Home to some of the best seafood on the island, a decent selection of cuisines and budgets, and an abundance of local color, where to eat in Pa‘ia is a challenge if you’ll be in town for only one meal. Aim for lunch and dinner to really enjoy the selection.
Mama’s Fish House (799 Poho Pl., 808/579-9764, 11am-2:30pm and 4:15pm-9pm daily, $20-40 lunch, $28-55 dinner) has become synonymous with Maui dining. Many in its cult-like following claim that if you haven’t been to Mama’s, you’ve never been to Maui. The oceanfront location is unbeatable, the romantic ambience is better than anywhere on the island, and the fish is so fresh that the menu not only tells you where your fish was caught that morning, it tells you who caught it. Prepare for a meal where the beauty of Polynesia is evident in every bite. Call well in advance for reservations (timing your meal for sunset is best). To get there, travel a mile past the town of Pa‘ia as if headed to Hana; just as the road meets up with the ocean again, you’ll see the Mama’s Fish House sign and the entry to Kuau Cove.
While your hotel concierge will recommend Mama’s, the local surfer will point you to Pa‘ia Fish Market (100 Baldwin Ave., 808/579-8030, 11am-9:30pm daily, $10), on the corner of the only stoplight in town. Lines stretch out the door for the popular ono and mahi burgers. My personal favorite is the ahi burger. Pair your fish with a draft Hefeweizen, locally canned Bikini Blonde lager, or maybe even a glass of wine.
On the other corner of Pa‘ia’s only stoplight, separated by the bustling crosswalk, Milagros (3 Baldwin Ave., 808/579-8755, 11am-10pm daily, $10-18) is known for Mexican fare with a funky island twist, enormous portions, and the best happy hour in town. The black bean nachos, ahi burrito, and blackened ahi tacos are all local favorites. Get a seat at the outdoor patio, which has some of the best people-watching in Pa‘ia.
As the name of Flatbread Pizza Co. (89 Hana Hwy., 808/579-8989, 11am-10pm daily, $16-22) implies, you won’t find any Chicago-style deep dish here. All of the pizzas use organic, locally sourced ingredients and are fired in an open kiawe (mesquite) wood oven. Try the Mopsy (free-range kalua pork, organic mango barbecue sauce, organic red onions, Maui pineapple, and goat cheese from Surfing Goat Dairy), or Coevolution (kalamata olives, organic and local rosemary, red onions, goat cheese from Surfing Goat Dairy, sweet red peppers, and organic herbs), both made with organic dough. A lively bar scene fills up nightly; get there early or expect a wait. Tuesday nights, the restaurant hosts benefits for the local community.
Charley’s (142 Hana Hwy., 808/579-8085, 7am-10pm daily, $8-14) is as integral a part of town as a dawn patrol at Ho‘okipa or a bodysurfing session at Baldwin Beach. Known as “Willie’s Place” because Willie Nelson frequently dines here, Charley’s breeds a colorful cast of characters. You may find yourself dining next to a famous celebrity on an incognito North Shore vacation. The run-down exterior of the wooden saloon exudes a gritty, no-nonsense vibe. On the inside, it’s a jovial, comfortable sports bar and bistro that offers healthy menu options with locally sourced ingredients. Top off an early morning surf session with macadamia nut pancakes. Classic burgers such as a “bacon and blue” are filling and won’t break your budget.
Natural foods enclave Mana Foods (49 Baldwin Ave., 808/579-8078, 8am-8:30pm daily) is the epicenter of the island’s health-conscious community, with a selection of organic and natural offerings. There’s a hot bar as well as a deli section where you can build your own health-conscious picnic lunch for the Road to Hana.
Start your day off at Anthony’s Coffee Company (90 Hana Hwy., 808/579-8340, 5:30am-6pm daily). This legendary Pa‘ia mainstay is known as the refueling center for some of the North Shore’s biggest names. You just might catch sight of a passing celebrity as you slurp up the last of your eggs Benedict or acai smoothie. A full espresso bar adds a jolt into your morning. Twenty different varieties of freshly roasted beans (including those from Kona, Moloka‘i, and Ka‘anapali) are on sale. As the sign says, it offers the “last Wi-Fi before Hana.”
If you would rather enjoy a casual coffee in a garden setting, Pa‘ia Bay Coffee (43 Hana Hwy., 808/579-3111, 6:30am-6pm Mon.-Sat., 7am-6pm Sun.) is steps away from the bay on the ocean side of the highway. Enjoy a small selection of sandwiches, croissants, salads, and bagels in the shaded grove along with free Wi-Fi.