Reader's Corner: Top Maui Restaurants 2010

Molly Jacobson, one half of the husband and wife team behind ‘Top Maui Restaurants 2010’, recently sent me a digital copy of their new book to check out, and I must say, it’s a mighty fine piece of work. A lot of work. And a lot of EATING!

Hence they’ve proclaimed the contents as “Indispensable Advice from Experts Who Live, Play & Eat on Maui”.

This is really great actually, as I repeatedly get emails from visitors planning a trip to Hawaii asking for personal recommendations of where to eat, not just on Oahu, but other islands as well. Now I can simply point those heading to Maui to this book.

Their tagline “From Thrifty to Four Star” certainly holds true, as they review just about every type of eatery on the Valley Isle. From the local diners, drive ins and dives (hey, that sounds familiar), to restaurants that are sure to hand you a check at the end of the meal as big as the humpback whales breaching offshore of the oceanfront view you just got through enjoying.

‘Top Maui Restaurants 2010′ is very thorough, well organized and easy to navigate. The table of contents in front lists all of the nearly 200 Maui restaurant reviews and their corresponding pages in the alphabetical order that they’re placed in the book.  While the Index in back also includes the restaurants’ page locations, as well as a number of key names and words you might specifically be seeking out; e.g. “birthday”, “Luau”, “nightlife” or “wedding”.

They do note that while they’ve been able to fit nearly 200 restaurant reviews in this book, there’s about 400 restaurants total in Maui, so nearly half had to be left out, including a notable one I’ll mention later.

While I may have my “non-mathematical” off-the-cuff SPAM Musubi Rating System, their rating system is much more structured into the usual sets of criteria found on most restaurant reviews out there. This includes Food, Ambiance, Service, Heart (that’s a unique one!), Value (a.k.a. “Return on Investment” or ROI), and OVERALL. They present this in this easy-to-glance-at icon method…

The “Love” criteria is explained as “how much love we feel a kitchen cooks into the food.” Going on to explain it’s “primarly experiential” and you “know it when you feel it, just like the emotion of love towards a person”. I like that. I’ll have to start factoring that into my SPAM Musubi rating system.

Each criteria has a range of 1 to 5 stars, with 5 being best (of course). Although they do note that no restaurant has had the luck of receiving a 5 star overall rating. Yet. Hence the “Thrifty to Four Star” (and not five) tagline. They also note that although the average overall score may be low or average due to say poor service or ambiance, they sometimes still give it the Top Restaurant award just based on very good FOOD. Fair enough. That’s kinda’ how I am with my SPAM Musubi rating system. In fact, I’m giving this book an extra SPAM Musubi just for this!

Further enhancing this review book’s user-friendly interface are a set of icons representing the ‘Amenities’ offered at each establishment…

The only point of interest I think is missing is an ATTIRE (practically naked/casual/business casual (aloha shirt)/formal) icon(s).

Then again, ah’, you stay on Maui for cryin’ out loud, so you can fine dine at Spago in t-shirt, shorts and rubbah slippahz, no worries. G-String Bikini and Speedos? Why not? Shoots, Wolfgang is from Europe. That’s the style there!  lol

There’s two other key icons that will point you towards which restaurants were most favorable by authors Molly and James Jacobson. Representing their highest praise and recommendation are restaurants who are awarded the TROPHY icon, such as here at Paia Fish Market…

One step down from that, yet still worth considering a visit “for certain things” are restaurants awarded the Medal Ribbon icon…

The only thing a little confusing here is that even though some restaurants are awarded the Medal Ribbon icon, they still kind of bash the place, which as you see they’re doing here at Buzz’s Wharf.

The authors explain, while they only wanted to include the “best of the best” restaurants on Maui in their book (which makes sense considering its title), due to popular demand through emails and comments on their blog, they had to include even those that aren’t in that league. With that, the restaurants reviewed in this book that don’t either have the Trophy or Medal Ribbon icon are considered “not recommended” by them. Such as here at Tasty Crust…

As you can read in that particular review, they’re brutally honest, which is certainly appreciated. No sugar coating here whatsoever, regardless of any “hype” a restaurant may receive by others, as Tasty Crust normally gets regarding their hotcakes. I’ve been there myself and can pretty much agree with this review.

