Our publisher and his son explore the popular Hawaiian island and become especially enamored with its incredible cuisine.
Coastal Lifestyle contributor and family member Blaise Roberts recently embarked on a career change that involved a major geographical change as well. Blaise has gone from writing about wine and food and the good life that we enjoy on the Gulf Coast and its islands to a different line of work and a dramatically different island and coastal environment. Blaise has accepted a food and beverage position with a hotel belonging to a major international chain—in Maui, Hawaii! Naturally, Coastal Lifestyle publisher and Blaise’s dad, Mitch Roberts, felt it was his parental duty to assist his son with the big move.
The island of Maui is the second largest of the Hawaiian Islands and is known and loved for its world-famous beaches, its storied history, the magnificent sunrises and sunsets, the incredible views of migrating humpback whales during the winter months, and the fresh farm-to-table cuisine. It comes as no surprise that Condé Nast Traveler magazine’s readers have voted Maui the “Best Island in the US” for more than 20 years.
Naturally, the pandemic had a negative effect on the tourist industry on Maui, as it did virtually everywhere. The island, along with the rest of the state, has opened back up to visitors recently, but still requires a vaccination card or negative COVID test for visitors. Hotels, restaurants, and entertainment venues follow the same requirements, but tourists who follow the guidelines are welcomed with open arms.
Mitch Roberts is no stranger to boats and all things involving speed and water, so a trip to a mecca of such pursuits was not completely altruistic. While getting Blaise settled in, the two of them managed to dabble in the local cuisine, culture, and all manner of outdoor activities. They also did a good bit of serious eating, and the pair settled on two very different favorite dining establishments, each with a strong following and a unique story.
The first, Mama’s Fish House, has a rich history and a great story behind it. It was founded in 1973 by Doris and Floyd Christenson, who had spent time years earlier on Maui before transitioning to living aboard their 38-foot, two-masted ketch named Marinero. They had spent years sailing to exotic places like Tahiti, Tonga, the Marquesas, and the Polynesian Islands and raised two children at sea, but when they heard from friends that Maui was becoming a major tourist destination, they decided to return and eventually open a restaurant.
It took them nine years to find the perfect property and bring their dream to fruition. The Mama’s Fish House name was intended to distinguish it from all the steakhouses that were springing up on the island. The restaurant developed a loyal following of locals and tourists once the Christensons learned how good the fresh local fish could be when properly prepared. They purchased only the freshest fish, directly from the fishermen, and prepared it how the customer chose to have it cooked.
As the restaurant and its reputation grew, the owners hired an executive chef, and refined and expanded their menu to encompass other native foods, along with the fruit and vegetables of the Polynesian cultures. They also partnered with local farmers and growers to procure the finest organically grown produce. Over the years, the venture has expanded to include Mama’s Fish House Inn, which offers suites and one- and two-bedroom cottages for rent, some right on the ocean.
Mama’s Fish House is conveniently located in the charming, bohemian-style town of Paia, which boasts great shopping and incredible ocean vistas on Maui’s North Shore. Reservations are a must, preferably well in advance. In fact, at the time of the Roberts’ visit, dinner reservations were being taken up to six months out, and lunch reservations as much as three months out. Mitch and Blaise were fortunate to score a table through a longtime relationship, and they advise potential visitors to make a reservation the same day they buy a plane ticket.
Another favorite restaurant of theirs had a totally different vibe and, while wildly popular, was considerably more accessible. In the ’80s, Mitch was living in Waikiki and waiting tables with a friend, Ron Panzo, who eventually ended up in Maui. Panzo now owns a casual eatery on the island called Nalu’s South Shore Grill. This happening spot offers casual meals all day long, happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m., and musical entertainment every night. Panzo and his staff put their money where their mouth is by designating community groups and charities to share in their profits. The restaurant’s eclectic menu features all manner of bowls and breakfasts, omelets, salads, burgers with an island twist, chicken and waffles, and always a special that benefits a local charity or cause.
Breakfasts are really special at Nalu’s, with such intriguing concoctions as the Black and Blue Ahi Benedict, which features fresh island yellowfin tuna that has been seared rare with Cajun spices, poached eggs, and sauteed mushrooms on a toasted English muffin, all covered in homemade hollandaise and garnished with genuine lava salt. Lunch might be Island Style Ribs, which are flame broiled and garnished with toasted sesame seeds and sliced green onions. They’re served over organic jasmine brown rice and accompanied by Nalu’s macaroni salad topped with Molokai black lava salt. The fried chicken and waffles option is served all day and features a Belgian-style waffle and fried farm-raised chicken topped with crisp applewood smoked bacon and an organic brown-butter-and-sage-infused maple syrup.
During his 10-day stay, the elder Roberts became a true fan of Maui, its lifestyle, its beauty, and above all, its cuisine. He advises taking our own visit to soak up the beautiful scenery, rich culture, and laidback lifestyle, and especially enjoying the wonderful food.
Taking a Bite Out of Maui
General visitors information
Mama’s Fish House Restaurant & Inn
Nalu’s South Shore Grill