There are several strategies for eating well in Maui on a budget, without skimping on the Hawaii experience:
1. Look for local, independent restaurants and food stands.
These often offer affordable, locally-sourced food that is often of higher quality and more authentic than your typical chain restaurants. Consider skipping your usual fare and experiment with dining at small ethnic restaurants, which often offer affordable, hearty meals. Bring cash as many are cash-only, however.
2. Cook at home.
Costco it up and buy groceries and cook your own meals. If you have the time and inclination, cooking at home is great way to save money, especially if you’re staying in a vacation rental with a kitchen.
Depending on where you are and when, find a local farmers market and locate a grocery store to find fresh, locally-grown produce and whatever else you need.
Cooking at home on your vacation isn’t everybody’s dream, I know.
3. Have a restaurant timing strategy.
It might be easier, more convenient, and cheaper in the long-run to eat at restaurants while you’re vacationing. Plus you’re on vacation, so enjoy and relax and leave the cooking to someone else.
And you just might be surprised at how reasonable your food costs are while eating out, especially if you skip the alcohol and consider the list of recommended eateries below in this article.
Consider eating at restaurants during non-peak hours, when prices may be lower. take advantage of happy hour specials at bars and restaurants. These often offer discounted food and drink prices for a limited time. Many restaurants entice patrons by offering discounts or deals on meals during lunchtime, offer early bird specials, or other incentives on slow days of the week or in off-season.
Be repeat customers at restaurants that offer daily specials or discounts. Many restaurants (such as Sansei or Amigo’s) offer discounts or specials on certain days of the week or at certain times of day. Knowing where you will be eating on Tuesdays for 50 percent off also helps with planning your days.
4. Eat where the locals eat.
Avoid tourist areas, as prices tend to be higher here. Instead, look for restaurants and grocery stores in residential or even industrial neighborhoods, where prices may be lower.
Cheap Eats Tip: Opt for a Hawaiian Plate Lunch
Maui boasts a diverse ethnic heritage and therefore offers an abundance of plate lunch and budget dining options. Wherever you go to eat, opt to save some money and simultaneously eat like a local by trying at least one of the dishes below:
- an island standard lunch sampling of authentic island food that can include teriyaki chicken, mahimahi, lau lau, and lomi salmon.
- usually served on paper plates, packed to-go, and often cost less than $8.
- usually comes with “two-scoop rice” and a generous dollop of macaroni or another salad.
- Great for keeping down food costs and for instant picnics.
- bento is the Japanese version of the boxed lunch in a compartmentalized container.
- Find them in supermarkets, gas stations, and in some local eateries with takeout counters.
- a word unique to Hawai’i, saimin is a Japanese-inspired hearty noodle soup akin to a ramen and soba combination.
- a large bowl of noodles in broth, stirred with meat, chicken, fish, shrimp, or vegetables, costs only a few dollars and is big enough for an evening meal.
- the best place to eat saimin is at a local family-run hole-in-the-wall shop.
- Okazuya is a Hawaiian adaptation of the Japanese restaurant that sells side dishes and inexpensive food.
- usually have a full menu of savory entrées and side dishes popular on the island or specialize in a dish.
- usually a small family-run shop that caters to the local community.
- top quality and cheap prices.
- not for diet plans, the food you find at these restaurants is filling and will sustain you through your adventures for the day.
- some of these places are adopting a leaner menu selection.
- many often have “okazuya” as part of the restaurant name.
5. Ask around for good recommendations.
By word-of-mouth, you may find the best meal we don’t yet know about. It’s also a good idea to read reviews and ask locals for recommendations to find the best-value restaurants and food choices in Maui.
By following these tips, you should be able to find affordable yet high-quality meals in Maui.
Best Places in Maui to Eat on a Budget, by Region
It’s difficult to recommend specific restaurants in Maui, as prices and quality can vary widely. However, my criteria for finding affordable, high-value restaurants in Maui include:
- Serves fresh ingredients – If you are serving a killer burger, why serve it with frozen fries?
- Is consistently good – When you come back for a repeat visit, you always get the same experience. Also, I’m not expecting to like all the dishes but pretty much all the items tried are good.
- Hygienic – Even a hole in the wall can be hygienic. I don’t have to check the bathrooms to figure out if I want to eat somewhere or not.
- High ratio of Quality and value to price – Some people seem to equate expensive food with good food. I want my meal’s value to equal or surpass its price. The most expensive food is not always the best value; likewise, the cheapest restaurant option may not always be the best value either, as lower prices might come at the expense of quality or service.
- And no special dress code required.
LAHAINA Cheap Eats
The Gazebo Restaurant: The best staff and yummy and affordable breakfast. The view tops it off. You won’t leave hungry. Great experience if you’re patient and not in a hurry. Open 7:30am to 2pm.
Amigo’s (Lahaina): This is the place if you’re looking for the cheapest dinner! Order and go sit at the food court or inside the restaurant. Would definitely go back for a quick and cheap meal. They also have a location in Kihei.
Latino Market / Maui Fiesta Market
If you’re in the mood for a big breakfast burrito or tacos, take a peek at the Maui Fiesta Market tucked in between Bad Ass Coffee the the Farmers Market. There is no indoor seating but you can take your food across the road to enjoy the tastes and sounds at Honokowai Beach Park. The food is tasty and inexpensive, plus they offer snacks and Mexican/Latin drinks that you would expect to find in the local corner stores of southern USA.
808 Grindz – Super cheap, large portions, and wonderful food. The Lahaina location is a full service restaurant. A popular choice is their fluffy, piping hot macadamia nut pancakes with mac-nilla sauce. They cook the pancakes with the nuts tucked inside the batter, unlike some other breakfast places. The pancakes rival those from the Gazebo (in Lahaina).
