Living here, we love the tastes of the islands as much as visitors. But we don’t want to pay the price of paradise each time we go out. We’re sharing a few of the island’s best bargains from the perspective of our kama’aina marketing gal, Darla, who went on a no-expense paid culinary tour of Maui. Choices run the gambit from an oceanfront gem to grilling your own meal. There is something for every taste.
This is more than an endorsement for Aloha Mixed Plate, one of my favorites for affordable island dining. Na Hoaloha ‘Ekolu is the parent company that encompasses not only Aloha Mixed Plate but also Old Lāhainā Lūau and Star Noodle in Lahaina, along with Leoda’s Kitchen & Pie Shop in Olowalu. Each of these award-winning restaurants, and the top rated luau, deserves a visit. The company also owns Koaloha farms, providing fresh local pork and produce, including many varieties of taro or “kalo” to its restaurants for fresh farm to table fare.
But back to Aloha Mixed Plate. This wonderful ocean-side restaurant just had a make-over, but retained all of its laid-back charm. The menu is decidedly “local” plantation style fare such as shoyu chicken, kalbi ribs and wicked mai tais. If you arrive at sunset, not only will you be treated to a great ocean view, but also the sounds of Old Lahaina Luau next door. Reservations advised.
Info: Aloha Mixed Plate, 1285 Front St., Lahaina; (808) 661-3322
If you are looking for a “casual fine dining” experience with ono (delicious) food that won’t break the bank, Cafe O’Lei fits the bill. And you can wear shorts with your aloha shirt to dinner and no one will bat an eyelash. Keeping prices low, including a great daily lunch special, has built a loyal and well-deserved following on island for the Café O’Lei brand. I’m a little prejudiced though, since co-owner Dana Pastula patiently taught me pretty much everything I know about food and wine while catering several events for me.
In addition to awesome catering, this family run business operates four restaurants on Maui, two at Maui Coast hotel (the second one is the fun pool side café with live music each evening), a location upstairs at Rainbow Mall in Kihei, and one in Central Maui next to the Dunes Golf Course clubhouse.
I hate to gloss over the wonderful main courses, but the Baked Maui Onion Soup en Croute is to die for. Delicious caramelized onions in savory broth are topped with cheese and encased in a delicate pastry. Yum! You could fill up on just appetizers here, but return a second time for a full-course meal.
Info: Cafe O’ Lei, 2439 S. Kihei Road, Kihei; (808) 891-1368
I’m including this one because my husband is a burger guy and he LOVES Cool Cat Café. But there is more to appreciate in this Lahaina hot spot than being voted best burgers on the island 15 years running. Evening music, an awesome location overlooking Banyan Tree park in Lahaina and fun 50’s décor keeps our peeps coming back for more.
You could go Hawaiian with a Don Ho burger (with pineapple and bacon), but no matter which of the many burgers, sandwiches or salads you choose, you MUST get an old fashioned shake, served in a fountain glass with the extra shake along with it in the mixing container.
It should come as no surprise that the hub’s other favorite Lahaina restaurant, Captain Jacks, is owned by the same cool cat. Captain Jack’s has an amazing happy hour from 2pm-5pm daily. Fish taco and a glass of wine for $9? Yes please!
Prices: $6.95-$13.95, cash only
Also close to the Banyan Tree in Lahaina is the tiny hole-in-the wall Sunrise Café. Eat on the cheap with one of their breakfast specials, or go full-on brunch with a pineapple boat, chocolate pancakes and eggs Benedict, and still save a bundle. They also do an authentic loco moco, (beef patty, eggs, gravy). There’s a modest lunch menu with nothing over $14.
Being a small operation, one must be patient on the service when it gets busy, but no rush when you’re on Maui time, eh? Even though the address is Front Street, Sunrise Café is tucked down a small side street near the library.
Info: Sunrise Cafe, 693 Front St. A, Lahaina; (808) 661-8558
- Amazing Food Trucks
Food trucks have popped up all over the island, but there is a sea of great ones across from Costco in Kahului. You can choose a light snack to a full-on meal. Thai Mee Up is one of my favs, with quality rivaling any nice café. If fish is your thing, Like Poke in the same area only uses fresh fish. Eat there at a picnic table, or get it to go and head to Kanaha Beach and watch the windsurfers while you dine!
Info: 591 Haleakala Highway, Kahului across from Costco
Prices: $6-$12 for prepared food
While there are great farmers markets around the island, the Upcountry Farmers Market seems to have the best prepared food of them all. It’s also closest to my house, so I can get there early for all the freshest produce, browse local crafts, then graze my way through an acai bowl with fresh island fruit, and take home some savory chicken curry and fresh baked french bread.
The Upcountry Farmers Market runs Saturdays, 7-11am, but most vendors are packed up by 11.
Info: Upcountry Farmers Market, Kulamalu Town Center, 55 Kiopaa St., Pukalani; (808) 283-3257
- Your Own Beachside Grill
Prices: Your Choice
Your Destination Maui Vacations condo comes with a full kitchen, and everything you need to make fabulous island meals. But if you are not a fan of spending hours in the kitchen on vacation, nothing could be easier than grilling outside on the resort’s outdoor grill. Slather your favorite seafood or meat with a tropical marinade. You can even toss some veggies and sliced pineapple on the grill for a full island meal. Or, have your partner grilling while you dip in the pool!
Here’s my recipe for a quick marinade using ingredients you may already have on your vacation shopping list that works great for chicken. Mix equal parts pineapple juice and mesquite bbq sauce (depending on how much you are making). A few fresh pineapple chunks are great too. Optional: add a shot of tequila (one for the sauce, one for the chef). For fish, substitute shoyu (soy sauce) for the BBQ sauce, omit tequila and add generous doses of garlic and ginger. Toss in a bowl and place in the fridge in the morning and it will be ready by supper. If you want to get a little fancy, sprinkle with chopped fresh cilantro and course ground macadamia nuts to either chicken or fish just before serving.
Enjoy a fabulous sunset from your lanai, dining on your feast, and making plans for your next sun filled day on Maui.