Winning Dishes

They’re the orders that come through the kitchen so often, the line cooks can prepare them blindfolded or sleepwalking. Chefs may curse the repetition, but what can they do when guests threaten never to return if those dishes disappear from the menu?

699

Story by Becky Speere | Photography by Mieko Horikoshi

Each of these ‘Aipono Award-winning restaurants offers a wealth of choices, but if it’s your first visit, you may want to see what all the hoopla is about.

Charred Brussels sprouts with a light glaze of balsamic-vinegar reduction pairs perfectly with locally crafted brews on tap at Sea House Restaurant.

Sea House Restaurant

At Sea House, Hawaiian poke achieves an Asian flair; it’s tossed in soy dressing atop a crunchy won ton chip.

Silver ‘Aipono Award for Restaurant of the Year | Golds for Best Happy Hour and Most “Maui-est” If you show up at Sea House during their Whale Watcher’s Happy Hour, don’t be surprised by the crowd; this is the hotspot for those in the know in Nāpili. The appetizer menu alone offers twenty-four island-inspired dishes, fourteen cocktails, six draft beers (four of the brews crafted on Maui), twelve wines and a dozen nonalcoholic drinks—all at nifty prices. If you’re a poke lover, dive into Sea House’s ‘ahi nachos: a generous scoop of shoyu-seasoned ‘ahi on crisp won ton chips, topped with wasabi cream, roasted-pepper aioli and sweet-vinegar-marinated seaweed. The pork spareribs are melt-in-your-mouth tender and arrive on a bed of pineapple slaw with a piquant, caramelly fruit mop. Al dente brown rice tossed with edamame in sesame-ginger vinaigrette and mounded on locally grown baby romaine is a healthy, gluten-free vegetarian alternative; so are the crispy charred Brussels sprouts in pomegranate-balsamic syrup with capers and parmesan cheese. With choices like these, no wonder there’s a line of people waiting to get in! Nāpili Kai Beach Resort, 5900 Lower Honoapi‘ilani Road, Nāpili | 669-1500 | SeaHouseMaui.com

Freshness is the key to one of the island’s best-kept secrets, Mama’s Fish House lū‘au plate: just-caught fish, tender wild boar lau lau wrapped in ti leaf and slow-cooked for hours, poi, and possibly the best poke you’ll ever eat.

Mama’s Fish House

ahi salad
Mama’s Fish House’s ‘ahi salad is—by demand—a return guest on the ever-changing menu.

Gold ‘Aipono Awards for Best Fish & Seafood and Best Dessert One look at that second award, and you may be tempted to start at the end of the menu and work your way backward to the entrée. But since Mama’s has won more ‘Aipono Awards than any other Maui restaurant—and is a James Beard House 2018 finalist for Best Restaurant in America—you’d be making a mistake not to start at the beginning. First of all, you’ll not eat a fresher fish unless you catch it yourself and cook it right then and there on the beach.

Mama's fish house
Although the bouillabaisse at Mama’s Fish House could easily feed two, you’ll be hard-pressed to share this one—it’s chockablock with gifts from the sea.

When I ask Chef Perry Bateman to name guests’ favorites, he replies, “The sashimi salad. Whenever we take it off [the menu], we receive comments from guests to bring it back soon.” He mentions also Tristan lobster with Kaua‘i-raised Makaweli Ranch beefsteak, and (my personal favorite) the Traditional Hawaiian plate with locally caught he‘e (octopus) cooked in lū‘au leaf, fish, wild-boar kalua, and homemade poi. But on this cool, breezy night, I decide on the seafood bouillabaisse, while my friends opt for the sashimi trio and the ever popular seared ‘ahi salad on Maui mixed greens. Each delicious bite reminds us why Mama’s is a special destination, recognized for four-and-a-half decades by visitors and locals alike. We splurge on the top-notch coffee service, ending our dining adventure with a gem of a dessert rightly named the Polynesian Black Pearl, a slice of Kū‘au pie and coconut cake. Oh, life is good! 799 Poho Place, Kū‘au |579-8488 | Mama’sFishHouse.com Menu changes daily.

udon noodles
House-made udon noodles in wafu broth garnished with radishes and scallions.

