A travel journal
to Maui by smmmarti guide
Quote: By knowing where to go for the best value, living or visiting Hawaii on a budget is easy as poi.
After airlines and lodging, what is more important than food and shopping?
Maui has an abundance of fun, fine, festive dining establishments and local eateries if you want to avoid cooking. But let's face it, at some point during your stay you'll want something quick, simple, cheap, or homey. You may conclude it's easiest to eat in. But beware. The astonishing tally at Safeway will remind you not a penny was saved with this tactic and now you face unloading, cooking, cleaning and other unappealing ways to squander vacation time.
After a few years of trial and error, questioning locals, and stumbling upon some true finds, I learned gradually about Maui's secret retail outlets and honestly good, local dining venues. I'm sharing my discoveries hoping that residents and visitors alike may save time and avoid missteps, thereby enhancing their Maui experience. This guide is for those who enjoy stepping outside the boundaries of tourist-dom and are excited to learn more about the island and where the folks who live here buy their bargain goods.
The smaller towns of Wailuku, Makawao, Kula, Pa`ia, and Haiku hold the greatest shopping treasures and are opportune hosts to some of Maui's more spectacular scenery and natural wonders. Here you find the gardens, organic farms, farmers' markets, flower growers, island ranches and a dairy where organic food products are sold at the source of their creation.
Only in Hawaii
Where else in the U.S. do you find a walk-up sushi bar window adjacent to the Ace Hardware garden supplies? How many drug stores carry fresh-daily locally grown produce and beef from nearby cattle ranches? And quick! Name your favorite local malasada and guri-guri outlet -- something every self-respecting Hawaiian could do.
Instead, get a detailed local map available at the drug store, hardware, or Coconuts activity centers and filling stations. The small book with the shiny white cover and blue type maps out each and every local community in detail with all streets and navigable trails easily marked. You'll need it in places where the ocean doesn't serve as immediate and ever-ready directional (mauka and makai) but instead winding, hilly lanes and confusing upcountry back roads easily confound locals and tourists alike.
Even with a good map, many streets are unmarked. Unless you like getting lost, it's best to call ahead and ask the proprietor of your destination for landmarks and street names, the accepted method for direction giving in Maui.
Hotel | "Kaanapali Beach Hotel"
Kaanapali Beach Hotel was voted the most Hawaiian hotel by the Honolulu based Waiaha Foundation, a Hawaii non-profit organization dedicated to honoring the Hawaiian culture. Read anything about the hotel -- any print ad, review, or website -- and you’ll be aware of this award. Never mind that the hotel has also won accolades from readers of Travel and Leisure as Hawaii’s best value and also sits on the esteemed Conde Nast Gold list. What KBH won’t let you overlook is that they are recognized as the most Hawaiian. This alone proves up what matters to them most.
That they deserve the title is apparent the moment you arrive on the property. Although it shares a beachfront location with several other famous corporate resorts (Sheraton, Westin, Marriott, and Hyatt), the KBH sets itself apart in so many ways. Low-key, low-slung, and brimming with a-lo-ha, the staff here is authentically welcoming, down-home, and Hawaiian. Perhaps it's their heritage and natural love of the island enhanced by their participation in the Ke Kula O Ka Pookela (School of Excellence), a series of educational seminars that immerses employees in the history and details of Hawaiian culture. Whatever the reasons, guests are plunged into the warm waters of Aloha, assimilating the spirit as if by osmosis.
Walk through the open-air lobby, ponder the native Hawaiian implements and instruments, and outrigger the canoe and Tiki god statues. Educate yourself on the history of the Ali’I, described on various placards throughout the hotel. Join the staff as they sing, dance, and dish up mixed-plate buffets to compliment Keiki Hula night under the stars. Body surf, beachcomb, and share a mai tai with locals at the Tiki Hut. Channel your inner Luther Billis by joining the staff for an impromptu hula lesson.
It’s easy to go Hawaiian here since KBH employees view co-workers and guests as Ohana (family). At least 30 employees have chosen to join the ukulele repertoire, some taking advantage of the hotel’s "payroll deduction" plan to buy their instrument. Those adorable little keiki-hula girls you see in the hotel's ads? All children of hotel employees.
In a coconut shell, Kaanapali Beach Resort is one vacation hotel where you can immerse yourself into the local culture without ever leaving the property. In contrast, if you sequestered yourself at any of the other corporate owned and operated Kaanapali Beach resorts, you’d rob yourself of experiencing a vital aspect of Hawaiian life. But at KBH, you can learn the hula, weave a lauhala mat, plunk the ukulele, make a lau print, and speak Hawaiian, all while never loosing sight of the brilliant beach.
Of course, the staff will encourage you to explore Maui beyond the gates. They may even invite you to dinner with their Ohana!
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on October 23, 2004
Ka'anapali Beach Hotel
2525 Kaanapali Parkway Lahaina
Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii 96761
In time the mixed up plates, as they could more aptly be called, became the Hawaiian diet mainstay. Char-sui chicken, chow mein, chow funn, (Chinese), shoyu and teriyaki (Japanese), lomi-lomi salmon, laulau, and kalua pig (Hawaiian), adobe stew and ribs (Filipino), all found a place on the menu along with the famous and required "two scoop rice" and macaroni salad, included with everything from chili to spaghetti dinners.
Available all over Hawaii from deli counter at grocery markets to walk-up windows at fast food joints, the place voted unanimously as the best location to try the cultural dining icon is Aloha Mixed Plate. Due to its revered locations just across from the Lahaina Cannery Mall, right next door to the Old Lahaina Luau and directly on the ocean under the shade of ancient trees, visitors and locals alike flock here for ocean views and dining at its relaxed best.
