for above high retail prices, it's (literally) highway robbery.

                                          Ululani's Shave Ice - we like the original location in downtown Lahaina best, but there is a 2nd location tucked away downtown, as well as one in Kuhului. We go to all of them, and truly, you haven't had shave ice until you've been here. Something's different about the texture of their ice, and they make all their own syrups - I stick with the fruit-based syrups (because chocolate shave ice seems weird to me) like mango, lilikoi, coconut and li hing mui (try the li hing mui, which is salted plum-based, it's amazing).

                                          The O'o Farm Tour with lunch: the farm is fun - small, but the tour guide tells you all about what they've tried, what's worked, what hasn't, teaches you something about their microclimate, etc. At the end of the tour, they seat you under the most charming outdoor arbor EVER, at the most incredible wood slab table ever, and their chef cooks an amazing meal for you and your tour mates from product you just helped pick. They brew locally grown coffee for the dessert course, and you can bring your own bottle of wine to enjoy with your meal (highly recommend....bring a white or light red, the meal is highly veg with only modest amounts of fish). I found this meal much more fun and delicious than our dinner at one of their restaurants (we chose I'o).

                                          Now the not-so-favorites:

                                          Star Noodle - I know, right? Figured I'd tackle the controversial one right off the bat. We went twice (both lunches), the best things we had we had were the tuna poke and the malasadas. Between us and our friends, we sampled about 6 noodle dishes and were completely underwhelmed by all (disclaimer: we live in the SF Bay Area and have access to a lot of good noodle dishes). The broths were not flavorful, but at the same time, intensely salty - this coming from a salt lover. We thought it might be a one-time error, but it was consistent during our second visit a few days later. The various meats and other product in the noodle dishes were very very bland (except for the kim chee, which was again intensely salty). Nice building, though.

                                          Plantation House: CH's seem to like the brunch, I've never been. We've been for dinner 3 times (over 3 visits....what's wrong with us?? It's close by and the resort shuttle goes there, that's what's wrong....) and we're not going back. Gorgeous location, lovely building.....food is what we imagine "fancy resort food" was like in 1974. Awful. Merriman's, at a similar price point, is not particularly inspired cooking, but at least consistently fresh and reliable (luckily, resort shuttle goes there, too).

                                          Hope that helps!

                                          6 Replies
                                          1. re: karen_y

                                            Good advice. I'll just order the catch of the day. How's Nico's at Pier 38? I've heard they have good fresh fish for reasonable prices.

                                            Thanks for the suggestions Karen. I was going to do the pineapple tour but the website site my wife cannot go because she is pregnant. Bummer. I've had pineapples on Oahu but never a Maui Gold. Is there much of a difference?

                                            1. re: Qball

                                              Nico's is one of the best choices for fresh fish, prepared or from the fish market there.

                                              1. re: Qball

                                                Yes. there is a difference. Maui Gold is a hybrid that is very sweet and bigger in size. It does not have the delicious tartness you find in regular pineapple, which I prefer.

                                                Also it is a hybrid that can stay fresh for a longer time, hence the produce is mostly sold in the tourist industry. But you can also find it in local stores and markets.

                                              2. re: karen_y

                                                I would never go to Plantation House for dinner and don't know anyone that stays West side that goes there.
                                                It's only for breakfast and drinks/apps after playing 18 at Kapalua.
                                                Fabulous food, with no wait, reasonable and great views.

                                                1. re: Beach Chick

                                                  I know it is an old topic, but Plantation House is one of my favorite west side restaurants for dinner. I know a lot of others that enjoy it as well.

                                                  1. re: scottca075

                                                    Aloha Scott!

                                                    Such a huge fan of Plantation House..breakfast has been out of the park home run...before tee time at breakfast or lunch afterwards.

                                                    Addicted to the eggs benedict with ahi and the wasabi hollandaise...no lines, great prices, fab views and great food and service.

                                                    Haven't had such good luck for dinner but always respect your opinions and will give it another go very soon.

                                                    Mahalo and Aloha