Best KIHEI restaurants on a budget
Kihei Caffe – great Maui breakfast with the locals. Get there early. Cash only.
LUNCHES & DINNERS
Da Kitchen (Kihei): You order at the counter and they bring to your table (inside only) in take out containers. Super casual. Big portions. Show up hungry; you’re sure to leave full. Some of the items on the “Moco Madness” are big enough to split between two people (lunch for under $20). For a tasty, albeit artery-clogging meal, go all-in with fried spam musubi followed by a Polynesian Paralysis Moco of fish tempura, kalua pork, two eggs, onion, mushrooms, and gravy over fried rice.
Sansei (Kihei): A seafood and sushi feast for the eyes and for the taste buds. Early Bird Special Sunday & Monday, 50% off selected menu items 4:45PM – 5:30PM Wednesday – Saturday, 25% off selected menu items. 5:00PM – 5:30PM
Jawz Mexican Grill (Makena Beach, Kihei): Tucked in the middle of Dolphin plaza but with outdoors tables. You order your food at the counter and can build your own burrito.
Eskimo Candy: Open weekdays, 10:30am to 4pm. Located in an industrial area but worth making the drive if you like seafood. Bring your friends and share some dishes: the poke is fresh and generous portion sizes; more than enough for 3 people sharing 2 poke bowls and one seafood chowder. Order the food at the counter, then sit inside or outside.
Pita Paradise (Kihei): Very yummy tasty lamb gyros and chicken pita. Eat inside or outside. Great place to go for Mediterranean.
Cafe O Lei (Kihei and Wailuku): Go for lunch, the sandwiches and burgers are affordable; the dinner menu and entrees are more expensive (if you’re counting pennies). Everything fresh, everything delicious. Excellent service. Inside only. Good value for the price, even at $60 (tip included) for two people. Breakfast served until 10:30am.
Nutcharee’s Authentic Thai Food (Kihei): Authentic Thai Cuisine by Chef/Owner Nutcharee Case. Fresh, local ingredients. No MSG. All items made to order. Flavor-focused.
Honolua Store and Deli (Kapalua): The name describes exactly what it is: a store and deli. Here is a super sweet lunch spot that takes the five-star cake for their decent food at extremely reasonable prices. Everything fresh. Place to sit outside with nice view of the mountains and golf course.
KAHULUI Best Places to Eat for Deals
Home Maid Bakery (Kahului): Great place to stop to pick up sandwiches for your trip to Haleakala and a drive to Hana. Opens at 5am and is fast and convenient.
Las Piñatas next to Kinko’s off Dairy Road. The “Kitchen Sink” burrito is so big that a growing teenager will have trouble cleaning the plate. Bottled beer and horchata are available to drink. As the name suggests, over a dozen piñatas dangle from the ceiling. It’s a great lunch option if you’re heading to or from the airport.
Amigo’s Mexican Restaurant (Kahului, Kihei, Lahaina) is another filling and authentic Mexican option.
Don’t be fooled by the obscure location behind the gas station and next to the Minit Stop in Kahului. Daily specials make this a cheap place to grab a bite. Order amargarita, Mexican beer on draft, or cap off your carnitas with a shot of Patrón.
Shave Ice at the Laundry Center: If you want to go where the locals go for their shave ice, the A&E Laundry Center (125 S. Wakea Ave., 808/877-0353, 5am-9pm daily) by the Queen Ka‘ahumanu Shopping Center is the best kept secret on the island. This run-down, industrial haunt (formerly known as the W&F Washerette) has a concession counter which has been known for its shave ice for well over a decade. Flavors are sometimes limited.
UPCOUNTRY Kula Food At Good Value
Grandma’s Coffee House (Upcountry – Kula): Quaint little place where you can eat very well for a very decent price. Leave room to try the tons of baked goods in their window display. Patio outside with a view.
HANA Best Food Stand
Thai Food by Pranee (south of Hana): Delicious roadside Thai takeout a few blocks from Red Sand Beach. Cash only. Outside seating and limited parking.
Food Stands or Food Trucks of Maui
There are many food stands and food trucks in Maui that offer delicious, affordable meals. Here are a few recommendations:
- Dinos Gourmet On-The-Go (Kahului): Gourmet food on-the-go. Chef of 25 years trained in Paris and New York at Michelin-rated restaurants.
- Thai Mee Up (Kahului): Authentic Thai food in Maui! 2018 Aipono Gold Award winner: Best Food Truck on Maui
- Maui Pizza Truck (Makawao): This food truck offers wood-fired pizzas made with locally-grown ingredients.
- Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop (Olowalu, 4 miles south of Lahaina): Located in Olowalu, this food stand offers a variety of sandwiches, soups, and salads, as well as sweet and savory pies. You can order inside and pick up from the window outside, order and wait or order and sit at a table to eat. Either way, they will call your name when your items are ready.
- Baya Bowls Acai (Lahaina): This food stand specializes in fresh and healthy acai bowls and fruit smoothies.
- Geste Shrimp Truck (Kahului Beach Rd., 808/298-7109, 10:45am-5pm Tues.-Sat., $17, cash only): Food Truck with plate lunches at Kahului Harbor. This one parks on Kahului Beach Road, a quarter mile past the turnoff for the Maui Arts and Cultural Center. $17 gets you 12 pieces of shrimp served with crab macaroni salad and two scoops of rice.
These are just a few examples, and there are many other food stands scattered throughout the island offering a wide variety of cuisines and dishes. To find more food stands in Maui, you can ask locals for recommendations, search online, or look for signs and advertisements while driving around the island. It’s fun to discover new hidden gems.