One major appeal of the mixed plate is that it fills you up and costs just a little. It seems construction workers and surfers to crave the high calorie content of the mixed plate but unless you've been biking up Haleakala, snorkeling Molokini or swimming the Paniola Channel, you may opt for something a bit lighter if you want to fit into your bikini tomorrow. Besides the calorie rich menu items Aloha also serves a tasty Asian chicken salad to take a bit of the carb out of the mix. For health nuts and vegetarians try a taro burger, a version of the meatless hamburger made from the famous Hawaiian root. To simply sample the mixed plate from the cultural immersion perspective, order Aloha's mini plate option served with single scoop rice (sic).
The restaurant also offers a Keiki menu but before the kids rush into the same old grilled cheese and hotdogs suggest they try the favorite of local kids instead - chow funn. This is the island version of mac 'n cheese -- without the cheese. Egg noodles cooked in broth, mixed with a few vegetables (anything from onions to bean sprouts) combine to make a satisfyingly mild, salty flavor that kids and adults adore.
It's little wonder people return time and again to indulge in the hearty local comfort food where a few bucks buys views that rival upscale establishments. With a demeanor that's decidedly barefoot in the sand and low prices, it's everything "Maui as a local" is about.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on August 3, 2004
Aloha Mixed Plate
1285 Front St
Maui, Hawaii 96761
I had been searching for floor tile across the street when I saw the brightly painted facade with a sign in the window: Breakfast - $2.99. Inside I found the owner lingering to talk story with patrons, many whom he seemed to know intimately.
Soon enough he sat down and told me his tale. Twenty years ago he relocated to Maui and opened his dream restaurant. When the landlord tried to raise the rent he went door to door soliciting the involvement of other tenants. Together they bought the property from the landlord. The Ding's now own property from Kahului to Kula but Papa gives credit for their success to Mama, introducing her as the backbone of his business and his life since it is her cooking and love that made it all possible.
I took my husband back to Mama Ding's just one week after my first visit. I wanted him to meet Papa and to taste the unique flavors served here. It was evident by the lunch hour rush that the specialties cut across many borders. Tourists along with locals of all backgrounds were happily enjoying Mama Ding's lunch plate specials - everything under $7.
Neither of us had had pasteles before so we ordered a mixed plate which included a small sampling of many dishes including gandule rice, pulled pork, salad, fried plantains and the coveted specialty and namesake.
After tasting the pasteles, I couldn't quite place the texture and flavor; something like a tamale, but not at all grainy. The waitress explained it is made from a labor intensive process whereby plantain (banana) is grated then pounded and rolled in the little sausage shapes with pork and vegetable fillings.
In all honesty, I'd reckon pasteles is an acquired taste but it is easy to see how people develop a longing for the sweet, salty, chewy dish, something that must be particularly appealing to children. For now, I'm more likely to revisit Mama Ding's primarily to talk story with the hospitable owners and to indulge in the absolutely delicious Eggs Bermuda or French toast made with homemade bread flavored with island fruits. For lunch, the chorizo burger really kicks the old meat in the bun habit up a notch while bacaloa salads and pork stew offer something entirely new.
Breakfast for a few dollars, lunch between $2-7, a location off the tourist track, mounds of atmosphere and congeniality are the many amenities that have kept Mama Ding's in business all these years without the benefit of tourist trade or advertising. That adds up to a formula that locals love and intrepid vacationers love learning about.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on August 3, 2004
Pinata's dive-like charm finds brightly colored pinatas hanging from the ceiling barely managing to hide the stains on the acoustic tiles. Formica topped tables and mismatched chairs give the establishment just enough seedy warmth while the overall cleanliness factor assure diners the focus remains simply on the food, not the decor.
Hey, the food must be good! In spite of the out-of-the-way location tucked into the back corner of the nondescript strip mall, in spite of the absence of any semblance of chic, arrive at lunch or dinner and find the joint jumping with locals and visitors crossing all lines of social and ethnic distinction. But then again, that is true of most of Maui's more popular local eateries.
Pinanta's wraps a great enchilada. Their "kitchen sink burrito" is now legendary having recently won the Reader's Poll for best on the island. Large enough to feed a family of four for about $6, you can't beat the flavor and value.
I've ordered the taco salad and been overly sated with the restaurant's version of "light" eating since the salad fixin's come with grilled chicken or steak, sour cream, guacamole and cheese tucked into a fried tortilla shell bowl. If you are sincere in your desire to eat light try the fish tacos - delicate locally caught snapper wrapped in a soft, warm tortilla served with a special creamy sauce and shredded cabbage. Most entrees are also offered as a plate lunch which includes seasoned rice and cheese smothered refried beans for a small additional charge.
Most important to note is Pinatas authentic south of the border seasonings and use of fresh ingredients. They serve nothing that reeks of plastic packaging or portion controlled servings froma metal tube. They don't even attempt to be cute or with-it. Instead, you get the idea that mamacita is in the back patting handmade tortillas just for you.
Order, then help yourself to the red, green, mild, medium, hot and muy caliente salsa, or try the jalapenos and fresh chopped cilantro to further bring out the flavors of the foods.
There is something empowering about filling up those little condiment cups while you anticipate your made-to-order lunch. Then, diving into the gigantic portions of piping hot mouth-watering and nutritious food you realize this would be a good value at twice the price.
To me that's more fun than a papier-mache burro filled with candy!
395 Dairy Rd.
Maui, Hawaii 96732
Restaurant | "Gaby's Pizza"
It’s true, there would be no point in installing air conditioning in this open-aired venue not far from the ocean. The problem is that it does not face the ocean trade winds and a thin coating of schmutz kicks up from Front Street traffic through the veranda instead. To endure all this, you must understand that the caterpillar roll is fantastic.
