You can’t talk about local food in Hawaii without talking about history. The two are forever intertwined thanks to Hawaii’s plantation past and melting pot of cultures. You also can’t talk about local food without your mouth watering. The state’s entire cuisine is basically Asian- Pacific Island fusion, and oh!— the flavors. Let’s break down the best places for ‘broke-da-mouth grinds’ on Maui, from local secret spots to restaurants owned by celebrity chefs.
Tin Roof is a tiny, take-out-only eatery located in an unassuming strip mall near the airport— and it’s the go-to in central Maui for mouthwatering, contemporary local fare. Headed by Top Chef contestant Sheldon Simeon, the buzz this place generates is reflected in perpetually long lines. Despite this, the small kitchen cranks out dishes like crispy mochiko chicken, chop steak, and saimin at lightning speed. Add a dime bag of house-made furikake and a six-minute egg to really push your meal over the top.
Haven’s was one of Maui’s best-kept secrets for a long time— its flagship is located in a humble space next to a gas station in Kihei. But word of Haven’s ono food is getting out, and now the place is blowing up, with two locations in operation and another in the works. The menu is straightforward: noodles, temaki, and smash burgers. It’s hard to beat the Umami smash burger with roasted mushrooms, bacon jam, pickled jalapeno, and bleu cheese aioli. But if you’re craving some local eats, Haven’s noodles are the real deal. Go for the dashi broth saimin or fried noodles.
When Da Kitchen announced it was closing permanently in 2020, folks around Maui— and the US, for that matter— were devastated. Fortunately, Da Kitchen quietly reopened in a new space in Kihei in 2021. Now, the Valley Isle is again blessed with Da Kitchen favorites like deep-fried spam musubi, hamburger steak, and chicken katsu. For visitors eager to try traditional Hawaiian food without splurging on a luau, Da Kitchen serves a Hawaiian plate with kalua pork, lau lau, and Lomi salmon.
Kalei’s friendly service and heaping plate lunches are sure to bring a smile to your face. Expect top-notch local grinds like chop steak, teriyaki chicken, and loco moco. It’s not a coincidence that Kalei’s food is so good— the proprietors previously owned longstanding Upcountry favorite Cafe 808 (if you remember this place, you’re a real OG). Kalei’s has three locations: a food truck in Kahului by Costco, a Maui Lani storefront, and a Pukalani storefront. The menu at each location differs slightly, but one thing is for sure— you’ll be leaving Kalei’s stuffed and happy.
Braddah Hutts alone is worth the winding, 64-mile drive to Hana. A lovely local family runs this inconspicuous food truck in Hana town. Day in and day out, they whip up massive Hawaiian BBQ plate lunches piled with rice and mac salad for hungry locals and tourists. In addition to chicken, pork, and pork rib plate options, Braddah Hutts also serves kalua pork plates, Mahi plates, pasta, and tacos. You can grab a seat at one of the folding tables under the canopy tent— gotta love the vibe of this place— and chat with other travelers while you wait. If it’s quiet, you’ll likely get to chatting with Braddah Hutt himself!
Few places on Maui are as legendary as Sam Sato’s. Sam Sato’s first opened in 1933 in Spreckelsville. And although it’s moved locations a few times, the restaurant is still going strong. In fact, the place is incessantly busy. Patrons flock here for Sam Sato’s famous Teri burgers, BBQ sticks, and dry mein— dry saimin noodles tossed in a savory sauce and topped with char sui, green onion, and bean sprouts. This counter-service-only eatery has an old-school diner feel to it. After all, it’s one of the few mom-and-pop businesses that remain from the plantation era! Sam Sato’s also serves a super ono, super affordable breakfast until 11.
If you’re a food lover obsessed with local fares, you’ll fall head over heels with Southshore Grindz after one glance at the menu. The appetizer list draws you in with promises of poke, ceviche, and fried spam musubis. Move on to the entrees, and— my goodness, the options! From Teri beef to mochiko chicken, loco moco to blackened Mahi, there’s a plate lunch here for you. Meanwhile, the sheer amount of noodle options cover a variety of cultures and palates: local style saimin, Thai peanut noodles, chow fun, and veggie udon noodles are just some of the possibilities. This counter-service eatery is BYOB, so pick up a local brew from the liquor store next door to enjoy with your grindz.
Tobis Shave Ice
Shave ice— not “shaved ice”— is a local staple. If you don’t know what shave ice is, it’s similar to a snow cone, but the ice is shaved rather than crushed. And after a long, balmy day exploring the streets of Paia, there’s no better place to get your fix than Tobi’s Shave Ice. But Tobi’s is known for more than their tasty shave ice. They serve knockout poke bowls and plate lunches too. Expect eats like chili and rice, acai bowls, and shoyu chicken plates. Poke plates are made to order with fresh ahi over greens with two scoops of furikake-topped rice. Poke aficionados have called Tobi’s the best poke place on Maui— go find out for yourself!
