Posted on Julie 1, 2001
Sampling the best of the Neighbor Islands
Maui is a feast so rich that a month isn't enough to time to taste it all.
Just a couple of blocks from the airport, stop at Marco's Grill & Deli (877-4446) for a Brooklyn-style Italian meatball sandwich, a beer and some sports on TV, espresso and indulgent desserts; hearty breakfasts, too. A more formal Italian trattoria, Marco's South Side Grill (874-4041) has opened in Kihei.
In Old Wailuku town, Sam Sato's Inc. (244-7124), hidden in an office park off Mill Street, is an institution known for noodles, including Maui's distinctive Òdry meinÓ (hot noodles with broth on the side and exceptionally flavorful and tender char siu on top) plus chow mein and saimin; plate lunches, rock-bottom prices, party take-out, expect to wait. Just up Mill is Tasty Crust (244-0845), a diner virtually unchanged for four decades, known for plate lunches and great pancakes (there's a secret to the batter). Not far away is a newer spot that's equally a Maui staple: A Saigon Cafe (243-9560) offering friendly if highly accented service, a full bar and a wide range of Vietnamese food; try the deliciously rich clay pot dishes and be ready for fire if you order them hot.
Headed Hana way, Mama's Fish House (579-8488) appeals to both visitors and locals for its the kitschy decor (think tiki) in a genuinely Hawaiian environment (a former beach house) and consistently well-prepared seafood; always busy, make reservations. And Upcountry, Bev Gannon's Hali'imaile General Store (572-2666) is a must-stop for every TV Food Network-watching, Gourmet magazine-taking, card-carrying foodie for the crab boboli (she's still not telling the recipe), the country store ambiance, the New American dishes and Theresa Gannon's luscious desserts.
Maui's south shore from Ma'alaea to Wailea is lined with beaches and restaurants.
Peter Merriman's latest effort is Bamboo Bistro (244-7979) at Ma'alaea, a charmingly designed spot with a colonial-era feel, a view that carries you away and an intriguing East-West menu. Nick's Fishmarket Maui (879-7224), a beautiful veranda-level space in the Kea Lani Hotel, was voted best new restaurant and best Maui restaurant by The Advertiser's readers when it opened in 1999; great seafood, presentation service. A sister restaurant, Sarento's on the Beach (875-7555), opened nearby recently. At the five diamond Four Seasons Wailea's Seasons Restaurant (847-8000), local boy chef Ben Takahashi, who grew up fishing with his family and was the right hand of ber-chef George Mavrothalassitis, creates an exquisite dining experience; perfect seafood, well-selected wine list, view seating.
In Olowalu, former Ritz-Carlton celeb chef Patrick Callarec is bringing France to a village the size of a postage stamp at Chez Paul (661-3843); very French, very expensive, very worth it.
What's left are Lahaina, Ka'anapali and Kapalua. In Lahaina, David Paul's Lahaina Grill (667-5117) continues to offer inventive food and a happening bar scene, though David Paul Johnson himself is not there as much since the restaurant was sold over a year ago. Up Lahainaluna Road, Gerard's (661-8939) serves well-prepared country-style French food and the plantation setting is lovely. Longhi's (667-2288) on Front Street continues to offer pasta and people-watching. And chef James McDonald's trio of restaurants Pacific'O, i'o and the Feast at Lele testify to his philosophy of sophisticated preparations borrowing from a broad range of cuisines: Pacific'O (667-4341) has sinful prawn and basil wontons and live jazz; i'o (661-4822) has a foie grat-encrusted catch of the day, beachside seating and a martini bar and the Feast at Lele (667-5353) matches the music and dance of several Polynesian cultures to the food of those places for a contemporary lu'au experience.
Roy's Kahana Bar & Grill (669-6999) and more casual sister restaurant Nicolina (669-5000) offer Roy Yamaguchi's trademark and ground-breaking Hawai'i Regional Cuisine, great service, well-chosen wine list. In Kapalua, Sansei Seafood Restaurant and Sushi Bar (669-6286) hums right along with its New Age Asian menu (foie gras nigiri sushi, calamari salad with ko cho jung dressing), though chef-owner D. K. Kodama is often away at this Honolulu eatery and doing that celebrity chef thing. Unforgettable evenings are the stock in trade of the Anuenue Room at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua (669-6200) with its perfectly appointed rooms, tasteful live music, attentive and well-trained servers and the expertise of chef Craig Connole who deftly intertwines classic techniques with home-grown ingredients.