Just those three snippets of reviews gives you an idea of how thorough they are and how much they really know about the restaurant. You can really tell they’ve really been to all these restaurants a number of times. Which is what it would take to have that much detailed information, tips and actual dining experience they share in each and every review.

In the forward section on ‘FYI: How We Review Restaurants’, they explain three key rules they’ve followed when visiting each restaurant:

#1 is that EVERY RESTAURANT HAS BEEN VISITED AT LEAST TWICE. Sometimes 3 or more times. This, to ensure they’re giving the restaurant a fair review and not just catching them at either a really good or really bad time. Which you all know is the dynamics of the restaurant industry. I totally understand that.

#2 is that they PAY FOR EVERY MEAL. No comps. This way there’s no conflict of interest and they’re not obligated to give higher ratings. I totally understand that as well. Been in that situation before. With that, the authors say they’ve spent nearly a half-million dollars in eating out expenses building their review portfolio for this publication. Wow.

#3 is that they DINE UNDERCOVER. They don’t want to be recognized as restaurant critics by the staff, lest they receive better than “normal” or “average” food and/or service. Which is easy for them, as they don’t take pictures of the restaurant or food like I do. In fact there’s NO photos of the restaurants or their dishes in this book. None whatsoever. It’s all text reviews.

Of course, this being print media, page “real estate” is at a prime, and had they included photographs, there’d either be half as many reviews they could fit, or the book would have to be twice (or more) as long or thick to fit every review and the photos.

For web media, there’s not really any “real estate” limitations on any given page (at least not for me). Therefore my food blogging ideology is “look first, read later, or read about what looks interesting”, therefore I like to use photographs to tell a thousand words. So on rule #3 about ‘Dining Undercover’, I really can’t do that, as I always usually ask for permission from the owner or staff when taking photos in restaurants, having to explain to them that I have a food blog (which some of the older folks don’t know what the HELL a “food blog” is lol). Otherwise they think I’m either a health inspector or spy from a competitor. Seriously.

Back to the book, other features include ‘Top Maui Tips’, including recommendations for visitors on where to go shopping for groceries, visitor activies, local food explanations and driving tips.I’m a little disappointed they didn’t include Ah Fook’s in this section, as there’s groceries and other products at Ah Fook’s that are either unique to them or hard to find anywhere else on Maui or this state for that matter.

I’m also disappointed Sam Sato’s wasn’t included. Booo! Well anyhow, filling in that void, I’ll take the liberty of giving Sam Sato’s a “TROPHY” icon. Same for Ah Fook’s.

Finally there’s an ‘Easy Reference’ section in back which includes: Top Ten Meals on Maui and Recommended Restaurants by Food Craving, Location and Budget. Personally I think they could have left most of this part out and used those precious pages for photographs.

It also would have been nice if they could have at least included a “sampler menu” (like choose 2 or 3 of “the best” apps, entrees and desserts) from each restaurant’s full menu in the book. After location, the next thing people want to see when seeking restaurant information is the MENU. And even the web is still challenged in that regard, as many restaurants are operated by people who aren’t web savvy.

My only concern with publications like this is that the information can often be obsolete even before it leaves the press and hits store shelves. The internet is quickly making print media (and printed documents) a thing of the past. You just can’t beat the web for getting the most up-to-date information and critique on ANYTHING, including restaurants, no matter where they’re located in this world. Food blogs and Yelp are a prime example of that.The authors even admit to this, suggesting in various places throughout to “stay up to date” by visiting their blog at

Still, if I were to pretend the electricity and/or the internet suddenly went down, as a “foodie” (or someone just looking for a good place to eat), I’d be more than happy having this book as my guide. Or perhaps you know someone living on or visiting Maui who doesn’t use a computer? Then this is PERFECT!

