When it comes to Maui bucket lists, Mama’s Fish House tops the list of food destinations for many island visitors. But is the hefty price tag (and fight for reservations) for a table at the beloved restaurant worth it?
Mama’s Fish House has a reputation as one of the most notable fine dining restaurants on Maui, specializing in fresh seafood and evoking a classic Polynesian island aesthetic. While the food (and the accompanying prices) screams upscale, the restaurant itself lends a casual elegance that suits the carefree island life.
But bear in mind: Mama’s Fish House is no hidden gem. (With social media, are there even hidden gems anymore? I digress.) EVERYONE knows about Mama’s. It’s acclaimed as one of the most popular restaurants in the U.S. Don’t believe me? Try to get a reservation within the next six months. They’re usually fully booked.
I’ve been fortunate to dine at Mama’s nearly every time I visit Maui, so it’s safe to say that I HIGHLY recommend eating here. Mama’s is the perfect spot for special occasions of all sorts — I spotted no fewer than three birthday celebrations around our table during my last visit. (We were celebrating a birthday at our table, too.)
I’d argue that there’s no better place to splurge on fresh seafood for dinner (or lunch) when you’re on Maui celebrating a special event.
If you’re sold on Mama’s Fish House, I recommend that you reserve a table as soon as you know your Maui travel dates.
Why you should visit Mama’s Fish House
What makes Mama’s Fish House so special? First, Mama’s has been around a LONG time. They opened their doors in 1973, and they’re as popular today as ever. If they’ve been around this long, they must be doing something right.
Second, the location and atmosphere is second to none. Nestled among a small grove of coconut trees, Mama’s Fish House sits approximately one hundred yards from a semi-secluded beach (where you’re apt to spot a turtle or four sunning themselves on the sand). Most tables in the open-air restaurant have a fantastic view of the water. And sunset skies are pretty spectacular, too. (At least the colors are. The actual sunset view isn’t visible from this north-facing side of the island.)
Third, their service is always impeccable. The wait staff is always friendly and on point. You can expect a hefty dose of aloha while dining at Mama’s.
And last, but not least, the food is always both fresh and fantastic. Mama’s is celebrated for supporting and buying directly from local fishers and growers. The menu changes daily to reflect what the fishers catch early in the day. That means the mahi mahi, ono, and kanpachi regularly featured on the day’s menu is about as fresh as you can get.
Dining at Mama’s Fish House is more than a meal — it’s an experience.
Why some people think Mama’s is overrated
While Mama’s has more than its share of fans, naysayers insist that you’re better off having a meal elsewhere. Here are some of the drawbacks of eating at Mama’s:
It’s expensive. This is a big one, especially if you’re footing the bill for an entire family. I won’t beat around the bush — it’s pricey eating on Maui, and you’ll need even deeper pockets for a meal at Mama’s Fish House.
At a recent dinner with friends, the bill came to $980 for a party of 6, which included drinks, appetizers, and desserts. That’s before gratuity, folks. If everyone tipped 20% on the total, the per person total would be $196 — nearly $200!
How much does the food cost at Mama’s Fish House? Entrees hover around the $60 to $80 range, while appetizers tend to stay around $20 to $30. I don’t drink alcohol, so I don’t have an idea of what alcoholic drinks usually cost. That said, my recent tablemates ordered a glass of champagne that cost around $27. A non-alcoholic strawberry daiquiri was $14.
Reservations are ridiculously hard to get. If you’re less than six months out from your trip, good luck getting a table. While there are ways to reserve a last-minute slot — setting up an auto-alert on OpenTable, for example — it can get stressful if you have your heart set on experiencing a meal at Mama’s Fish House. Reservations slip away in mere seconds.
You may have better luck making a reservation for lunch instead of dinner. I’ve been to Mama’s for lunch, and I found that the food and service were both fantastic. In fact, my favorite Mama’s dish (an ono fish entree caught by one of Mama’s staff members that same morning) was from the lunch menu.
Some say it’s a tourist trap. I won’t deny that Mama’s attracts a TON of tourists, but I personally know local Maui residents who enjoy a night out at Mama’s, too.
You can get locally caught fresh fish at lots of other restaurants on the island — and without the premium. It’s true that fresh, tasty seafood can be found at many restaurants on Maui — Paia Fish Market and Mala Ocean Tavern both come to mind. But I still maintain that a visit to Mama’s is a worthwhile experience to try at least once — if it isn’t outside of your budget.
A typical dinner at Mama’s Fish House
Wondering what to expect when you visit Mama’s? We’ve always received a warm aloha welcome along with our delectable meal.
