Welcome to Mama's Fish House.
Mama's Fish House was founded by Floyd and Doris Christenson. The couple bought the property in the 1950's from a friend who needed to sell the property immediately due to a very imminent gambling debt. They decided to open a fish house that would focus on Hawaii's local seafood, even printing out daily menus showing specifically who and where the catch originated.
Friends thought they were crazy. At the time the location was considered super remote and far away from the touristy activities of West Maui. However, people came, and their business started to grow and grow. Tourism on the northern and eastern side of the island (like the Road to Hana) became more mainstream, and all of a sudden the restaurant was in a very good location. The restaurant continues to be wildly successful today, keeping with the same values on which they began but growing to give many more people the opportunity to enjoy what they have to offer.
Mama's Fish House really embodies everything that one would look for in the ultimate Hawaiian experience. From the gorgeous beachside location and the cozy interior to the phenomenal service and excellent food, it's all there.
As a visitor, the best day to visit Mama's Fish House is the day you plan to drive (or shall I say conquer?) the Road to Hana. The Road to Hana is one of those top attractions that appears in all the guidebooks. It is a 50-mile road that winds along the northern coast of Maui passing through gorgeous waterfalls, stunning beaches, unique swimming holes, and beautiful vistas. The final destination is the town of Hana.
Some people do this trip in one day, though most say it's tight if you do that. After all, the best part about experiencing the Road to Hana is the journey itself, not so much the final destination. The small roadside food stalls, the tiny towns along the way, the unique waterfalls and beautiful beaches all contribute to the unique local, meandering flavor of the journey. Driving without stopping would defeat the purpose.
Ho'okipa Beach Park
Unfortunately, we did not have the luxury to spend a whole day or two exploring the Road to Hana. Our diving excursions took up most mornings, which meant at most we had an afternoon to spend driving this road. Furthermore, we hit terrible weather on the day we tried. The northern coast of Maui can get pretty rainy, especially during the winter. We thought we would be OK when we first began. Our first stop, Ho'okipa Beach Park, was breathtaking. We were completely awed by the breathtaking scenery and phenomenal windsurfers who would dare attempt to subdue such powerful waves.
As we continued onto our next stop, however, the rain started pelting down endlessly.
The Road to Hana itself is already a very difficult drive. It's full of twisty roads, sharp turns, one-way bridges, and changing elevations. It takes a TON of concentration to drive. Once you add in pouring rain, it's downright exhausting. We didn't have the rainboots or proper clothing to trek out onto the muddy trails leading to the famous waterfalls.
So we didn't stop at them.
"Let's keep driving and we'll stop once the rain lets up."
But it never did.
After about 1-2 hours along this rainy road, we knew we had to turn back in order to make our dinner reservation.
As we neared the end (or beginning) of the Road to Hana, we came upon the adorable entrance to Mama's Fish House. As I said earlier, Mama's Fish House's location makes it the perfect final destination as your last stop on the way back from Hana (if you ever make it that far, which we did not!).
There's a lovely beach right behind Mama's Fish House. It's mesmerizing just to stare out at the ocean as it comes in. In our case, the rain had finally let up when we got back here, enough so we could take a couple photos.
Although it's now a huge restaurant and inn, it doesn't feel huge. The various dining rooms are not that big, and they all feel really cozy and warm.
For us, it was a welcomed change from our disappointing attempt at traversing the Road to Hana. Bryan looks surprisingly happy even after spending 4+ hours driving that difficult road!
We started out with a fun amuse bouche, a flavorful creamy blended bisque made from Kula asparagus and fennel in a fragrant chicken broth. Our server told us that the various sous chefs take turns being responsible for the day's amuse. It's a fun way for them to exercise their creativity outside the regular menu.
"Of course, Mrs. Christenson has to approve everything . . " our waiter quipped.
Every table gets a freshly baked warm loaf of bread. The bread was a bit sweet, reminding me of what I know as "Hawaiian bread", though our server told us it was a type of whole wheat bread.
I'm drawn to anything made with raw fish, so of course I had to order the Hawaiian Ceviche. Their ceviche is made from Opakapaka, or Hawaiian Pink Snapper, and was topped with mango, kaffir lime, spicy Maui chili pepper and cilantro. The ceviche was tossed to order, and thus had a very fresh taste to it. Overall, I loved the vibrant flavors of the ceviche. Sometimes I find ceviche can get too tart, but this particular one was perfect, probably because it was freshly made.
The dish came with a side of breadfruit chips, which was fun to try. I'd never had breadfruit before. The chips are denser and a bit harder than potato chips, but they are still pretty tasty.
I also had to order Papa's Three Fish Sashimi, a tasting of three different unique and creative preparations of raw fish. The first one consisted of slices of Onaga with liliko'i (passion fruit), red pepper, and Hawaii Island black sea salt. It was beautiful - salty, spicy, and tart all at the same time. Definitely a perfect balance of flavors.
In fact we loved them all. The Ahi came with ponzu, shiso and Kukui nut salt.
The Ono came with calamansi citrus and Molokai pink sea salt.
We were surprised to see how much wine from Pride Mountain Vineyards was featured on the menu. It turns out that the Christenson family is cousins with the family that owns Pride. As a result, they feature much more of Pride's wines than you would typically see. We remembered really loving Pride's Viognier and Merlot when we visited the winery a year ago. Since we were eating lighter seafood, we opted for the delicious Viognier.
Bryan got the Mahi Mahi ($52), a decadent version locally caught by Eric Nakamura. It came stuffed with lobster and crab and then was baked with a macadamia nut crust. Execution was perfect, and the flavors were rich and satisfying.
I ordered the Ono ($46) caught by Shawn Conners from the Alenuihaha Channel. It was seared a perfect rare and came coated in a Hana ginger-panko crust. This came with the traditional Hawaiian Kalua Pig fried rice, which was phenomenal.
Bryan's response to the delicious Kalua pig, "see! we should have gone to a luau!"
Oh well, maybe next time.
The menu features a wonderful selection of local coffees from Ka'anapali Hills (Maui), Kipahulu (Maui), and the ever-famous Kona. A smaller press pot (1.5 cups) is $8, while a larger one (2 ½ cups) is $14. We shared a smaller one. It was delicious and plenty for us (I can't take too much caffeine at night!).
The waiter highly recommended the Hana Banana Macadamia Nut Crisp ($14). A twist on an apple crisp, this warm, gooey dessert came topped with a homemade Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream. I'm just not a huge banana fan, so I couldn't really get behind this dessert. Bryan, on the other hand, loved it and ate most of it.
All in all, I came away with a huge smile on my face. Unlike the rainy and wet earlier part of the day, the evening was perfect. Our server, a local who had worked with the restaurant for over a decade, was pleasant, super knowledgeable, and just made us feel completely at ease. All of the food was fantastic. The seafood was super fresh, execution of the dishes was top notch, and I really appreciated the emphasis on local, Hawaiian ingredients. Yes, the prices aren't cheap, but it's worth it. I really think Mama's Fish House is the epitome of the ultimate Hawaiian experience and it would be top on my list of restaurants that I would recommend to anyone visiting Maui.
This post is part of a larger series on our two week trip to Hawaii. Other posts in this series!
Mama's Fish House
799 Poho Pl
Paia, HI 96779