It’s the age-old question: What’s for dinner? But when you’re on vacation in Maui, the question becomes even more relevant. After all, you have limited time on your island vacation.
To make every meal count, we compiled a list of must-try foods to enhance your tropical vacation. We chose dishes that are most popular for visitors, along with different foods that Maui is best known for. We also list recommendations for where you can find each food on the island.
1. Loco Moco
What it is: A hamburger patty resting on a bed of steamed rice and smothered in gravy. Most places also include a side of macaroni salad. The final flourish? A couple of eggs top off this ultimate comfort food dish.
Why we love it: Feeling famished? The loco moco is a salty and satisfying burger that will make your grumbling stomach right as rain. You could even skip the next meal after your final slurp of loco moco gravy. Don’t worry — You won’t go hungry for hours after devouring this dish. We find it the perfect pick-me-up meal after a challenging hike or long day at the beach.
Where to get it: You’ll find the iconic loco moco at most restaurants on Maui — often with a unique twist. Nalu’s in Kihei, for example, serves a loco moco made of tofu, spinach, and quinoa ($14). They also offer a beef patty loco moco ($15) for traditionalists.
Or try the loco moco at Kihei’s plate lunch favorite Da Kitchen ($17). If you’re in west Maui, stop at 808 Grindz Cafe and give their loco moco a try.
2. Shave Ice
What it is: Fluffy ice flakes doused in fruit syrups such as passion fruit, guava, and pineapple. For the full experience, pair shave ice (Note: not ‘shaved’ ice) with add-ons such as macadamia nut ice cream, fresh mochi, toasted coconut, or azuki beans.
Why we love it: Shave ice cools you down on a hot day while satisfying your sweet tooth.
Where to get it: Hands down, get thee to an Ululani’s for your shave ice fix.
What it is: Pie probably isn’t top of mind when you think of quintessential Hawaii food, but Maui happens to be home to a can’t miss pie spot — Leoda’s. Housed in a plantation-era building along Olowalu Village Road, Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop serves up island-themed flavors such as chocolate haupia and pineapple mac nut.
Why we love it: It’s pie. ‘Nuff said.
Where to get it: Make a pit stop at Leoda’s in West Maui. If you’re craving buttery crust while on the south end of the island, Maui Pie in Kihei serves a mean blueberry crumble. You’re welcome.
What it is: Pronounced POH-kay, this native Hawaiian dish consists of diced raw fish. The fish chunks are usually marinated with a soy sauce-based blend. In a small portion, it’s served as a side dish. In a larger portion, poke can pair with its own side to serve as the star of the meal.
Why we love it: Poke in Maui is a relatively inexpensive, yet decadent splurge on the taste buds. After all, when you’re on an island like Maui, you have access to some of the freshest seafood you’ll find.
With a cooler, it’s easy to pack and eat whether you’re taking a road trip or enjoying a day at the beach.
Where to get it: Like Hawaii’s moco loco, poke seems to be just about everywhere on Maui. Our favorites: Foodland’s deli section and the walk-up counter at Kihei’s Eskimo Candy.
5. Garlic shrimp
What it is: Food trucks all over Hawaii serve shrimp sautéed in garlicky butter goodness, a local favorite. The shrimp is usually served without the head but with the tail and shell still on. So prepare to finesse the shrimp out of its shell before you land a bite. Spoiler alert: it’s worth it.
Why we love it: Fried shrimp! Butter! Garlic! Add rice — or even better, garlic noodles — for a complete meal. You may need to pop a mint after you’ve downed it, but your taste buds will thank you.
Where to get it: Visit any food truck pod on Maui for a hot plate of garlic shrimp. We love take-out joint Tin Roof in Kahului, which is owned by Hawaii local and Top Chef alum Chef Sheldon.
6. Macadamia nut pancakes
What it is: A classic breakfast staple levels up, island style, with the addition of mac nut flavor. Some spots mix macadamia into the pancake batter. Others sprinkle the crunchy nuttiness on top. The best do both.
According to the USDA, the state of Hawaii produced over 40 million pounds of macadamia nuts during the 2019-2020 growing season. So if you’re seeking a flavor that represents the Hawaiian islands, macadamia nut would be our pick.
Why we love it: Macadamia nuts add an extra flavor layer to standard issue (read: boring) buttermilk pancakes.
Where to get it: Visitor favorite (just check out their line in the morning) Kihei Caffe tops their macadamia nut pancakes with bananas and whipped cream ($11.45). Kihei Caffe has locations in Lahaina and Kihei.
