Sunday, December 9, 2012

Five Memorable Maui Meals

I recently took a family vacation to Maui, and while it is most well-known for the beautiful beaches and tropical weather, I was pleasantly surprised by how much good food there is on such a small island!

One of the great things about dining out with a group is having more dishes around the table to taste. Here are five of my favorites:

Honu Seafood & Pizza
One of our first meals was at Honu (which is the Hawaiian word for "Sea Turtle" by the way) in Lahaina. The first thing you notice when you sit down at Honu is the incredible view - the restaurant might as well be ON the water, and there is no permanent wall on that side, which makes it hard to have a bad view no matter where you're sitting. The photos on their website are nice, but they really don't do it justice.

Fortunately they don't have to rely on a great view to draw in the crowds, because the food is fantastic. I started with a salty, but refreshing oyster shooter - which was came with ponzu, lemon, wasabi and tobiko. We did appetizers family-style, and the two clear winners were the Crab Mac and Cheese (it's actually an entree, but I can't imagine anyone having it all to themselves), which was exceptionally creamy and had a lot of big pieces of crab meat in it - and the Grilled Spanish Octopus. There's no way I can do justice to that octopus, but let me just say that it was absolutely sublime. Every bite was a mixture of little, charred pieces, with soft-but-firm octopus and Mediterranean-inspired flavors. It went VERY fast. For my entree, I had the Fresh Fish Dore Style, which was mahi-mahi that night. It was seasoned with lemon, butter, capers and was cooked to perfection. A wonderful mix of fresh flavors and served over a fluffy Turkish quinoa, which soaked up all the excess sauce and juices.

Teddy's Bigger Burgers
Another one of my favorite was the take-out dinner we had from Teddy's Bigger Burgers. Teddy's is a small chain in Hawaii, with several locations on Oahu, and just the one in Lahaina on Maui. Their menu basically consists of burgers, fries, and shakes (though they do have some other dishes if that isn't your persuasion). Burger patties come in 3 sizes: 5oz, 7oz, and 9oz - and if you're feeling adventurous, you can double any of those up (that's right, up to 18oz of burger). I was feeling hungry, but I can't quite back it pack like I could back in the day - so I opted for a single 9oz burger, and we shared a few orders of fries / onion rings among us.

My burger was really nicely done. Teddy's is quick to point out that their burgers are made from 100% ground chuck, no fillers - and the result is a really flavorful, juicy burger. I had mine with all the trimmings (Lettuce, Tomato, Onions, Pickles, "Super Sauce", Bacon, and Cheese), and could really taste each and every one of them. I do love the fresh fish in Maui, but if you're looking for a chance of pace that involves grilled red meat on a bun, then you definitely can't go wrong with Teddy's!

Merriman's Maui
Another place with an incredible view in West Maui is Merriman's, a little further up the road from Lahaina in Kapalua. They have a large back deck attached to the restaurant, and the sunsets are truly breathtaking. Our reservation was in the main restaurant, but we arrived early in order to have a cocktail and enjoy the view. They do serve food on the back deck as well - and there were plenty of people who simply did that for dinner. The menu is more limited, but still looked to have more than enough to put together a great meal.

I can only speak for the food in the main restaurant, and it was quite good. Merriman's focuses on local Hawaiian ingredients (which I can certainly appreciate), and in order to try as much as possible, my meal was a combination of samplers. To start, we shared a Pupu Taster, which consisted of four dishes: a lobster, avocado and tomato salad, a Kalua pig and sweet onion quesadilla, crusted goat cheese with strawberries and Maui onions, and ahi sashimi. Lots of flavors going on there, and they were all very good! I couldn't possibly pick a favorite, but I will say that I was most pleasantly surprised by the goat cheese - which I thought was paired very nicely done with the strawberries and onions. For my entree I had Merriman's "Mix" Plate, which included smaller portions of the mahi-mahi, beef filet, and charred ahi. The flavor profiles were very much a "mix" - the mahi was served with a citrus ponzu sauce, the beef with caramelized onions and mushrooms, and the ahi with a wasabi soy sauce. While I didn't think they were necessarily great compliments to each other, each was very good on its own. The ambiance was probably the most refined of all the places we ate on the trip, but "refined" by Maui standards is still pretty casual (i.e. nice shorts and flip flops are perfectly ok).

Ohana Tacos
What would a trip to Maui be without some fish tacos?! We were staying in Honokowai, and one of the places we drove by just about every day on our way out was a little taco joint in a little strip mall. It was only a matter of time before we stopped in at Ohana Tacos to check it out, and I'm so glad that we did! They hae a number of different types of tacos on the menu (beef, pork, chicken), but the fish tacos and shrimp tacos were the two standouts for me. They were very simple - lettuce, tomato and sauce (the shrimp actually had some peppers and onions as well), and they had a self-serve salsa / toppings bar with a variety of fresh salsas, cilantro, pickled onions, and limes. I normally prefer corn tortillas, but the flour ones were really good as well - as were the rice and re-fried beans that came on the side. We took our order to go, and enjoyed our tasty lunch on the beach - can't beat that!

Be forewarned though - the portions are pretty large. The two taco platter (with comes with the rice and beans) will be plenty of food for most people. Of course, I had to have three :)

Mama's Fish House
Last, but most certainly not least, is Mama's Fish House in Paia. Mama's was my favorite restaurant in all of Hawaii when I first visited for my Honeymoon a few years ago - so needless to say, I was very excited to be returning. Paia is on Maui's north shore, so while the sunsets aren't necessarily anything special, the waves tend to be much more exciting than those on the west side of the island. Unfortunately, both times I've been to Mama's now have been well past sundown, so I wasn't able to see much. However, when driving by a few times during the day, there were almost always some pretty impressive waves.

One of the dishes I had remembered most fondly was the ono marinated in lime and coconut milk (they call it "Tahitian ceviche"). It's served in a fresh coconut, so the bowl is partially edible as well - but the fish and taro chips are clearly the star. The ono is cut into big chunks, and when combined with the acidity in the lime juice and the creaminess of the coconut milk, it's just heavenly. For our entrees, we ended up with two each of the ahi, the onaga (red snapper), and the macademia nut crusted, lobster and crab stuffed mahi mahi. The mahi was another one of my favorites from last time, and it lived up to memory (though I can't imagine how you could possibly go wrong when you're stuffing something with both lobster and crab). The big surprise was the onaga - it sounded like a very simple dish (and indeed it was), but from the very first bite, the freshness and the flavor were just amazing. I expected to be trying to sneak a few extra bites of the mahi mahi, but was quite content with the plate in front of me (the large portions certainly didn't hurt). We shared a couple of desserts, but the winner for me was the Hana Banana Macademia Nut Crisp. Fortunately for me, some people preferred the Tahitian Lime Pie - which meant more for me!

You can find all of these places (and more) on the map of my favorite places for Food, Wine, and/or Miles in Maui:

View Food, Wine, and Miles: Maui in a larger map

What are some of your favorite places to eat on Maui?

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