The Hawaiian island’s culinary scene is flourishing, thanks to fertile fields and award-winning chefs.
Travelers to Hawaii were once warned, only half jokingly, that the best meal of the trip would likely be chicken or beef—on the plane. Then starting in 1991, a dozen leading island chefs pioneered Hawaii Regional Cuisine, a contemporary cooking style that draws heavily on local ingredients and blends Hawaii’s varied international influences, from Polynesian and Portuguese to Japanese, Korean, and Chinese. The movement took off and, over time, has spread beyond fine-dining restaurants.
“It shows in the way we eat, the increase in farmers’ markets, and even in the number of farmers,” says Alan Wong, a founder of Hawaii Regional Cuisine whose latest restaurant, Amasia, debuted in May, featuring sushi and small plates. Nowhere have the changes been more profound than on the bountiful island of Maui, where agriculture is second only to tourism as the top industry. The eat-local mantra is reshaping the island’s entire culinary landscape, from white tablecloth to picnic table. Dive in with these great tastes of the Valley Isle. Area code is 808.
- The outstanding coffees at MauiGrown Coffee are made with arabica beans from its mountainside estate, which you can tour by car. Sample the brews before buying a cup or a pound. Don’t miss the medium-bodied Maui Mokka variety, loaded with seductive chocolate notes. 277 Lahainaluna Rd., Lahaina, 661-2728, mauigrowncoffee.com.
- Golden-colored juice will dribble down your arms when you sink your teeth into a perfectly ripe, just-picked fruit during the Maui Pineapple Tour at Hawaii’s last commercial pineapple plantation. The only drawback? You’ll never be satisfied with buying the fruit at the supermarket again. 875 Haliimaile Rd., Haliimaile, 665-5491, mauipineappletour.com.
- The grower-led tasting at lush Ono Organic Farms on a remote slope of the Haleakala volcano includes up to two dozen of its 50 fruit varieties such as fluffy-smooth ice cream bananas, fuchsia-fleshed dragon fruit, fresh cacao, and bright-red peanut butter fruit, named for its texture, taste, and smell. On the Hana Highway, Kipahulu, 248-7779, onofarms.com.
- There’s no better introduction to Maui’s plenitude than the early Saturday morning Upcountry Farmers Market, featuring live Hawaiian music, glistening produce, flaky-crusted mango tartlets, spicy Thai red curry, and sweet-tart yellow lilikoi (passion fruit) jam. Kulamalu Town Center, behind 55 Kiopaa St., Pukalani, upcountryfarmersmarket.com.
- Maui’s cuisine doesn’t come more sophisticated than at Humuhumunukunukuapua‘a—Humu for short. As expected at a place named for Hawaii’s state fish, seafood reigns at this thatch-roofed restaurant hovering over a fish-filled lagoon. Slices of buttery hamachi and ahi tuna are seared in sesame oil with ogo seaweed; tropical herbs and dried coffee fruit coat succulent Molokai prawns; a spiny lobster shumai dumpling swims in a velvety bisque of miso and local corn. 3850 Wailea Alanui Dr., Wailea, 875-1234, wailearesortdining.com/humuhumu.
- At the sleek bistro Star Noodle, pungent fried garlic noodles are homemade, spongy steamed buns enrobe crispy pork and shiitake daubed with hoisin sauce, and sizzling locally raised beef rib eye is artfully paired with ali’i mushrooms and scallion-like negi. 286 Kupuohi St., Lahaina, 667-5400, starnoodle.com.
- Locals satisfy their nostalgic sugar cravings at the old-timey T. Komoda Store & Bakery with plump cream puffs, sweet macadamia-crusted doughnuts-on-a-stick, and lighter-than-air malasada pastries, which usually sell out by midafternoon. 3674 Baldwin Ave., Makawao, 572-7261.
Top Maui Eats: 13 More Great Bites Christopher Hall adds a bounty of other places to savor Maui.
This article was first published in September 2012. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.