Update 2021: Sadly Da Kitchen closed its locations but is currently operating out of Piko Cafe in Kihei.
It’s been a tough few weeks here in Boston – a never ending procession of snowstorms and sub-freezing temperatures. It seems my writing has been frozen as well but I’m ready for a spring thaw. With that in mind I thought I’d turn to warmer climes and talk about some of the places I ate at when I was home over the holidays (yes in December and January).
When I’m home I’m usually on Oahu where the majority of my family lives and where I grew up. It’s known as The Gathering Place and is where you’ll find the government and business hubs of the islands. I often don’t recommend that first-time visitors stay on Oahu initially. In spite of its iconic landmarks like Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head and Pearl Harbor, the traffic congestion and development aren’t the best introduction to the Islands. Instead I recommend one of the neighbor islands like Maui, Kauai, or the Big Island. Of the neighbor islands I’ve spent the most time on Maui. I have family there and, for me, has the right balance of shopping comforts and peaceful, expansive space.
We visited Maui just after the New Year which meant, unfortunately, that a few of the places that I look forward to visiting – local-owned, family businesses – were taking a much needed break after the busy holiday season.
- The place at the top of my list whenever I visit Maui is T. Komoda Store & Bakery (we just called it Komoda’s). It’s a small general store in the Makawao but best known for its baked goods. Everyone has their favorites from cream puffs to malasadas to Chantilly cake. But my personal favorite is the glazed stick donuts – I could eat a box of them and still want more.
- Another family favorite is Maui Specialty Chocolates. Their website won’t tell you much but what they are known for, at least in my family, are their peanut butter and milk chocolate mochi and their dark chocolate truffle mochi. The disappointment when we found out they were on break was palpable.
T. Komoda Store & Bakery
3674 Baldwin Ave,
Makawao, HI 96768
Maui Specialty Chocolates
180 East Wakea Avenue, Suite E
Kahului, HI 96732
In spite of these disappointments, we still ate a lot of great food while we were there. And some of it started before we even got to Maui. One thing to understand about folks from Hawaii, it’s part of our culture to bring food with us when we’re visiting friends and family, even if it requires an airplane to get there.
Royal Kitchen, Chinatown, Oahu
We made an early morning stop at Royal Kitchen in Honolulu’s Chinatown for dim sum and roast pork (siu ji yuk) to take with us to Maui. Royal Kitchen is known for its selection of baked manapua (bao) from traditional char sui to kalua pork to Portugese sausage. They are also one of the few places that I know of that make one of my favorite types of dim sum, ma tai su (a flaky pastry filled with char siu and vegetables).
100 N. Beretania Street
Honolulu, HI 96817
Home Maid Bakery, Wailuku, Maui
Once we got to Maui, one of the first places we stopped at – since our favorites were closed – was Home Maid Bakery. Of the foods Maui is known for, most of my family likes mochi, I’ve always preferred crispy manju, the flaky Japanese pastry traditionally filled with azuki beans but now includes other flavors like pineapple and coconut.
Home Maid Bakery
Locations in Kahului (808.244.7015) and Wailuku (808.877.8779)
Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice
A more recent favorite is Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice. I have to say that it’s my favorite shave ice, even better than Waiola’s and Matsumoto’s on Oahu. I’m bummed that Ululani’s is only on Maui. What makes them so good? Super fine ice (a must), delicious syrups, haupia ice cream, and shredded toasted coconut as a topping. It’s tough to pick a favorite but my go-to was the No Ka Oi (coconut, mango, and lilikoi) over haupia ice cream, topped with toasted coconut. Even in the sub-freezing temperatures in Boston, I’d eat that right now.
Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice
Multiple locations throughout Maui
Star Noodle, Lahaina, Maui
To television audiences, Star Noodle may be known as the place where Top Chef finalist Sheldon Simeon hailed. For me it’s all about their noodles and pork belly buns. It’s worth the drive out to Lahaina and to be honest I haven’t had anything there that I didn’t like. It’s not a very large venue so be sure to make reservations, especially on the weekend. And be sure to go to Star Noodle’s sister restaurant, Leoda’s Kitchen, on the other side of Lahaina for delicious homemade pies.
1285 Front St.
Lahaina, HI 96761
Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop
820 Olowalu Village Road
Lahaina, HI 96761
Da Kitchen, Kahului, Maui
One of the last stops on our Maui eating tour was Da Kitchen in Kahului. A great place for local-style food like their Hawaiian plate, teri burger, and chicken katsu. One of the unique things on their menu is Fried Spam Musubi. Portions are generous so bring your appetite and be prepared for a wait, even during the week – it’s well worth it.
Izakaya Nonbei, Kapahulu, Oahu
And to round out this edition of Hawaii Feasting I’ll head back to Oahu where my friend introduced me to a fantastic restaurant that I never realized was there. Nestled on a little side street off of busy Kapahulu Avenue, Izakaya Nonbei is one of those places you’d need to know about to find. Izakayas are generally casual places for after-work drinking. The food at Izakaya Nonbei is much more than an accompaniment to the drinks – delicious, flavorful, satisfying. Among the things we got were yaki onigiri (grilled rice balls), wagyu steak, and nasu kinoko (eggplant & mushrooms). The restaurant is not very large so call for reservations. Parking in their small lot is tight and there is little to no street parking. We go early before the after-work crowd. Well worth it.
3108 Olu Street
Honolulu, HI 96816
As I write this it’s snowing outside, the skies are grey, and it’s just above freezing, a balmy 33 degrees. Home seems farther away than ever and I have a longing to be there that goes beyond warmth and food. I miss my friends and family and can’t wait to get back there, to the only place that will truly feel like home for me.