7. Banana bread
What it is: Just like the macadamia nut, Hawaii isn’t in danger of a banana shortage. The state is blessed with apple bananas, an even sweeter version of the yellow Chiquitas traditionally found in Continental U.S. grocery stores.
So what would any self-respecting island of banana wealth do with the fruit excess? Bake banana bread, of course.
Why we love it: This sweet quick bread makes for an easy and filling snack when you’re out touring the island. Pro tip: pick up a few loaves — the sweet treat disappears faster than you think.
Where to get it: Pretty much any bakery or breakfast spot on Maui has their own version of banana bread. Our favorite: Aunty Sandy’s Banana Bread stand off of Hana Highway’s mile marker 16 in Keanae. They open at 8:30 a.m. We suggest getting there early before they sell out for the day.
What it is: Poi is a starchy paste made from slow-cooked taro root. Don’t be put off by its grayish purple color and paste-like texture. In Hawaii, the dish holds a strong connection to the food culture of the indigenous Hawaiian people.
Why we love it: Experience Hawaiian food culture with a taste of poi. If you haven’t tried poi before, we recommend using it as an accompaniment to a main dish of kalua pork or mahi mahi.
Where to get it: Pick up a sampling of poi from one of the local Foodland grocery stores. Or get fancied up and try poi at the famous Mama’s Fish House restaurant on Maui’s north shore.
What it is: POG stands for Passion Orange Guava. The popular juice blend consists of passion fruit, orange, and guava. Legend has it that the drink was concocted by a food consultant at Haleakala Dairy on Maui in the 1970s.
Why we love it: POG makes for a family friendly thirst quencher that satisfies all ages.
Where to get it: Ordering POG in Maui is like ordering a Coke at most restaurants. Most places have it.
You’ll even find it at the grocery store in the drink aisle. Try Costco or Safeway. If you’re looking for POG with a kick, Maui Brewing Company makes a POG hard seltzer. We’ve also enjoyed fresh POG juice at the Andaz resort’s Ka’ana Kitchen.
10. Spam musubi
What it is: This ongiri-style dish layers rice with Spam. Then it’s wrapped in seaweed.
Spam, Hormel brand’s canned meat, has been a staple on the Hawaiian islands since the World War II era. A Japanese-American woman from Hawaii is thought to have created the seaweed, rice, and Spam concoction.
Why we love it: First, it’s easy to eat while on the go. Second, the blend of meat and rice in Spam musubi fills you up. Third, it’s salty and yummy.
Where to get it: Gas station store (yes, we said gas station) Minit Stop makes the most popular spam Musubi ($2.39) on Maui. Round out your meal with a fried chicken thigh and Spam musubi combo ($4.49). Minit Stop locations in Lahaina, Wailuku, Kihei, and Kahului.
What it is: Malasadas are the Portuguese version of the American doughnut. Compare it to a beignet or oversized doughnut hole covered in sugar.
Why we love it: They’re pillowy orbs of sugar goodness. If you like doughnuts, you need malasadas in your life — or at least as a part of your Maui vacation memories.
Where to get it: The most famous spot serving this Portuguese dessert is T. Komodo, a 100-plus year old Japanese-owned family bakery that anchors Makawao’s main street. Get there early for the best selection, and prepare for long lines. You can get malasadas on a stick, which inexplicably makes them even more appealing.
12. Plate lunch
What it is: I like to think of plate lunches like a bento box on steroids. Restaurants and food truck staff ladle generous portions of your selected main protein — hulu hulu chicken, garlic shrimp, and Kalua pork are popular choices — onto a plate. Hence, the term plate lunch.
Why we love it: With substantial sides like macaroni salad, rice, or mac and cheese, you’re pretty much guaranteed a happy and round belly at the end of your meal. And in terms of value, you get a hefty dish for less than $20.
Where to get it: You’ll find plate lunch specials if you roam any of Maui’s food truck pods. Also try Da Kitchen in Kihei or 808 Grindz Cafe in Lahaina.
What it is: With its Hawaiian moniker, mahimahi fish is probably one of the most recognized and popular types among Hawaii tourists. On Maui, you’re typically able to order this tropical-dwelling fish as a fresh catch year round.
Our favorite mahi mahi prep? With a macadamia nut crust.
Why we love it: Mahimahi has a mild flavor and firm texture that isn’t overwhelming to the palate. And at Maui restaurants, you can generally order fresh mahimahi any time of the year.
Where to get it: For dinner with a view, order a plate of macadamia nut crusted mahimahi at Merriman’s in Kapalua as part of their prix fixe dinner.