Gaby’s is essentially a pizza parlor but also serves sandwiches, salads and specialties that knock your socks off, brok da mouf, and become somewhat addictive. The caterpillar roll won first place as a novelty entry at the annual Taste of Lahaina fest a few years back. It begins with an exceedingly light and tasty pizza dough laden with sun-dried tomatoes, cheese, pesto sauce, artichoke hearts, which is then rolled and sliced like a giant overstuffed sushi roll. It is served with a remarkable sauce combo; a pale green mild pesto and cream sauce and a traditional Italian red dipping sauce. It is perfection as a lunch entree or an appetizer before dinner.
The specialty roll takes 20 minutes to bake. While I waited, Gaby offered me a free drink. It was a slow time of day between lunch and dinner. We talked story about his secret entry into the "Taste of Lahaina" this year, his expectations of winning - again. Soon, one of Maui’s top chefs came in and took his familiar seat at the bar two stools down from me. Then another arrived, making it obvious what chefs must long for before heading to their exquisite dining venues to begin a night of slicing, dicing, saucing and drizzling -- a caterpillar roll at Gaby’s.
The kitchen staff plopped the cardboard box on the counter before Gaby.
"My roll?" I asked expectantly.
"Why you take out? Eat here. Have a drink!" he insisted.
"Sorry, Gaby," I countered, "gotta run. I have kids waiting!"
"Next time," he agreed.
"Next time!" I assured him.
But in truth I was really looking forward to the breath of fresh air I’d find on the tradewinds side of the Lahaina beach where I intended to curl up under a palm tree and devour my caterpillar roll like a sly mongoose who’d just stolen a picnic basket.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on August 5, 2004
505 Front St
Lahaina, Hawaii 96761
+1 808 661 8112
Restaurant | "Dish---Dine in Fabulously"
So why spend your vacation in the kitchen? I know, the family is appreciative and cooking in the condo is a good way to eat well and save on the holiday budget, right?
Not exactly. Getting into the local spirit of pau hana requires you do things differently than at home. Otherwise your holiday risks becoming just another work day. How could you possibly have time to enjoy the beach, snorkeling, shopping, hiking
and relaxing if all you do is market, cook and clean up?
Besides, the only thing worse than being expected to give up your vacation time to chores is to spend $100 on condiments and staples you'll only leave behind. I checked just the other day and with spices ranging from $3 - $5 jar, I'd have spent $45 just to make a pot of Pad Thai.
Which is why I jumped for joy and sang hallelujah when the ladies at the island's newest and best concept service outlet, Dish, opened late last year (2003). Dish essentially purchases food at wholesale prices, prepares it with loving care, and packs it for dining at your leisure. Need I remind you that leisure in Maui is an operative word?
How to Vacation Like a Pro
Visit Dish online in advance of your visit, place an order based on your family's needs and preferences, and announce your date for pick-up. After touching down on Maui in Kahului, swing by Dish's pristine, sparkling, hip location on Hana Highway minutes from the airport. Your meals for the week will be conveniently packaged in freezable, disposable tins or plastic bags. (Be certain to eat the fresh island fish dish for dinner the first night to immediately submerge yourself in Maui's sense of place -- the sea.)
There are more advantages to Dish than the labor saving component. By allowing experts to prepare your "unique and appetizing meals" you'll try something delicious, new and different rather than simply resorting to easy-to-prepare but boring fare. Instead of roast chicken and steaks, try the curry chicken, macadamia coconut shrimp or brown sugar pork chops.
To further enhance the ease and value of their service, Dish has recently added a salad bar. So rather than buying full heads of lettuce, stalks of celery, whole cucumbers, only to use a portion of it and watch the rest wither in the crisper bin, you can also leave the chopping, slicing and dicing to Dish.
Overall, the take-home meal concept is a brilliant notion, tourist destination or not, pau hana or busy workday. With products this tasty and convenience this formidable, the founders and operating partners deserve a Nobel Prize for making life on the island stress free, and a Good Taste award for making the food so D-lish.
Now if they would only add mai tais to go...
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on August 6, 2004
150 Hana Highway
Maui, Hawaii 96732
He leers towards her, caught irrepressibly in her spell. She tips her martini glass - salut! Through fluttery false eyelashes, grown a bit heavier with the effects of gin, the femme fetale plays coy. After all, she hasn’t had her foie gras yet.
The cover of Gerard’s menu suggests this classic French notion of romance wrapped in mischievous tease. Gerard’s food isn’t as elusive or confusing as the lady, although it’s every bit as alluring.
The restaurant is housed in the Plantation Inn, a turn-of-the-century structure with a broad front porch and Victorian gingerbread styling smack in the middle of Lahaina. Edith Piaf, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra croon their respective interpretations of the glories of Paris while bow-tied waiters in starched white shirts (all tall, slim, and handsome) carry on the business of delivering award-winning cuisine as if it were a simple walk down the Champs Elysee. Or in this case, ripping the waves at Honolua Bay.
Gerard hails from the Gascony region of France and developed his craft painstakingly through years of apprenticeship with of some of the country’s top chefs. For over 25 years now, he’s lived in Maui and managed to bring a new approach to classic cooking to the island - he uses the best ingredients available from Maui farmers and producers, turning the raw material into fabulous dishes. So wonderful are his culinary creations that he regularly earns a spot on Hawaii’s top-ten restaurants lists and numerous awards for his artistry in the kitchen.
To back up the claims, let’s examine Gerard’s tuna tartare, a dish common on fine dining menus everywhere these days. However, only Gerard’s tastes like this, the perfect melding of Dijon, soy, and je n‘est sais quoi. Likewise, the spinach salad with scallop is so perfectly balanced it could pass for a satisfying main course itself.
After tasting nearly everything on Gerard’s menu during my tenure in Maui, I am hard pressed to identify favorites. For one thing, everything Gerard turns out is at least better than you’ve had it elsewhere. The yellow fin tuna and smoked salmon carpaccio is tres elegant and the caramelized pork loin with rhubarb compote is simply irresistible. The biggest question is how a four-course meal at Gerard’s leaves one feeling absolutely fabulous and fit for the beach tomorrow? As Gerard explains it, the secret lies in the exquisitely fresh ingredients, de-fatting every dish, and the no-artificial-anything approach he takes to his lovely cooking.