Star Noodle

Golds for Best Asian and Best Noodles | Silver for Best Business Lunch A Vietnamese crêpe floats to our table, held high on our waiter’s fingertips. A second server is close behind, bearing ‘ahi avo, hapa ramen and pad thai noodles. Directions for enjoying the crêpe: Break off a piece of the crispiness and place on the butter-leaf lettuce, top with bean sprouts, sautéed shrimp, pork and fresh herbs, and dip in sauce.

Vietnamese food
Vietnamese-style snack time: crunchy rice flour crêpe filled with pork and shrimp, served with mint, basil and bean sprouts.

Star Noodle is off the beaten track (literally—it’s just above the tracks for Lahaina’s Sugar Cane Train), but offers a trend-setting array of dishes. The menu’s first iteration came in 2010 under the direction of Star Noodle’s former chef, Sheldon Simeon. Back then, the restaurant produced 100 pounds of handmade noodles every day. Eight years later, it’s amped up to 160 pounds daily. So, yes, this is the place for noodles . . . and a whole lot more. Examples? The ‘ahi-avo: prime ‘ahi tossed à la minute with a secret soy mix and fresh slices of avocado added at the last second to preserve its texture and freshness. And ramen? You won’t find a better bowl of the tender saimin noodles in a broth that’s cooked for hours on the stove. Chef Abby Ferrer tells me this traditional broth is creamy rather than clear because it’s brought to a rolling boil. “As it reduces, the flavors concentrate and you get this delicious, rich broth.” Amen! It’s a bowl of noodles to savor. 286 Kupuohi  Street, Lahaina | 667-5400 | StarNoodle.com

Nutcharee’s crispy fish with a salad of shredded green mango, cilantro and red onion; tender duck in a red curry sauce with cherry tomatoes, red bell peppers and Maui pineapple; and pad thai—rice noodles in house-made sauce with egg, cabbage, shredded carrot and shrimp.

Nutcharee’s Authentic Thai Food

Silver ‘Aiponos for Best Southeast Asian and Best Noodles Nutcharee Case has been sating our Thai-food cravings since 2010, first in Hāna, and since 2016 in South Maui, when she opened at Azeka Shopping Center Makai with a curated menu of her family’s recipes from Central Thailand. Green-mango salad with crispy fish is a crunch-fest; it’s drizzled with a dressing of sweet rice vinegar, lime and fish sauce. Her coconut shrimp may be the best on Maui, and in my humble opinion, is not to be missed. Dipped in flakes of coconut, the huge shrimp brim with flavor and texture. A relative newcomer to the menu is the hot pot of glass noodles tossed in black-bean sauce laden with four tiger prawns; this will be a keeper, too. 1280 South Kīhei Road, Kīhei | 633-4840 | Nutcharees.com

Kihei caffe
Kihei Caffe’s eggs Benedict with oven-roasted potatoes.

Kihei Caffe

A veggie omelette atop roasted potatoes.

Gold ‘Aipono for Best Breakfast As my family and I stand in a queue thirty people long, I search the faces of the seated guests in the al fresco dining area. Their plates are piled high with pancake stacks, golden biscuits and a particular golden egg mountain that looks like a monument to all breakfast dishes. Our turn at last! Within ten minutes of placing our order, our breakfast arrives: eggs over easy beside a steak cooked perfectly medium, huevos rancheros with an extra side of creamy guacamole, classic eggs Benedict on buttered, crunchy English muffins, and the golden veggie scramble with home fries—all piping hot and served with a smile. The restaurant is cash-only, but an ATM is conveniently located at the door, and it’s worth the slight inconvenience—the food is simple, simply delicious, and the prices are great. (Early birds take note: the café opens at 5 a.m.) 1945 South Kīhei Road, Kīhei | 879-2230 | KiheiCaffee.com

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here