Da Kitchen's Hawaiian plate with lau lau wrapped in taro leaves.

Want to dine where the locals do? Da Kitchen is the spot. Photo of the Hawaiian Plate courtesy of Da Kitchen.

Map of Kihei, Hawaii

Kihei

Kihei dining options feature menus to tantalize and satisfy the most selective of palates, along with plenty of ethnic varieties and price ranges. For the freshest local fare, in North Kihei right across from Kenolio Park and the Kihei Canoe Club area, the farmers market (61 South Kihei Rd., 8am-4pm Mon.-Thurs., 8am-5pm Fri.) is a great way to support local island farmers. On weekends, there’s another farmers market (95 E. Lipoa Street, 8:30am-11am Sat.-Sun.) between South Kihei Road and the main highway.

If you’re looking for a traditional dining out experience, here’s a breakdown of local and tourist favorites by cuisine type, including natural food options and coffee bars.

Local Style and Hawaiian Regional

The only true local style plate lunch in Kihei is at Da Kitchen (2439 S. Kihei Rd., 808/875-7782, 9am-9pm daily, $8-15), toward the back of the Rainbow Mall in South Kihei. Although the restaurant itself isn’t as large as its Kahului counterpart, the portions are enormous, most large enough that you could split them and still walk away full. This hole-in-the-wall, strip-mall special is one of the best deals in town. If you’re looking for a place where locals eat, this is it.

Since most of Kihei’s restaurants are in strip malls, there isn’t an overabundance of fine dining. The exception, however, is Sarento’s On The Beach (2980 S. Kihei Rd., 808/875-7555, 7am-11pm and 5:30pm-10pm daily, $28-49), on the water at the north end of Keawakapu Beach. You won’t find a more romantic or relaxing spot in Kihei. Start off with the seared ahi or beef carpaccio before moving on to the pan-roasted island snapper or rack of lamb Placourakis. Valet parking is free.

Another local favorite is Three’s Bar and Grill (1945 S. Kihei Rd., 808/879-3133, 8:30am-9:30pm Wed.-Sun., 11am-9:30pm Mon.-Tues., $10-15 lunch, $20-25 dinner), inside the Kihei Kalama Village. Opened by three chefs who each boast their own culinary specialty—Hawaiian, Southwestern, and Pacific Rim—the menu at Three’s can pull your palate in a direction unique even to the Hawaiian fusion scene. The lunch and appetizer items such as Hawaiian style ribs and kalua pig quesadilla are tasty and affordable. The dinner menu features entrées such as chicken roulade and a raw bar of sushi, oysters, sashimi, and poke. Stick around for the live performance in the Surf Lounge.

Mexican

An authentic option is Taqueria Cruz (2395 S. Kihei Rd., 808/875-2910, 11am-8pm Mon.-Sat., $9-10), tucked in the back of South Kihei’s Dolphin Plaza. It’s reminiscent of a roadside taqueria on the back roads of Baja. Mexican music emanates from the kitchen before it even opens. The BYOB option is a nice perk: Enjoy your fish tacos with a Pacifico from your cooler. There’s live music 6:30pm-8:30pm on Tuesday and Saturday nights.

Seafood

Hidden back in the central Kihei industrial yard is Eskimo Candy (2665 Wai Wai Pl., 808/879-5686, 10:30am-7pm Mon.-Fri., $10-17), Kihei’s best local secret for fresh seafood and poke. The ocean-themed decorations show that this place means business when it comes to seafood. Try the seafood chowder, fish-and-chips, and poke, featuring four different styles of seasoned ahi tuna. There are only a few tables outside for dining. To find it, make the turn off South Kihei Road by Maui Dive Shop and the Avis car rental outlet, continuing on toward the end of the road; the restaurant will be on your right.

Pizza

Locals say the best pizza in Kihei is at the South Shore Tiki Lounge (1913 S. Kihei Rd., 808/874-6444, 11am-2am daily, $6-9), ensconced in the Kihei Kalama Village. Pies are handcrafted with local ingredients and wheat flour. Sit outside on the garden-view deck.

Another favorite for south shore pizza is Fabiani’s Bakery and Pizza (95 Lipoa St., 808/874-0888, 7am-10pm daily, $10-12) in central Kihei. Located in a strip mall, it’s tough to find, but once you get there, you’ll realize why it’s a local hangout. Lunch and dinner are dominated by fresh, tasty pizzas and paninis crafted by a chef from Italy. There’s also a decent wine selection and the atmosphere inside is much nicer than the exterior suggests. The fresh breakfast pastries are a local secret.

Irish

Kihei is sunnier than Dublin, but when you order bangers and mash and a cold Guinness at the dimly lit Dog and Duck Irish Pub (1913 S. Kihei Rd., 808/875-9669, 10am-1am daily, $8-20), you feel like you’re dining at the famous Temple Bar. This lively pub is one of the few places you can catch that international game Americans insist on calling soccer. Located at the back of the Kihei Kalama Village, this is a great spot if you want some stick-to-your-ribs meat and potatoes washed down with good conversation and a bit of the craic.

American

One of the best breakfast finds on the south side is Kihei Caffe (1945 S. Kihei Rd., 808/879-2230, 5am-3pm daily, $7-10). It’s also the earliest, perfect for a meal before an early-morning boat trip. The portions are enormous; try a generous omelet or gargantuan breakfast burrito. Breakfast is served all day. The atmosphere can be hectic; get here early before the traffic (both human and vehicular) picks up.

Japanese

Sansei (1881 S. Kihei Rd., 808/879-0004, 5pm-10pm Sun.-Mon., 5:30pm-10pm Tues.-Wed., 5:30pm-1am Thurs.-Sat., $16) has been a South Maui favorite since 2002. Award-winning dishes such as the panko-crusted ahi rolls and signature shrimp dynamite keep locals flocking to this nondescript spot. The half-priced sushi menu (Thurs.-Sat. after 10pm), with options like unagi and rainbow rolls, will leave sushi-lovers feeling like kids in a candy store. Late nights can be noisy, with karaoke in full swing.

Natural Foods

The only natural foods store in town is Hawaiian Moons (2411 S. Kihei Rd., 808/875-4356, 8am-9pm daily), within the Kamaole Beach Center across from Kamaole I. The food will make you feel just like home if your diet tends toward the organic, raw, or gluten-free. The hot bar serves up filling lunches.

Coffee Shops

The most modern coffee shop in Kihei is Java Café (1279 S. Kihei Rd., 808/214-6095, 6am-9pm daily, $7-9) in the Azeka Mauka shopping center. Seventy-five percent of the coffee served is grown in Hawaii. You can also buy bags of unground beans from coffee farms on Maui, Kaua‘i, Moloka‘i, and the Big Island. Flatbreads and paninis are available for lunch; there’s also a large selection of breakfast bagels.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.