Recalling the heady scent and delightful flavor of Gerard’s red snapper with star anise, I‘m inspired to make another reservation, tout de suite. (On the last visit, I netted a $25 gift certificate on the frequent diners program.)
Ahhh, la vie est belle, non?
174 Lahainaluna Road
Lahaina, Hawaii 96761
+1 808 661 8939; +1
Grocery shopping presents one of the biggest surprises of the Valley Isle and also generates the most complaints (aside from overdevelopment and traffic.) It doesn't have to be so painful, however. Follow my advice and do as locals do to manage around high tariffs and often low quality foodstuff that often seems shipped on a slow boat solely to punish people lucky enough to be in paradise. Visiting many of the outlets I suggest is also entertaining, informative and will take you to beautiful destination in Maui beyond the beachfront resorts.
Since the best outlets tend to be scattered across the island you may want to visit them when you already have a tour scheduled to that particular area. Or, you could make the rounds all in one grand day and get a feel for the local flavor and variety of the island immediately.
Your best buy is beef raised in the free range style from Ulupalakua Ranch in upcountry Maui. The steaks haven't traveled far to your grill - unlike many meat items sold in Hawaii.
For the best selection, try the Ace Hardware in Kula If it seems odd to buy meat from a hardware store, consider the sushi sold outside the walk-up window at the Kihei Ace. Things are often sold unconventionally in Maui, so just trust me. Ace is the place.
A less conventional outlet for the award winining beef is Long's Drug store at the Lahaina Cannery Mall. They carry a limited supply of steaks, ground beef and the local favorite - short ribs. Long's also surprises by selling produce and eggs in a little refrigerator near the back along with pantry items and Hawaiian specialties and locally grown produce. This makes it the perfect place to pick up dinner and a six-pack with your snorkel gear.
Costco, conveniently located near the airport, is another good alternative for meat purchases. Prices are good for family packs and higher grade meat is offered than many supermarket chains o n the island. Somehow Costco also manages to ship in fresh chicken. Elsewhere on the island it has typically been pre-frozen and thawed, so be forewarned.
You would expect great fresh fish to be plentiful and inexpensive on Maui, but the demand from restaurants around the world is high and therefore so are prices. Unless you catch it yourself or know a fisherman, you won't find many seafood bargains although most of what you buy will be fresh.
The Fish Market at Honokawai marketplace next to the fabulous Okazuya Deli sells decent fish and prepared seafood dishes. Foodland and Safeway across the island have tasty poke and instore sushi chefs for carry out fixes. Napili Market has hired a particularly good sushi chef who fashions a mean roll for bento boxes everywhere.
I have developed a craving for fresh Kauai shrimp often offered at special prices around the island. Never frozen and inexpensive, it forms the basis for many a quick at home dinner.
Is "the feta mo' bettah" at the Surfing Goat Dairy? Most people seem to think so.
The burgeoning caprine enterprise in Kula makes handcrafted cheeses to supply the local upscale restaurant demand for goat cheese. The Dairy offers retail sales at various outlets around Maui and terrific trays and gift baskets at fantastic prices. On site, they offer a cheese tasting tour which is very popular in the agri-tourism circuit. After strolling the site, learning about the goats and cheese making operation, guests sit under a shade tree with bi-coastal views of Maui and taste dozens of flavored soft cheeses on crackers and fruit. It's truly wunderbar, as Thomas says.
You may scoff at the name, but Who Cut the Cheese is the answer to prayers for cooks in Maui. Fresh buffalo mozzarella, real Italian proscuitto and Spanish ham, wines and every sort of cheese you could need are imported from all over the world and waiting for you at the Azeka Mall in Kihei.
In chain groceries, unless they are offering loss leaders, expect to pay $6/gal. for milk and $2/dozen for eggs, with yogurt seldom less than $1/cup. Alternative venues include the locally owned Ono's in Wailuku, a Certified Grocer with everyday low prices, and again, Costco wins as the best place to stock up on run-of-the-mill dairy products. Also try Mano, in Pa`ia and Down to Earth in Lahaina and Kahului for the healthiest versions including lactose free and soy versions of milk.
Produce and Fruit
If you shop the farmer's markets and specialty stores you will score big from a vast assortment of excellent organic produce and tropical fruits grown on the island. If you don't, you may as well be visiting the desert in a third-world country and buy canned and frozen varieties of produce. Okay, in a pinch, Safeway does fine, but beware the $7 quarts of strawberries from Chile and $5/lb. local sweet onions.
Instead, it is best to stay alert for postings announcing hours for farmer's markets near you. There are a few daily markets; in Wailuku across from the I`oa Theater, and in Honokowai just past the ABC store. Selections may be limited in both markets if you arrive late. If you miss it, the Saturday Flea Market in Kahului (5:30 a.m. to Noon) has produce as does the Friday farmer's market at the Queen Ka`ahumanu Mall. Visits to upcountry gardens and farms always offer an opportunity to take fresh grown products home after enjoying the outing and views. Regular hours are also kept by the Farmer's Market of Maui, a group of growers who set up in Honokawai in the parking lot across from the beach park on M/W/F mornings and in Kihei just past Suda's from 1:30 - 5:30 p.m.
A few retail establishments offer the more popular fruits and vegetables, Maui Onions, Pineapple, Papaya, Macadamia Nuts and other tropicals every day. Take Home Maui in Lahaina and the Tropical Plantation in Waikapu along with the Maui Fresh Store in Hailemaile, are such outlets. also, the amazing Long's drug store offers a great selection of locally grown well-priced produce. Arrive early as they sell out quickly.
