“Welcome to Aloha Mixed Plate!” Handsome busboy Pili Dunn greets arriving guests. Maui’s version of comfort food can be summed up in three words: Aloha Mixed Plate. The “mixed plate,” or “plate lunch,” is a slice of edible history, harking back to the days when plantation workers shared their midday meals and their diverse cultures. The tradition continues at this pocket-change restaurant with million-dollar aloha.
Under a thatched roof, the bartender busily mixes mai tais. Even in mid-afternoon, the palm-fringed dining area is packed. A family of 10 arrives unannounced and is swiftly accommodated by the moving of a few tables. The staff handles the semi-chaos with ease; they share the graciousness that distinguishes their sister company next door, the world-renowned Old Lahaina Lu‘au.
Dunn delivers heaping plates of honey shoyu chicken and coconut prawns, cracking jokes and encouraging guests to have a good time. Locals and tourists alike dig into tender teriyaki steak, kalbi ribs, and kalua pig—all served with the proverbial two scoops rice and mac salad. The mac salad has too much mayo, but every bite gets eaten anyway. A young visitor’s face lights up when his order of fresh chow fun noodles arrives in a Chinese takeout box. He takes his first stab at using chopsticks—is food this much fun elsewhere?
For dessert, the fried banana lumpia is sinfully good. Caramel-banana cheesecake filling spills out of the crisp wrapper. Dusted in cinnamon and made to order, it’s a steal at $3.95. Other top-class touches, such as the fresh tuberose bouquet in the washroom, outshine the plastic silverware.
“Same time tomorrow?” Dunn asks guests rising to leave. No wonder voters awarded Aloha Mixed Plate an ‘Aipono triple crown: Most “Maui-est,” Best Plate Lunch, and Best Place to Eat in a Swimsuit.
Best New Restaurant
Hospitality is in no short supply at Kapalua’s Pineapple Grill. The Grill handily won Best New Restaurant—quite a feat in a year with heavy-hitting contenders Mala Ocean Tavern and Tastings Wine Bar & Grill. Pineapple, the international symbol of hospitality, is a fitting icon for Kapalua’s newest recruit. Executive Chef Joey Macadangdang greets you with an easygoing smile, while in the exhibition kitchen, his team is busy chopping, slicing, baking, and pureeing the golden fruit into 100 new ways of saying “welcome.”
Southeast Asian and Filipino influences are woven throughout the menu. Hamachi (yellowtail), ‘opakapaka (snapper), and kampachi, the newest aquaculture crop from the Big Isle, are among the five daily fish choices. Inventive preparations, such as caviar and chive-crusted scallops, are paired with wines hand-picked by managing partner Chris Kaiwi. Just sitting beside the 24-spigot cruvinet at the bar can bring out the enophile in you. Bar manager Amy Adams is happy to help guests navigate through the extensive wine list.
The dining room has a gracious air; the Cohn Group’s renovation brought the sparkle back to this well-loved location. Arresting ocean and mountain views stretch out in every direction—there may not be a bad seat in the house.
“I want it to be affordable, and I want people to be comfortable,” says Chef Macadangdang. As far as Maui No Ka ‘Oi readers are concerned, he’s hit his mark.
Restaurant of the Year
The Banyan Tree’s new Chef de Cuisine Jojo Vasquez has had some big shoes to fill. Antony Scholtmeyer, his predecessor at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua’s prize restaurant, rightly claimed he was in the business of making “happy tummies.” Despite stiff competition, the restaurant has captured the laurels for Restaurant of the Year once again. This year, it adds another feather to its cap—second place for Best Service. Chef Vasquez, hailing from Marina Del Rey’s acclaimed Jer-ne, brings his own bag of tricks to the cutting board. Like Scholtmeyer, Vasquez is a young, visionary chef with an international palate and a heightened sense of artistry.
The Banyan Tree’s dining room is impeccable (except for the light bouncing off the plate glass windows after sunset). Entrancing live music is performed by Ranga Pae, a passionate duo that utilizes everything from the harp-like Japanese koto to Hawaiian nose flutes. The resulting atmosphere turns the Ritz’s reputation for formality on its end; both the exotic menu and music push the envelope—and succeed.
Clearly the culinary program clicks at the Ritz-Carlton. Elsewhere in the hotel, revered Chef Tadashi Yoshino reeled in second for Best Sushi at Kai, the tiny Japanese restaurant. Even the Ritz’s Lobby Lounge pulled its weight, snagging first place in the new Best Lobby Lounge category.
Chef of the Year
Finally we come to this year’s finale—a new ‘Aipono Award chosen by those who know: Maui’s chefs. In a heroic display of audacity and (if we do say so ourselves) genius, we left it up to Maui’s top culinary stars to elect a Chef of the Year from among their peers. We’re happy to announce the winner (drum roll please): Bev Gannon of Hali‘imaile General Store, Joe’s Bar & Grill, Celebrations, and Hawaiian Airlines.
You read right—she runs two wildly busy restaurants and a catering company, and feeds innumerable air travelers en route to paradise. All this in addition to authoring a cookbook, appearing on numerous TV shows, and hosting gourmet cooking retreats at her famed “Sugar House.”
Texas-born Chef Gannon was one of Hawai‘i’s original 12 cooking rebels, who balked at serving the same old European-conceived recipes to Hawaiian diners. Coining the term Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine, they ushered in a new era emphasizing local ingredients and flavors. Bev’s cooking style betrays her generous personality—satisfying portions of local produce, fish, and meats are drenched in complex sauces. For years it was inadvisable to arrive at any noteworthy party without her signature crab dip in tow.
Chef Gannon continues to embody culinary excellence, while acting as an important Maui community figure. Her H¯ali‘imaile restaurant showcases local artists and supports food drives.
Thanks to the dedication of chefs like Gannon, the other ‘Aipono winners, and those not yet recognized, dining on Maui is a deliciously rewarding adventure.