Okazuyas were born during Hawaii’s plantation era. Okazuyas are basically Japanese point-and-choose delis that serve a wide variety of cultural foods. Plantation workers used to visit their local Okazuya early in the morning to pick up lunch for the day, which is why some old-school Okazuyas open as early as 5 am. To keep up with modern times, Honokowai Okazuya morphed into a plate lunch spot. But it’s proved to be a huge hit among locals and tourists alike. Its plates still span a variety of cuisines, from kung pao chicken and loco moco to turkey burgers and spaghetti. Come here for classic, mom-and-pop, hole-in-the-wall vibes and enormous take-out plates.
Tiffany’s Bar and Grill
Tiffany’s is the best restaurant on Maui you’ve never heard of. Tiffany’s in Wailuku has been a secret local favorite for almost two decades. Its pool tables and karaoke nights give the place a dive bar atmosphere, but the fantastic food attracts families to its timeworn booths. The eats— namely the kimchi fried rice— were famous to begin with, but the menu recently got a facelift when Top Chef contestant Sheldon Simeon took over in summer 2022. The menu features a medley of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Hawaiian-style fares, but expect to see more Filipino dishes very soon. If you’re looking for a place with a thoroughly local vibe and food from Hawaii’s melting pot of cultures, this is your place.
This family-run grocery store, known to Upcountry locals as “Puk Sup” first opened its location on Makawao Avenue in 1955. But Puk Sup’s legacy dates back to the plantation days when Japanese immigrants Takeo and Kome Tanizaki opened a small store in Wailuku. In 1927, the couple lost the store to fire, and operations moved Upcountry, finally settling in its current location in the mid-50s. Today, the store is known far and wide for its hot food bar. Around lunchtime, you’ll often see crowds of locals sifting through bento boxes filled with fried rice, dry mein, and chili chicken. Stop by and pick up a couple yourself before exploring Upcountry.
Filipino food often gets overlooked despite people of Filipino descent making up 25% of Hawaii’s population. But that’s beginning to change, thanks in part to chefs like Sheldon Simeon and Joey Macadangdang. Chef Macadangdang, the face behind Joey’s Kitchen, immigrated from the Philippines to Hawaii in 1983. And while the menu at Joey’s Kitchen features classic island eats like loco moco, it’s the Filipino favorites— shrimp pancit, pork adobo fried rice, seafood Sinigang— that really steal the show.
All Kine Maui Grindz
Like the name suggests, this Haiku food truck serves all kine Maui grinds. Fried rice, chow fun, and fresh fish are mainstays here. The extra crispy, Japanese-katsu-style pork belly with green papaya salad is a huge hit too. Honestly, all the menu items are hits. The proprietor was once a sous chef at a certain 5-star establishment on Maui’s north shore, so it’s safe to say he knows what he’s doing. All Kine Maui Grindz also has a large indoor/outdoor BYOB seating area. It’s the perfect chilled-out spot to enjoy some of the best take-out on the north shore.
Waikapu On 30
Despite opening in 2006, Waikapu On 30 is one of those classic mom-and-pop places with an old-school Hawaii feel— a kind of place you wish there were more of in the islands today. Waikapu On 30 occupies the old Sakamoto Store building, which dates back to the early 20th century. Look for a green, plantation-style building off Honoapiilani Highway, AKA highway 30. You know you’re in the right place when you spot the Saimin, Lau Lau, and Local Food signs hanging from the eaves. The menu here often changes with lots of rotating daily specials. Still, you can expect superb mainstays like chow fun, loco moco, musubis, and pork lau lau— complete with Lomi Lomi salmon, rice, purple sweet potato, and mac salad. Oh, and they also have homemade pies. Does it get any better?! Waikapu On 30 has a killer Instagram too, so be sure to check them out.
Tasaka Guri-Guri is a living relic. But first, what the heck is Guri-Guri? Gur-Guri is a dessert totally unique to Maui. It’s basically a cross between sherbet and ice cream, but the exact recipe is closely guarded by the Tasaka family. Jokichi Tasaka first made the dessert in the early 1900s in Japan before opening the first Guri-Guri storefront in Puunene over 100 years ago. Now located in the Maui Mall, its home since 1973, Tasaka Guri-Guri is as popular as ever. Only two flavors are served: strawberry and pineapple. But that’s really all we need, anyway. Heads up! Tasaka Guri-Guri only accepts cash.