When you eat like a local in Maui, be prepared to savor a wide range of dishes and flavors. Like immigrants everywhere, the Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Korean and Portuguese laborers who came to the Hawaiian Islands to work on the pineapple and sugar plantations, brought their food preferences and cooking habits with them.
You don’t have to pay top prices to eat tasty meals. Talented chefs at high end as well as moderately-priced eateries meld the many culinary traditions to create tasty and varied menus. Here are two of our favorite and affordable restaurants to eat like a local on Maui, Hawaii.
Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop, in Olowalu, is on the road from Wailea to Lahaina. Look for the cars in the parking lot. Leoda’s serves what manager Rosie Robbins calls “glorified grandma’s comfort food.” Everyone’s grandma. The menu includes items from myriad traditions, focusing on homemade stuff served up by good cooks in lots of neighborhood kitchens and adds some citified must-haves too. That’s why the menu features seared ahi sandwiches (terrific), chicken pot pies (very popular), and Mahi tacos (delicious) as well as Reubens, Philly cheese steaks, burgers and bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches.
Did we mention the homemade dessert pies? Leoda’s is also a noted bakery. Depending on what’s in season, Leoda’s pies include Olowalu lime, peanut butter chocolate, banana cream, macadamia nut chocolate and apple crumb. Conveniently, Leoda’s offers these in two sizes: the 3-inch bite-size, personal pie and the 5-inch one made to share. Entrees from $6-$13.
Locals line-up at Da Kitchen, Kahului, way before lunch. Owners Les Tomita and Mariah Brown call their menu of sandwiches, noodles and plate lunches “island soul food.” Plate lunches are a Hawaiian tradition derived from the plantation workers who would swap and sample tasty bites from each other’s lunches. Plate lunches typically have a mix proteins—meat, fish, chicken--served over rice.
What Da Kitchen does is supersize their plate lunches, especially the loco moco. This monster dish consists of a burger topped with two eggs, onions and mushrooms, served over rice with gravy and a choice of macaroni or a green salad. “Making the loco moco big is the way I like to eat,” Tomita says. “I don’t like small portions, I want my meal to fulfill me, and leave me a little for later.”
Even the entrees are big. The chicken katsu plate has 12 breaded, large chicken strips plus rice and macaroni or green salad. Da Kitchen created a fried spam musubi appetizer for a segment on the Travel Channel. The chef wrapped spam and rice in seaweed, deep-fried the mixture and drizzled it with teriyaki sauce. The “pu-pu” has become a Da Kitchen favorite. Entrees $10-$20.