If you’re coming from Kihei or Wailea, leave an hour earlier than your reservation. There’s usually traffic heading north along Piilani Highway, and you’ll hit traffic again on Hana Highway at Paia town.
About a mile after the Paia town stoplight, look for a Mama’s Fish House boat and a small grove of coconut trees along Hana Highway. Make a left into the driveway. Just before you turn left, you’ll also see a sign on the right that reads “Hookipa Lookout 1 mile.”
Follow the road, veering left to the small traffic circle. Mama’s Fish House provides free valet parking for diners.
The valet driver will ask if you have a reservation before directing you to the check-in area. Head to the podium next to the parking area entrance to check in and confirm your reservation. Then walk past the entry arch to the path that takes you to the restaurant.
Past the arch, the scene opens up to a view of the beach, coconut trees, and a grassy area. Scattered among the space are Polynesian statues and antiques. If you’re a little early, this is a good spot to take pictures — with your dining companions or of Hawaiian sea turtles that often bask on the beach nearby.
The path from the first check-in area leads to the second check-in podium and the restaurant’s entrance, which is located on the right side of Mama’s when facing the restaurant. Look for the distinctive aerial tree roots of the Hala Tree as you make your way to the second check-in area.
Enjoy a short wait while you take in your surroundings. Mama’s host staff will prepare your table and lead you into the dining area when it’s ready.
Similar to other fine dining establishments, you’ll receive the day’s menu along with a separate drinks menu.
As I mentioned above, Mama’s Fish House sources its fish from local fishers, typically from nearby waters. They print menus daily, and next to the entree names you’ll find the name of the fisher and the location of the catch.
There are only one or two entrees on the menu that don’t consist of seafood. We recommend trying the steak filet if you aren’t a seafood lover.
There’s also usually at least one off-menu special available, so be sure to check with your waiter before making a final decision.
At our last dinner, we were offered complimentary bread for the table and individual mushroom amuse-bouche soup in drinking cups. The bread was a poppy seed wheat loaf with a side of whipped butter. The bread wasn’t warm, but it was soft and scrumptious. We asked for seconds!
The meal: appetizers and entrees
During my last visit, I ordered the sesame-rice crusted Hawaiian Kanpachi, which was caught off the coast of Kailua Kona. The serving was approximately the size of my hand. It arrived with a side of vegetables and Kalua pig fried rice.
We also had the steak filet, which the restaurant sourced from Maui’s own Haleakala Ranch. It came with a side of whipped potatoes, along with a bordelaise sauce and mushrooms.
A meal at Mama’s Fish House isn’t complete without dessert. We ordered decaffeinated coffee to accompany our final course.
Over the years, we’ve tried most of the desserts at Mama’s. These are some of our favorites:
- Lilikoi (passion fruit) creme brulee. The lilikoi adds a fresh, fruity flavor to this traditional dessert.
- Macadamia nut crisp with banana. There was no mention of it on the menu, but this dessert came with a scoop of ice cream. The banana compote gives the crisp an extra sweet flavor.
- Chocolate pie in a caramel cookie crust. The chocolate used in the pie came from local Hawaii chocolate companies for a smooth mousse filling. Our slice was topped with whipped cream and garnished with a strawberry.
- Polynesian black pearl — chocolate lilikoi mousse in a pastry seashell. This is Mama’s showstopper dessert for special occasions. A shiny chocolate mousse orb is placed onto a pastry crust shaped like an open seashell.
What to wear at Mama’s Fish House
Don’t fret if you get to Maui and realize you didn’t pack a designer cocktail dress. You don’t need it. While the restaurant is considered an upscale spot, the attire at Mama’s is what I’d call island casual. Shorts are fine. So are slippahs.
Since I’m usually at Mama’s to celebrate a special occasion, I’ll throw on a casual sundress and sandals. I’ve seen others don shorts and a tank top. The Mama’s staff will welcome you either way.
While there isn’t a formal dress code, I’d think twice about strolling in while wearing just a bikini or sans shoes.
Is Mama’s Fish House worth it?
Regardless of what anyone says, the place is an institution. If you’ve never been, want a quintessential Maui experience, and willing to splurge on a fancy meal — I say you should go for it. You won’t regret the food, even if your wallet might.
While you’re in Paia…
Don’t forget to visit the always-eclectic Paia town just one mile from Mama’s Fish House. Check out our post 12 Best Things to Do in Maui’s Boho Surfer Town of Paia for our recommendations.