Bakeries and Treats
Malasakas are surely the island's favorite pastry. also with roots in Portugal, the cross between a beignet and donut is deep-fried egg pastry sprinkled with sugar and eaten warm. The puffy morsels draw crowds and queues wherever they are sold.
Komoko Bakery, in Makawao, is the known malasaka king and also turns out a wild assortment of other special treats making the drive upcountry worthwhile. Arrive early as they sell out quickly of eclairs and malasadas most days and weekends it's only the early bird who gets the goodies.
in Kaanapali also makes a great malasada to order, as does the little Asian/Filipino deli tucked into the industrial/service area behind Pizza Hut in Lahaina. The Lahaina Bakery, across the street, bakes a delicious assortment of stout and sweet breads, pies, cookies and cakes.
Wailuku has no less than four stellar outlets for cakes and pastries. Stillwell's is the best known and also serves fabulous soups, salads and sandwiches. They are particularly noted for their special holiday creations from gingerbread to tea cakes.
Four Sisters, aptly run by four Filipino sisters, is small but makes some items not found elsewhere such as pudding and meat filled buns that kids love. Nearby, Home Maid Bakery also bakes ethnic favorites, empanadas, manju (sweet bean filled buns) and delightfully unique breads. Everything here is made from scratch the old-fashioned way and drips with flavor.
Although it isn't a grocery item, this list would not be complete without mentioning Guri-Guri available in the Maui Mall in Kahului. You probably have heard of shave ice, the snow-cone type treat ubiquitous to Hawaii, but guri-guri blows that syrup drizzled ice to Hades. The creamy sherbet-like confection is better than Italian Ice, different from ice cream, and more delectable than frozen custard. It's not to be missed.
Now you know not only what to buy in Maui but where it is available. I do hope you will try many of the island's special flavors and delicacies suggested here. Indulge, knowing you've beaten the paradise tax, found the greatest deal possible, and enjoyed the finest foods on Maui. Do let me know what you think after you've visit the locations listed here.
Locals know better than to search for their home decor, necessities and omiyage (gifts) on Front Street. Instead, they head to the Saturday morning swap meet in Kahului to buy their next garage sale stock. Here you can find delights galore in the way of crafts, furnishings, collectibles and foodstuffs based on a time-honored island tradition of recycling and barter.
Another favorite resource for rescuing passe island gear is The Rainbow Attic in Kihei. This resale shop has mounds of clothing and home furnishings perfectly suitable to life in Hawaii and beyond. Baskets, trays, picture frames, posters, prints and serving dishes clog the shelves. The low prices reduce the guilt should you later discover the treasure inappropriate in your mainland home.
Some of the most gorgeous coffee table photography books I've ever seen are about Maui and the other Hawaiian islands. Under the Hula Moon, Hawaii, Jaws Maui, are all perennial picks but scan the local bookseller's shelves to find your favorite.
Island cookbooks are also a stellar gift. A Taste of Aloha contains many of my all-time favorite recipes (the Perfect Prime Rib really is!) and the Maui Onion cookbook dishes up suggestions for using those renown sweets in a variety of dishes. Suggestions for Pacific Rim cuisine preparations and cookbooks from many of Maui's esteemed chefs, Roy Yamaguchi, Sam Choy and Alan Wong among them, are sure to be prized in any cook's collection.
Coffee and Mugs
Along with the world's finest coffee from Kona, Kauai, and Kaanapali Estates, which are available everywhere from drug stores to grocery markets to specialty outlets, pack a few aloha coffee mugs for a later day dip and sip down Hawaiian memory lane. ABC Stores, Long's Costco, Wal-Mart and even Starbucks offer selections unique to the islands that are inexpensive to boot.
Music and Instruments
I'm not sure why so many Hawaiians have such beautiful voices, but they do. It's as if they captured their lilt from the trade winds and borrowed the power of the sun to create sounds so unique and melodious it's like nothing else on earth. Amazingly, this natural gift was not tapped prior to the arrival of the missionaries who taught them to sing in church. Before that time the Hawaiians chanted but did not sing. However, once they started and the Portuguese brought the ukulele and yodel into the mix a unique sound was born.
Regardless of how often it risks being overplayed, I have never heard anyone suggest changing the station when the voice of IZ streams through the room. Tapes and CD's of Hawaiian music are available nearly everywhere souvenirs are sold including discount chains, gas stations, and convenience stores. Don't fall for the high prices of the airport and gift shops for this one unless you need to listen through those convenient headsets before buying.
I wouldn't suggest buying a ukulele unless you are willing to take lessons, but anyone can shake a gourd, pound a drum or simulate a hula with Uli Uli which all happen to make beautiful decorative accents for the bureau, great conversation pieces and good impromptu jam session stimulants.
During my first few visits to Maui what surprised me the most were the number of locally crafted foods on the grocer's shelves that I'd never seen elsewhere. Although many more staple items to which you may be accustomed are NOT to be found in Maui, the selection of tropical jams, biscuits, lavosh, macadamia nuts, Asian seasonings, sauces and condiments nearly make up for the otherwise slim selections. Hot Thai chili sauce, Maui onion flavored bar-b-que sauce, lililoi and papaya dressings, Ulakakalua strawberry jam and dozens of other flavor treats top the local list and are sure to be valued additions to your kitchen and make superb omiyage.
Rubbah Slippahs (zori thongs) are the ubiquitous and always acceptable Hawaiian footwear. Hawaiians always take off their shoes when entering a home and nothing makes that easier than arriving wearing rubber sandals. To support this tradition, a tray or basket of rubbah slippahs waits at the front door of most homes. Locals feel it's always good to have spares, like toothbrushes, for visitors or if yours go missing during the party. (It happens!)
With demand high, the array of sandals available in Hawaii is stellar. Inexpensive, lightweight, and easy to pack, they make great gifts and are available at ABC Stores, Long's Drugs, K-Mart and just about everywhere.
