Maui cultural food experiences for first-time visitors

A great way to get to know Maui is to experience the island’s foods. Consider it a delightful way to learn about the local culture. Let’s take a look at some of the best food items that Maui has to offer.

Breakfast Foods

Pancakes – Hawaii-style pancakes are usually big, fluffy and incorporate tropical fruits and macadamia nuts. But, that’s not all, one of the best parts is adding coconut syrup. It’s so yummy! I consider myself a pancake aficionado. Of all the pancakes I’ve had in Hawaii, the ones I’ve had on Maui are some of the most memorable. Here are our recommended places to try pancakes:

  • Gazebo Restaurant – this pool and oceanside restaurant always has a long line for their breakfast service. If you go, plan on standing in line for at least 30 minutes.(As Gazebo Restaurant doesn’t have a website, see this TripAdvisor link for more details as well as reviews.)
  • Kula Lodge – the upcountry view here is just as delicious as the pancakes. We like stopping here after watching a Haleakala sunrise.
  • The Plantation House in Kapalua is another one of our favorite breakfast spots. They serve Banana’s Foster Pancakes. Oh, and we love the view from The Plantation House, as well.
  • Kihei Caffe is another popular breakfast place with pancakes.

Loco Moco – The loco moco is a hearty breakfast (or lunch) with rice, hamburger patty, fried eggs and brown gravy. You’ll find a loco moco on just about any breakfast menu. For places to try a loco moco, see our list of recommended pancake/breakfast restaurants. Also consider a restaurant that’s soon to be making a return in Lahaina — Aloha Mixed Plate and Da Kitchen.

Portuguese Sausage – This breakfast meat is a type of cured, sometimes spicy pork sausage. You might see it on Maui breakfast buffets and menus.

Bakery Items

Komoda Store Bakery in Makawao makes delicious stick doughnuts (small doughnuts on a skewer stick) and coco puffs. As Komoda Store Bakery doesn’t have a website, we’ll link to the TripAdvisor entry for Komoda Store Bakery. This is another place to stop at after watching Haleakala sunrise.

Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop is well known for their yummy pies, such as Coconut Cream Pie, Chocolate Mac Nut Pie, Banana Cream Pie and Olowalu Lime Pie. Oh, I’m practically salivating as I recall sampling these pies.

Banana Cream and Chocolate Mac Nut pies from Leoda’s

Banana Bread in Hawaii is very tasty and made with local bananas. Our favorite banana bread on Maui is at Aunty Sandy’s in beautiful Keanae off the road to Hana.

Snacks & Lunch

Kalua pork sandwiches are on most lunch menus across Maui. It’s shredded pork that’s traditionally cooked in an imu with a bit of a smokey flavor. There are other cooking methods that give it the same “imu” flavor.

SPAM Musubi is a very popular lunch/snack item for local residents. It’s a slice of SPAM served sushi-style. Hawaii’s 7-Eleven stores are well known for their SPAM Musubi.

Poke is very popular in Hawaii. It’s cubed ahi tuna (raw) blended with onion, soy sauce and sesame oil. There are other creative versions of poke. Look for it as an appetizer or lunch menu item at just about any restaurant. You can find it in Maui grocery stores.

“Plate lunch” or “mixed plate” is always on a menu the locals’ favorite lunch spots. These lunches usually include a choice of teriyaki chicken, huli huli (marinated and barbecued) chicken, fish, kulua pork, hamburger patty, fish or other protein plus white rice and macaroni salad. Da Kitchen and the soon-to-reopen Aloha Mixed Plate are two places that we’d recommend for a plate lunch.

Fresh tropical fruits are exceptionally delicious in Hawaii. Try island-grown papaya, pineapple, mango, guava, passion fruit, bananas (particularly apple bananas) and, of course, pineapple. On Maui in particular, we recommend you try these fruits:

  • Maui Gold Pineapple – they’re so juicy and sweet that we thought they taste like they’ve been soaked in sugar, but they’re naturally that way.
  • Kula or other upcountry-grown strawberries – are sweet and flavorful. As a side note, one of our favorite desserts on Maui is at Nick’s Fishmarket. The dessert is Strawberries Panzin. Here’s the menu description of it, “Ulupalakua Ranch Strawberries Flambéed Tableside with Grand Marnier Served with Hawaiian Brown Sugar, Devonshire Cream & Chocolate Sauce – FOR TWO PERSONS” It’s tremendously delicious.


Fresh local fish is exceptionally good in Hawaii, especially with the Hawaii regional cuisine preparations. Of course, if you like sushi, you’ll be in sushi paradise in Hawaii. Most of our favorite Maui restaurants serve delicious fresh fish. Though most Maui restaurants are blessed with an abundance of fresh local fish, one restaurant in particular is very well-known for fresh fish. It’s Mama’s Fish House. Another place we recommend is Sansei. Some fish that you’ll often see on Hawaii dinner menus are:

  • Ahi (tuna)
  • Mahi Mahi
  • Ono (wahoo)
  • Opakapaka (pink snapper)
  • Onaga (long-tail red snapper)
  • Monchong
  • Opah (moonfish)
  • Butterfish (black cod) is not a local fish, but you will likely see it on menus in Hawaii. The Hawaii-style preparation of butterfish is with miso. We especially like Sansei’s miso butterfish.

luau is a lovely way to spend an evening with dinner and a Polynesian dance show. Most luau companies offer a buffet of local favorite items. You’ll even get a chance to try poi, which is much loved in Hawaii, but perhaps an acquired-taste for visitors. So, a luau offers a nice opportunity to sample local foods to help you discover Hawaii foods that you like. That was how I first learned about kulua pork and now I rarely miss a chance to order it whenever I see it. Here is a list of Maui luau companies.

Desserts and Frozen Treats

Hula Pie from Hula Grill or Duke’s is a huge, very sharable slice of macadamia nut ice cream pie with hot fudge sauce. We love it!

Hula Pie

Coconut milk ice cream from Coconut Glen’s off the road to Hana is yummy treat.

Tasaka Guri Guri is a little frozen treat place in the Maui Mall in Kahului. They make a cross between sherbert and ice cream in two standard flavors — pineapple and strawberry. They’ve been in business for about a 100 years, so you know that guri guri is a well-loved treat.

Shave Ice is a refreshing treat that’s like a snow cone, but so much better. The ice is softer and absorbs the flavor toppings very nicely. We love ordering our shave ice with ice cream on the bottom and topped (“snow capped”) with sweetened-condensed milk, we recommend that. Here are some shave ice recommendations from our friends at Pride of Maui.

Roselani Ice Cream has been making ice cream in Maui since 1932. Look for it in local grocery stores and in ice cream shops.

More notes:

  • Saimin, which is Hawaii-style ramen, is a popular dish with locals.
  • On Maui you can find lots of interesting farms that grow and make:
    • Goat cheese at Surfing Goat Dairy
    • Chocolate
    • Coffee

What other cultural/local foods would you add to this list?

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