Award-Winning Food: What Makes a Winner?

These four ‘Aipono awardees prove that there’s more than one path to success.


Story by Becky Speere

A restaurant’s success is measured by its longevity. What makes it work? I think it all comes down to consistently well-prepared food, cleanliness, value, and service (and a good bookkeeper). Here are a few that are hitting the mark in all the above.

Monkeypod Kitchen

2016 Restaurant of the Year, Gold

ahi pizza maui
Topped with caramelized onions, Monkeypod’s ‘ahi sits on jalapeño mashed potatoes with ginger-and-garlic-sautéed bok choy.

I’m sitting at the Monkeypod Kitchen’s long bar, enjoying a pau hana beer and appetizers with my husband, Chris, and I can’t help but peek over his shoulder and steal glances of the couple next to us. With heads bowed, they are engrossed in eating kiawe-wood-roasted chicken wings and sipping the restaurant’s heavenly mai tais. Barely a word passes between them as their fingers reach for another plump, smoky wing. Then a sip. Then a dip into tzatziki and a bite of chicken. When the bowl is empty, they look at each other, nod, and flag the bartender for two more mai tais and another bowl of chicken wings. Perhaps Monkeypod Kitchen should open a chicken shack with mai tais? No, they can’t do that, because I’ve enjoyed everything on their menu, from salads to pizzas to pastas. It would surely start a revolution.

It’s hard to believe that Monkeypod is celebrating five years at the Wailea Gateway Plaza, selling over 50,000 mai tais in 2015 alone. Jason Vendrell, beverage director and mastermind of the potion, marvels at its popularity. “The first year that we started selling the mai tai, we sold 12,000. The next year we sold 23,000 . . . in 2015, we sold over 53,000 mai tais! You should see our storeroom of rum!” And I can only imagine how many cases of chicken.

Congratulations to Peter Merriman and the Monkeypod team!

10 Wailea Gateway Place, Wailea • 891-2322 •

(See our archived feature on Monkeypod Kitchen at



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