To be all dressed up in Maui one need only buy a few retro-print t-shirts from Honolua Surf Company , the finest purveyor of darling ladies' wear on the island. My favorites are the mesh versions, which also transition as beachwear cover-ups. They dry in an instant and make the switch from beach to lunch or dinner easily. Besides, they are cute!
Sarongs are another good buy in Hawaii although most are imported from Indonesia. However, there are some really pretty pareos available that double as an evening shawl. Additionally, you'll find all sorts of affordable and distinctive accessory items (bags, belts and sandals) while browsing through resort gift shops. The Hyatt and Marriott in Kaanapali, the Ritz in Kapalua, and the Shops of Wailea are the best resort boutiques I've found. Plus, you are then in a great location for a late afternoon swanky mai tai.
The very best places to find high-quality, unique and unusual fashions are in Maui's smaller communities -- Makawao, Wailuku, and Pa`ia -- where you can stroll quaint little plantation towns and have a ball poking around the various specialty shops. Don't miss the bikinis at Maui Girl in Pa`ia. The local designer/owner crafts what could honestly be the best bikini styles on earth.
As for Aloha shirts, pick your poison and suit yourself. I believe buying an Aloha shirt for someone else is nearly as troublesome as picking a tie for my father-in-law. Wait, he doesn't wear ties. In any case, if you are choosing for yourself or loved one go ahead and stock up. The choices here are unmatched on the mainland. Be certain to check out the ABC and Whaler's General stores where I've found perfectly acceptable silk shirts for under $25.
Almost every clothing outlet carries aloha shirts and t-shirts, but here in the islands like elsewhere, the favorites are Tori Richards and Tommy Bahamas. Believe it or not, I found current season TB shirts at Costco the other day for 40% less than retail.
Tapa Cloth Frames and Albums
Tapa cloth is an authentic, beautiful and exclusive local craft that makes a perfect medium for coddling your treasured Hawaiian memories as photo frame or album. Because of the labor intensive origins tapa cloth is difficult to reproduce in knock-off versions and is subsequently viewed as a luxurious gift item. My husband bought me a cherished album with a Honu (sea turtle) design so beautiful it sits upright for all to see on a shelf in the family room.
Jewelry and Ornaments
Pearl shops abound in Hawaii but pearls require warmer waters than are found in this island chain. Most pearls you see are Tahitian or South Sea; beautiful, valuable and colorful, but from Tahiti and beyond, not Hawaii. It's unlikely you will find more outstanding values in Hawaii than you would on the mainland but if you love pearls the selection may be more extensive.
Plumeria earrings, jeweled sandal charms, dolphin and whale necklaces, coral and pearls are all traditional choices of islanders. Be sure to shop around and compare quality and prices. No Ka Oi and the La Perle are two of the best places to find quality jewelry.
By knowing what locals cherish most closely, you will have a head start on what to buy and what to leave behind in Maui. I hope you enjoy these suggestions but encourage you to trust your own judgement, tastes and instincts since one man's kitsch is another's honored keepsake. Follow your heart when selecting an item to remind you always of the island's bounty and to serve as omiyage for folks back home.
Having recently unpacked our belongings after two years in storage, we found so much we no longer need or want. Since we aren’t allowed to have garage sales in my neighborhood, a friend generously offered her Haiku home to host our surfeit of discards.
I hustled, determined to meet the 7 a.m. departure deadline. In the middle of loading potential proceeds into the back of the truck, the phone rang. I grabbed for the annoyance and lost balance of the box which landed on my sandal-exposed toe.
"Don’t hurry. It’s wet here. We have to wait."
"Now you tell me." I took a swig of coffee.
"You know the way, yeah? You go past Pa`ia, turn right at the Haiku community center - just at the recycling bins."
"Turn, then go up, up. No turn, no nothing. Just up. You pass Catholic Church, old cannery and just keep straight on. Turn by blue house, yeah? Oh! Nev’ah mind. Sun came now. Hurry."
I’d never been to Haiku, but I’d heard everything grows wild there. Situated on the northeast slope of Haleakala, the rains and winds visit the community with regularity. Orchids grow spontaneously by the roadside. One local writer suggested Haiku residents buy WD-40 by the barrel - since everything rusts.
Along the road to Hana, Haiku sings.
Verdant, luscious, wet, wet, wet..
We shoved a few more boxes of outdated clothing into the truck. Fortunately, one man’s discard is another man’s "I‘ve-been-looking-everywhere-for-this!" especially in Maui. Fashion here is ridiculously oblivious to the mode, and recycling is a time-honored necessity, making garage sales exceedingly successful, qualifying as community service events.
"How much you think we’ll get?" one boy speculated.
"Hey, the swell’s up!" said the other. "Check it out!" Distractions like this cause accidents around Launiapoki, where a cadre of surfers can always be spotted enjoying the waves.
"Naw, that’s no bigger ‘n 3-5."
"Still looks fun!" the younger insisted.
"You can see clean through the valley today!" he said, point out yet another infamous distraction.
‘Round the point headed toward the pali (cliffs) we took note of the unusual clarity in the notoriously rainy West Maui mountains. Instead of the typical layers of clouds blocking views down the mountain corridors, wisps of steam rose from deepest gullies like panicked smoke signals.
Haleakala wore a unique cloak as well. Where clouds usually settle around 4,000 ft. rising upward, today the they swooped down touching the sea and casting a mysterious veil over south Maui.
"Ooh, Wailea tourists must be loco now! No sun on da uddah side."
"Wailea‘s too hot, anyway. They should be happy they won’t turn into shah bait," the boys chuckled, practicing their best haole pidgin.
We had just started down the long stretch of flat, open highway, the singular route in Maui that you can safely drive 60 m.p.h. when we spotted the long ribbon of white smoke traversing the valley and out to the sea from the isthmus.
"Can’t believe they still do that."
