Look beyond the hotel buffet for beachside bistros, food trucks, and makeshift luncheonettes serving the best local fare on Maui's scenic road to Hana.
MAUI, HAWAII – Hana is one of the last undeveloped areas of Maui. The destination itself has been somewhat eclipsed by the "Road to Hana," which has the most breathtaking waterfalls and exquisite coastlines of all the islands. Most tourists brave its 50 miles of hairpin turns and one-lane bridges only to turn around before they get to the actual village of Hana. The drive can be treacherous by day and dangerously tricky at night. The difficulty in getting there is one of the reasons why Hana has been left virtually untouched.
We knew Hana had some of the most beautiful beaches and heard there wasn't much else. That includes restaurant options. When those 50 miles of the Hana highway turned into a three-hour road trip (we had to stop to take in natural wonders at almost every turn), we pulled in after sunset with our bellies rumbling.
But there was precious little in the way of food at the end of this scenic rainbow. At least, that's what we were told by the staff at Hotel Kana Kai Maui. We had to hurry — the town's two restaurants, Travassa Hana (formerly known as Hotel Hana Maui) and Hana Ranch Restaurant, closed at 8:30 p.m. Four nights in Hana with only two dining options? We would have to be resourceful.
The next day we noticed little signs posted on sandwich boards and makeshift billboards on the road touting lunch spots and casual dining experiences you won't find in the guidebooks. Many are off the beaten path and offer a wider range of choices than what you see at touristy restaurants. The trick is to figure out which are open during your stay and when they are serving on that particular day. The signs may provide a hint, but there is no consensus. Like most island towns, Hana keeps its own time.
Bruddah Huts BBQ
Hana Highway, mile marker 35
Open for lunch most days
Just outside Hana Town on the road to Kipahulu, this roadside BBQ stand sits on the owner's front lawn. The day we went, they served grilled fish, barbecued chicken, and tropical salsa over rice, but the menu changes daily. Order at the food truck and eat under a canopied tent. It's very casual — large portions are served on paper plates with plastic forks.
Uncle Bill's Lunch Wagon
State Rd 330 and Keanini Dr.
Open from 6 a.m.-1 p.m. most days
A hearty traditional breakfast and the blackest coffee you'll find anywhere. Food is served out of a parked lunch truck and seating is available on the covered patio. Make sure you talk to Phillis, the sassy proprietor who's taken over the place in recent years. She has some good stories to tell.
Hana Highway, mile marker 35
Open Mon-Sun, 1 p.m.-7 p.m.
The most upscale of food trucks, Café Romantica serves vegetarian delights with a Hawaiian-Indian fusion. It's known around town for its international dessert options. Chef Hans, who was born in India and is of British descent, brings experience from many great restaurants, including The Beverly Hills Hotel and Four Seasons Maui.
Tutu's Snack Shop
Keawa Place on Ka-'uiki Head
Open at 7 a.m. most days
A take-out place in the middle of Hana Bay serving hamburgers, hot dogs, and traditional Hawaiian dishes like loco moco and barbecued pork with pineapple coleslaw. It's in a very scenic location, so walk right across the street and enjoy your meal on the beach or under the canopied picnic area. Make sure to get a shaved ice on hot days. Watermelon and lemon-lime are the best.
Pranee's Thai Food
5050 Uakea Rd.
Open Sun. & Mon., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. (Go as early as possible, as most things sell out.)
Located about 1/2 mile before the Hana Community Center. Look for signs that simply say "Thai Food." Universally praised as excellent, Pranee makes some of the best pad Thai you'll have anywhere. This food stand serves the freshest ingredients and has a knack for putting a Hawaiian spin on traditional Thai. If only it were open more often.