Overall, if the written word is enough for you from the perspective of two seasoned writers and food critics who have certainly walked (and ate) the talk, ‘Top Maui Restaurants 2010’ should satisfy your hunger for seeking out the best that the Valley Isle’s culinary scene has to offer. While lacking any photography,  it makes up for that with a very user-friendly interface and logical organization, wealth of valuable information, insider tips and well written, detailed, personal “human” side given with each review.

Just “thumbing” through it, I already have a few places they’ve recommended that I’m DEFINITELY checking out on my next trip this year back to Maui!

What? 2010 Top Maui Restaurants – From Thrifty to Four Stars
Who is the author? James Jacobson & Molly Jacobson
Who is the publisher and what year was it published? Maui Media, LLC, Copyright 2010
Where did you buy it and how much did it cost? Online digital copy $17 @ *Free copy provided for this review (But I’m not biased. The rating I’m giving is honestly my opinion of it.)
Big Shaka to: Very well written and organized. A WEALTH of information and insider tips on each restaurant, with a personal “human side” given in each review. Maui.
No shaka to: Not including Ah Fook’s and Sam Sato’s. How dare! No photographs. Would have been nice if they provided at least a “sampler menu” to get an idea what each restaurant offers. Limitations of print media.
The Tasty Island rating: 4 SPAM Musubi (excellent)

Check out James and Molly’s blog at

Honolulu Travel Tips


7 thoughts on “Reader's Corner: Top Maui Restaurants 2010

  1. Pomai, I never sure if I head to Maui what to buy in food treats to bring back to Honolulu. My parents sure miss that mochi shop that no more and looking for something special Maui have.l

  2. Seems like the main thing I see heading over to Oahu from here is Komoda’s cream puffs. They are superb, worth standing in that big long line. Super coll people running the place too.

  3. I’ve checked out their blog, and I like their style! I think it’s awesome that someone has taken the time to compile such a comprehensive guide to Maui’s restaurants!

  4. Not to be harsh, and I’m sure this was partly the writers’ intention but this book seems geared to tourists. Being born and raised on Maui, I would not purchase a book that does not include Sam Satos. Not including this restaurant makes me automatically distrust your opinion on food. How can a food writer on Maui not understand the importance of Sam Satos to the Maui food scene.

    But don’t listen to me because I love Tasty Crust.

  5. imuy, I almost was going to give this book 3 SPAM Musubi instead of 4 because of that very reason, but the book is still very well researched and written, and I stand by giving it a 4 SPAM Musubi rating. Let’s just say it didn’t get a 5 because of that.
    Not including Sam Sato’s in a book on Dining on Maui is like not including Pearl Harbor in an Oahu visitors review guide. They’re both historically very important and  relevant to the subject at hand. If I was a newcomer to Maui, I’d much rather be informed about “where the locals eat” hidden gems places like Sam Sato’s than “I can find that in California” places like Spago.
    Man, I sure wish we had a Sam Sato’s here on Oahu. I sure could go for some “Dry Mein” right about now! You like ship one bowl to me? lol
    Sheralyn, that should be a perfect partner link with your website!
    Marcus, I have yet to try Komoda’s Cream Puffs. Only tried their Butter Rolls, which were pretty good!
    Kimo, hit Ah Fook’s in Kahului. They have all the “Made in Maui” food stuff, and other stuff you only can buy at Ah Fook’s. Ah Fook’s own Portuguese Sausage is AWESOME, and might have won my “Great Portuguese Sausage Shootout” had I had some at the time. You can bring that stuff over on the plane, no problem.

  6. I visited both Sam Sato’s and Tasty Crust. Both places are terrific. I love Sam Sato’s “Dry Saimin” and the manju. Tasty Crust has great pancakes and other foods.

  7. Roy, I dunno’, I wasn’t impressed with Tasty Crust. But Sam Sato’s, by all means! I wish we had one here on Oahu.

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