The one-time pineapple island is now the luxury island, with two world-class resorts in The Lodge at Ko'ele and Manele Bay Hotel. The Dining Room at The Lodge (565-4580) presents a select and sophisticated menu in keeping with the hotel's upland setting and New England country hotel feeling. At Manele's 'Ihilani, chef Edwin Goto (565-2296) prepares exceptional food in a romantic setting overlooking the bay. But all is not expensive here: Check out the Blue Ginger Cafe (565-6363) on Lana'i City's square for plate lunch and a smile.
A must on everyone's list is Jean Marie Josselin's A Pacific Cafe (822-0013); others of his efforts have been uneven but this charming flagship restaurant continues to draw repeat customers for the sophisticated cross-cultural menu and great wine list. At the other end of the spectrum, but equally a must is Hamura Saimin Stand (245-3271) in Lihu'e, a retro Formica experience with the noble noodle as the sole star; ridiculously inexpensive, possibly the best saimin in the Islands.
Just out of town, Gaylord's at Kilohana (245-9593), a beautiful restaurant in a beautiful plantation home setting, is a favorite of Kaua'i residents for special occasions.
Out Po'ipu way, the Hyatt Regency Hotel (742-1234) is home to two exceptional eateries: Tidepools, for its thatched-roof and koi pond setting (straightforward steaks and seafood) and Dondero's for its romantic room and exceptional Italian food (we had a risotto there that's still a personal best). And lest fans be bereft, Kaua'i does boast a Roy's, Roy's Po'ipu Bar & Grill (742-5000), its busy popularity being proof that the man himself need not be on hand for guests to enjoy the Roy's experience, including Yamaguchi's own brand of Hawai'i Regional Cuisine, Randy Caparoso's wine selections and an open-air dining room.
As big as the so-called Big Island is, its population, and therefore its eateries, tends to be clustered in two areas along the Kona-Kohala coast, and in and around Hilo town.
On the Kona side, we're not great fans of touristy Kailua, but we do love former Ritz-Carlton chef Amy Ferguson Ota's oddly named Oodles of Noodles (329-9222), a smart bistro where you'll meet every form of what home economics used to call alimentary paste, from Asian ramen to Italian capillini, nice wines, well-prepared food. Down the highway in an industrial park is the original restaurant of the chef who is arguably the face of Island cooking, Sam Choy, still run by members of his family, Sam Choy's Kaloko (326-1545); awesome breakfasts, 'ono fish preparations, quick service, reasonable prices.
Headed south on Mamalahoa Highway, two longtime local favorites are worth mentioning: Teshima Restaurant (322-9140) for Japanese meals (especially tempura!) and the dining room at the venerable Manago Hotel (323-2642), where hearty local-style meals are served dormitory-style at long tables (the pork chops!!!).
North, the highway takes you through resort country, where every hotel has a restaurant or two to brag about: We especially like Pahu i'a at the Four Seasons Hualalai (325-8333), Canoe House at the Maunalani Boy Hotel & Bungalows (885-6622), Brown's Beach House at the Orchid at Mauna Lani (885-2000) all three offer pricey New Island cuisine in great beach settings and Hakone (880-1111) exquisite Japanese food at the Hapuna Prince Beach Hotel.
At Waimea is the spot we consider to be among the handful of consistently excellent restaurants in the state: Merriman's (885-6822), where chef Peter Merriman and staff (he's often not there but the food and service do not suffer) are unafraid to prepare wonderful, basic food (lamb, corn, tomatoes) in ways that don't get in the way of the natural flavors; a relaxed and relaxing place where the night chill is pleasant and the atmosphere welcoming without being overly familiar.
On the Hilo side, locals speak enthusiastically of Cafe Pesto (969-6640) (there's another in Kawaihae, 882-1071) for its casual eclectic menu and Harrington's (961-4966) for a beautiful waterfront setting and reliable steak-and-seafood presentations. They like Ninon (969-1133) for Japanese food, Pescatore for authentic Italian cuisine (969-9090) and Royal Siam (961-6100) for a Thai experience.
Fresh seafood is the specialty of Seaside Restaurant (935-8825), where mullet, aholehole and other fish are grown in Hawaiian-style fishponds.
And lovers of local grinds simply must stop at Cafe 100 (935-6368), said to be the place where the loco moco was invented (big bowl rice, hamburger patty, two fried eggs, lotta gravy); extremely eclectic and ever-changing plate lunch menu, good prices.