Does the life mantra “travel, eat, drink, repeat” speak to you on a personal level? Have you always been curious about the idea of spam as a major food group but never actually had the guts to try it? Do you fantasize about living somewhere with an endless assortment of fresh fruit that never goes out of season, and has a high probability of growing right in your own backyard (or at least your neighbor’s)?
Aloha, my friend. Maui calls…
Whether you’re visiting Hawaii for the first time or are lucky enough to call The Aloha State home, one of the most delicious activities you can do while on Maui is trying local Hawaiian dishes, either from a few of the best farm-to-table restaurants around, as well as laid back food trucks and old foodie favorites.
One key piece of information you’re missing, however, is the crucial insight as to what beer, wine or liquor is best to pair with these classic ono grinds. From loco moco to shave ice, we’re here to present our top recommendations for drink pairing with Hawaiian dishes. Mostly because yum, and let’s face it… we’re well past amateur hour. You’re welcome, readers!
Drink Pairing with Hawaiian Dishes
Below we’ll offer some information about what exactly these dishes are, some of our favorite places to try them on Maui, and which craft drink to pair with your dish of choice.
Breakfast: Loco Moco + Big Swell IPA
What It Is: Created in 1949 on the Big Island at the request of teenage restaurant patrons looking for something a little more creative than a sandwich, Loco Moco consists of steamed white rice topped with a hamburger patty (or occasionally another type of meat or fish), brown gravy and a fried egg. Add a dash of your favorite hot sauce and you’re set!
Where to Get It: While it is largely up for debate as to who serves up the best version on Maui, our favorite loco mocos are found at Kihei Caffe (Kihei), Aloha Mixed Plate (Lahaina) and Tasty Crust (Wailuku).
Drink to Pair: Maui Brewing Co. owner, Garrett Marrero, suggests pairing your loco moco with none other than the locally-brewed Big Swell IPA, made with tropical citrus hops that are the perfect accompaniment for the richness of the loco moco.
Lunch: Poke Bowl
What It Is: Stemming from the native Hawaiian practice of eating i’a maka (raw fish) seasoned with sea salt, ‘inamona (roasted and crushed kukui nuts) and limu (seaweed), ‘poke’ literally translates to the action of slicing and is now one of Hawaii’s most beloved dishes. Typically consisting of raw cubed tuna seasoned with sesame oil, soy sauce, green onions, white onions and chili pepper – ahi shoyu poke, the most popular version – and added atop a bowl of white rice, there are several varieties you’ll find throughout the islands, including popular ones like kimchi poke, wasabi poke, spicy mayo poke, spicy garlic salmon, and even tofu varieties.
Where to Get It: While poke bowls are found just about everywhere on The Valley Isle, we get our poke fix at places like Eskimo Candy (Kihei), Tinroof Maui (Kahului) and Tamura’s (Kahului, Lahaina & Kihei).
Drinks to Pair: Joe Hegele of MauiWine recommends pairing your poke with the Loke(lani) Rose Ranch Wine, with hints of strawberries, orange blossom and toasted almond, while Garrett Marrero hits the same tropical note with his suggestion of the Pineapple Mana Wheat.
Lunch: Plate Lunch
What It Is: It may not be the healthiest of dishes, but hey, don’t knock it till you try it. Often served at low-key eateries and pit stops on the way to the nearest local surf break, the classic Hawaiian plate lunch consists of meat – think chicken katsu, pork lau lau, Portuguese sausage, teriyaki beef and lomi salmon – served with a side of mayo-loaded mac salad and two scoops of white rice. Once made from the leftovers of bento box lunches of pineapple and sugar plantation workers in the 1880s, the plate lunch became a full time Hawaiian staple by the 1950s, and it’s here to stay.
Where to Get It: It’s difficult to find a bad plate lunch on Maui, but some of our all time go-to’s on Maui include Da Kitchen (Kahului & Kihei), Ulupalakua Ranch Store (Upcountry) and Ku’au Store (Paia).
Drinks to Pair: For something just right to pair with this heavy dish, we recommend Maui Brewing Co.’s Coconut Hiwa Porter with the pork lau lau, MauiWine’s Estate Grown Viognier with the lomi salmon and chicken katsu, and Hali’imaile Distilling Company’s Paniolo Whiskey with the sausage and beef. Delish!
Snack: Spam Musubi
What It Is: Spam became prevalent in Hawaii during World War II when canned foods became a dietary staple due to their longer than average shelf life. Invented by Japanese Americans as a kind of sushi, Spam Musubi consists of a slice of grilled Spam on a block of white rice, held together with nori (seaweed) in the tradition of Japanese omusubi.
Where to Get It: While not particularly a fancy craft meal, the yummy classic Spam Musubi snack is best found at spots like Minit Stop (multiple locations), Kitagawa’s Chevron (Kahului), Oyako Tei (Kahului) and Sugar Beach Bake Shop (North Kihei).
Drink to Pair: The key to pairing drinks with Spam Musubi is to not overthink it! Grab a can of Maui Brewing Co.’s Double Overhead Double IPA and call it a win.
What It Is: A local delight made from Chinese-style noodles in a Japanese broth with kombu (seaweed), dried shrimp and bonito (dried skipjack), Saimin is thought to have originated during the sugar and pineapple plantation era by Hawaii’s large Chinese and Japanese populations. Toppings often include Spam – no surprise there – as well as kamaboko (fishcake) and green onions, occasionally served with a side of soy sauce and mustard.
Where to Get It: Mmm, saimin! For this special Hawaiian dish, head to classics like Sam Sato’s (Wailuku) for the ultimate bowl, with runners up like Ramen-Ya (Kahului) and Restaurant Matsu (Kahului) coming in at a close second and third.
Dessert: Shave Ice
What It Is: Mainlanders may know it better as a ‘snow cone,’ but shave ice has long been a treat in Hawaii, originally introduced by Japanese sugar plantation workers based on their own kaki-gori, the Japanese word for sweetened shaved ice. With the first shave ice shops dating back to the early 1900s, the sweet local dessert had shown up just about everywhere by the 1950s. Today, it continues to make the perfect after-surf reward or post-meal cool down.
Where to Get It: We absolutely love the fresh fruit flavor combos at Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice (Kihei & Lahaina), including classics like the No Ka Oi (coconut, mango, lilikoi) and Local Motion (mango, li hing mui, pineapple), though Local Boys Shave Ice (Lahaina) and Surfing Monkey Shave Ice (Kihei) put up quite the fight for second.
Drink to Pair: We’re not condoning adding booze to your own shave ice, but then again a shot of Ocean Vodka in the confines of your own balcony sounds like an absolute delight we can’t not recommend…
We hope this gives you some solid ideas for what to drink on your next trip or foodie outing on Maui, and if you have any recommendations of your own, be sure to add them in the comments below! Mahalo for reading, and until next time…