"You've gotta go to Mama's," everyone told me before my first trip to Hawaii, referring to Mama's Fish House on Maui's North shore. To get there, my husband and I passed through the artsy community of Pa'ia, near the beginning of the long, twisty-windy road to Hana that most visitors will drive only once. But a trip to Mama's is one worth experiencing again and again.
Family-owned Mama's Fish House is not a cheap diner like the name implies. The island's first fresh fish restaurant, founded in 1973, is fine dining on one of the most picturesque white sand beaches you'll ever set foot. Every dish is exquisitely presented as individual works of edible art. But don't plan on dropping in and finding an available table. Mama's Fish House is legendary. Make a reservation for lunch or before sundown, and ask to be seated along the wall of open windows for that spectacular ocean view and the gentle sound of the surf.
The restaurant is casual yet elegant, reminiscent of the Polynesian culture before Maui became a trendy vacation destination. When guests enter through the bar, they first notice the stunning floral arrangements of birds of paradise, heliconias and bromeliads, the rich mango wood interior, blue Tahitian-style tablecloths and native artifacts placed throughout. Even the bathrooms are tastefully decorated with old Hawaiian photographs, historical accounts of the 1938 earthquake and newspaper clippings from WWII.
The menu changes regularly depending on the availability of fresh fish, and you won't find chicken or steak. Mainly caught from the deep waters nearby, the fishermen are listed alongside their catches. Most recently I had the ahi, spearfish and mahimahi sautéed in panang curry and coconut milk, with a tablespoon-size sides of mango chutney, tiny diced bananas, and chopped macadamia nuts, with jasmin rice and lomi lomi salmon. Mama's Macademia Nut Crab Cakes with a fire and ice relish is also an excellent choice made with real chunks of flaky crabmeat.
My husband had the "Pua Me Hua Hana" in the style of old Hawaii, which is a regular offering. This dish features monchong and mahimahi sautéed in coconut milk with shredded, slow-cooked Kalua pig wrapped in a palm husk, a half of a small grilled banana, a purple Molokai sweet potato, star fruit slices, a leche nut in its wirey shell and a half of a fresh coconut. You won't find this kind of cuisine just anywhere, so if you are curious about traditional Hawaiian food, this dish will introduce you to quite a variety.
The Asian-influenced appetizers are popular, including premium-quality sashimi served seared or as a salad, and Shrimp Won Tons. The specialty drinks are expensive, but go ahead—splurge, since the bill is going to be big anyway. I was a disappointed in the rum and fruit liqueur Mai Tai Roa Ae, which our waiter said was "why they (meaning the tourists) come." Next time I'll try the Scorpion, made with four rums and tropical juices. Non-alcoholic specialty drinks are available too, such as the Strawberry Guava fizz, which was refreshing and not too sweet.
If you like chocolate, try Mama's Chocolate Kuau Pie baked in a caramel cookie crust or better yet, go for the beautifully-presented Polynesian Black Pearl, rich chocolate mousse and passion fruit cream in a pastry shell made to look like an oyster shell. For coconut lovers, don't leave the island without a taste of Haukalima, made with coconut ice cream, Maui pineapple and papaya with tropical liqueurs. And don't forget to order a private estate coffee supplied by local growers to go with your dessert--a perfect end to the meal. And to think we had to travel across the ocean to enjoy it.
While I've never stayed at the Inn at Mama's, visitors can book a beachfront or garden cottage for a three-day minimum, complete with full kitchens and lana'i—what islanders call porches—and take advantage of those soft, salty breezes off the ocean. Check out the videos of the restaurant and the Inn at Mama's by going to www.mamasfishhouse.com.
Mama's Fish House Restaurant, open daily
799 Poho Place, Paia, Hawaii 96779
firstname.lastname@example.org (808) 579-8488
Lunch: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. - Light Menu: 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. - Dinner: 4:30 to 9:30 p.m.
Hi! C'mon in! Pull up a chair. Welcome to Good Taste Buds, where you're automatically among friends.
Good Taste Buds is all about sharing the good life. We already have something in common--life experience (and good taste, of course!).
Are you looking for a new recipe or a cozy restaurant? All recipes are listed under "GTS Recipes". Reviews can be found by restaurant, type or location. Go to "Search Blog" in the top left-hand corner to type in a key word--say "Texas" or "garlic". Or simply browse through the posts. Try it and see what you find.
Do us a favor, would you? Pass this on to a friend. And before you go, leave a comment--even just to say "hi"--so we know you've dropped by.
Welcome! Glad you're here.
:-) ej ~ your Good Taste Buddy
HOW TO LEAVE A COMMENT
Here's the easiest way to tell GTB what you think: Just click on "Anonymous" and fill out the security word. Leave your name after your comments if you like. That's all there is to it!
If you'd rather, e-mail GTB via this e-mail address: email@example.com, and we'll post the comment for you.
I'm a staff writer, special contributor and digital producer for the Dallas Morning News and dallasnews.com, and I've written numerous features for the Denton Record-Chronicle. My articles and columns have been published in D Magazine, FD Luxe, Edible DFW, Crave DFW, 360 West, HOME, and other newspapers and in-print and online magazines.
I've written copy, designed promotional materials and have built and administered Facebook pages for a number of businesses and arts and animal nonprofits. Many of my photographs have been published alongside my stories.
Please enjoy some samples of my articles listed below.