"I hear it’s the best way to get the cane."
"Why’d they close the sugar mill in Lahaina?"
"Stinks too much for tourists."
Indeed, the air in the valley was ripe with the scent of charred marshmallows.
Soon enough we entered the charming town of Pa`ia, complete with traffic lights, schotzke shops and a tourist-induced traffic jam.
"All the hippies live here, yeah?"
"Why do all these people like this hippie tie-dye trash?"
"Hey, let’s stop at Charley’s on the way back, yeah?"
"Sure thing. If it’s good enough for Willie (Nelson) it’s good enough for me."
Haiku - 10 miles.
The scenery changed abruptly as the road began it’s infamous snaking and heaving outside of Pa`ia.
"Oh, no! We aren’t going to Hana, are we?" the boys said, fearing the stomach churning drive.
"No worries. We turn at Haiku."
Up, up, up, no turning. Past the Church, the cannery and five more miles past the Memorial Park. Our ears popped, and the landscape exploded with beautiful growing things everywhere we looked.
Shoppers were already digging through the bins. Commerce was brisk. I promised a massage therapist I’d return tomorrow with more king-sized sheets, appreciative of her need on an island that only sells queen and cal king. We worked out a barter - - sheets for a massage -- the deal of the day.
After that, I watched with consternation as my hard-earned personal goods flew off the shelf for a buck or two.
"Think we should charge more?" I ventured.
"You pau now. Bettah go," my friend said, dismissing me.
With a laundry list of errands the length of a longboard, I was not entirely heartbroken.
It was lunchtime but regardless I had to stop at the yet-to-be-explored Haiku Marketplace before heading to Kahului, suspecting they'd have some of the things on my list.
Inside True Value I stuck pay dirt. I only needed a watering can and storage boxes, but who’d have ever expected I’d find an antique Japanese screen ? For $1,500 an old grand piano would be mine, broken soundboard and all. As for that antique carved Thai carriage and driver, it wasn’t yet for sale. I asked to be notified when the restorations were finished. The owner, apparently, is both a collector and handy man.
Across the street at the second of Haiku’s main markets a familiar logo grabbed my attention. "Vasi’s Gourmet Foods and Deli." Could this be the very same Vasi who makes that indescribably delicious Mango-Curry Dip my family is crazy for? Or the blueberry muffins and banana bread so good it rouses die-hard sleepy heads up early for breakfast?
I peered through the side window to see a woman hard at work at monstrous mixers. The little storefront adjacent to the workshop would reveal the truth. Indeed, this Vasi churns out some of the island’s best treats and confections in a cardboard hideaway in Haiku. They were open for lunch.
It didn’t take long to decide on the authentic Spanikopita and Greek Salad with a few Dolmas tossed in for good measure. While I waited for the cook to warm my lunch, I chatted with the counter girl.
"It’s a little warm out there today," I offered, fanning myself slightly.
"Ha! A little?! I’m from the east coast and it’s darned hot. I’m not used to this. I mean, I’ve been here three weeks and the trades have barely blown once. Hard enough to sleep on a farm with all that blasted quiet -- except for those animals making their odd noises, then there‘s the wind and the heat. I mean, I’m used to city noises, but this! I had no idea it would take so long to get used to the quiet!"
"Yeah, people don’t believe you when you tell them what’s it like living here. Too hard to explain…"
"I send emails home and they think I’ve gone crazy, think I’m making this stuff up," she chuckled.
"Think you’ll stay?" I asked.
"Absolutely!" she grinned handing me the best Spanikopita this side of Athens.
Down the road, I turned off at Ho`okipa, unable to resist the enticement of snapping some photos. The colors of the sea and sky were phenomenal. The sight of pineapple fields dropping into the Pacific ocean was breathtaking. I stepped out of my truck and heard a strangely familiar sound.
"Mooo-ooo," came a basso profundo baw unlike any dairy cows I‘d heard. A bull quickened his pace behind a wire fence across from where I was standing and headed expectantly toward a cow and her calves.
At the awesome sound of those thundering hoofs, I beat feet to the other side of the point where the world-famous windsurfing beach proved up its windy reputation. Tourists loitered or wandered, eyes glued to video cameras. Young brides snapped photos of seabirds and palm trees, crashing waves and sea blues of every hue.
"Yep, not a bad pau hana stop on the way to K-Mart," I told myself, feeling as contented as the old cow in the meadow, bull or no bull.
I was already headed toward the garden department when I heard the amplified voice announce, "The garden section is closing now." Racing my cart toward the entrance, I hoped to beat the abrupt reality. Why close the garden department at 2 p.m. on a Saturday?
"You take break now, yeah?. You no pau ‘till seven. That fa-a-ah away," the manager coached a young employee.
"Are you really closing now?" I interrupted in disbelief.
"Garden pau, now, sorry," she grinned.
"Come back lattah, yeah?" she nodded.
"Anuddah day," I agreed, knowing by now not to argue with pau hana.
Before I outline the more popular restaurants and explain why locals do or don‘t visit them, I will first differentiate between the various classifications of residents termed "local."
A: Highest on the list are those people with native Hawaiian lineage, the people who continue to give Hawaii it’s exotic, sensuous flair. These are the people that come to mind when you picture "hula" or "surfer." You rarely find these folks hanging around in tourist outlets or restaurants, save those who perform in such venues. You will find them in authentic local eateries, at the beach parks, the Cannery Mall food court and in the smaller island communities. They likely won‘t be strolling Front Street.
B: Next are people with some historical heritage or connection in the islands. Perhaps their ancestors arrived in the earlier wave of immigration in the 1800‘s. Their grandparents and parents may have worked the plantation or started businesses. They may have arrived from Asia, Portugal, the Philippines, New Zealand or anywhere else. They have definitely adapted to the island spirit and shakah, speak the best pidgin, cook the best food, and crowd community celebrations and temples with a distinct joie de vivre. They also rarely visit more popular tourist destinations except on very special occasions, and only those really worth the money. They would never pay more to dine with an ocean view. They prefer camping out in Hana or Haleakala than swimming in a resort pool.
C: Third are the more recent residents. They were born and raised in Hawaii but the island heritage began after a relative visited in the early tourist wave and fell in love with the islands or came here to make a dream life. They, too, speak some decent pidgin when necessary, but also the Queen’s English - or at least mainstream American. They are more likely to venture into certain tourist-style restaurants, stay hip with news and fashion (island style) and in many ways are able to offer the most pertinent insight into all aspects of island life. They know where you are coming from, even if they think you are goofy and ghostly white.
D: Lived here a long time but came from elsewhere. These are often our more colorful characters, but not always. They may have conscientiously uprooted themselves following a divorce, work assignment, self-evaluation or health issue, and decided to seek out a life in paradise. Or they came here just out of college and stayed. They love, love, love Hawaii having made the determined choice to live here. Often more fiercely protective of it than even the long-term locals and natives, they can be found just about anywhere, even the tourist traps on occasion.
E: Then there are those like me. Newly arrived, wide-eyed, trapped in my own early retirement cliches, I qualify as a kama’aina technically, and as such am treated with supreme kindness - or is it compassion? I am offered discounts and courtesies that typical tourists never tap, and go everywhere at least once, just to try it. I have adapted to frequenting the places locals go more often than the places I went as a tourist and have become selective about where I feel most comfortable. I am still excited to meet someone who’s been here less time than I. Some of the restaurants I tried as a tourist remain favorites.
You will find each of the locals described above in any of the restaurants I’ve reviewed in this journal. Below are the places you will definitely not find types A and B but may occasionally spot a C-E.
Restaurant: Cheeseburger in Paradise - 17 reviews
Reason Locals Don‘t Go: Can you say "cheeeeese-burger?" Real locals (A-B) don’t get the Jimmy Buffet party connection. They don’t get paying $8 for a hamburger listening to some haole sing songs about the Caribbean. Wanna view? Go to the beach! And take off those sneakers! C-E‘s will only go with guests.
Reason to go anyway: Great view, island ambiance, oldies that made you fall in love in the 80‘s.
Restaurant: Moose McGillycuddy's - 3 reviews
Reason Locals Don‘t Go: A moose in Hawaii? Where’s the connection? Friday night $9.99 lobster specials? Flown in live from Maine? And Chicago style pizza? Come on folks, this is Hawaii. Except for the very young, locals skip it.
Reason to go anyway: Party atmosphere, good enough pizza, great low-priced early bird breakfast.
Restaurant: Bubba Gump‘s - 7 reviews
Reason Locals Don‘t Go: A and B didn‘t see the movie and don‘t like cajun spice. Any restaurant with a gift shop attached to it makes C-E nervous!
Reason to go anyway: Great view, good place for kids, tasty fritters and cute servers just in from the mainland.
Restaurant: Kimo‘s - 4 reviews (one of them mine)
Reason Locals Don‘t Go: A-C, too expensive. For D-E, just a wee bit sterile and heavy with tourists still finding their way around town. Always packed due to excellent fruit flavored drinks and hearty roasted meats and fish. Good food and ambiance, it’s just not the place locals rush off to except for a drink after work.
Reason to go anyway: For tourists it‘s the quintessential oceanfront hangout.
The following oft reviewed places, however, do meet with local approval.
Restaurant: Aloha Mixed Plate - 5 reviews
Reason They Go: Local specialties, reasonable pricing and great views. Same reason tourists go!
Restaurant: Maui Tacos - 5 reviews
Reason They Go: It‘s quick, but better than taco bell. they have fish and pastor tacos, a great salsa bar and numerous locations. They advertise extensively but have a way to go to top the joints in Texas and So Cal.
Reason to go, too: The best you can get on Maui‘s west side.
Restaurant: Kobe Steak House - 4 reviews
Reason They Go: Low-key but happening atmosphere, slice and dice chefs, sushi, karaoke and great bar to meet friends!
Reason for you to go: Good food, fun, and locals in their glory.
Restaurant: Mama‘s Fish House - 11 reviews
Reason They Go: Absolutely perfect fish, tropical setting from your dreams, and swoon-worthy grounds! If this place weren‘t so high-priced and/or any closer to my home I‘d eat here twice a week and so would everyone else. If there‘s one restaurant both locals and visitors want to visit often, it‘s Mama‘s.
Restaurant: Leilani’s, Hula Grill - 6 reviews
Reason They Go: On Kaanapali Beach where great people watching abounds. You can dine in your bathing suit with feet in the sand at Hula (no need to fix up your beach hair that way) or Oceanside at Leilani’s. Like Kimo’s, their sister store, Leilani’s serves good fish and beef entrees to hearty appetites without the Front Street hassle.
Here are a few restaurants I’m surprised aren’t more frequently reviewed because they are also too great to miss:
Plantation House - Superior sunset views across the wide, glorious Plantation golf course and channel separating Maui and Molokai. Whale season is particularly perfect but any day that chef Alex cooks you some island style fresh fish is a good one.
Pacific ‘O - Be sure to make a reservation at this stellar oceanfront venue because tourists love it, locals love it and lovers love it -- and there are plenty of each in Maui so it’s always packed.
Roy’s - He’s everywhere, he’s everywhere! But he started here. Even if you’ve eaten at Roy’s on the mainland, be sure to try Roy’s Kahana location for an authentic look at his roots. From pupus to entrees and the famed, luscious molten chocolate dessert, it’s all about food and fun, baby. No view required, so there isn‘t one.
Hopefully these insider notes taken in consideration of the other reviews will offer you a balanced perspective from which to make your choices. Most importantly, enjoy yourself where ever you go in Maui! Aloha.