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  • Melissa Blanco
    Melissa Blanco

    Gluten-Free Dining in Maui, Hawaii

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Caption: Gluten-free travel to Hawaii is possible! Photo: CC-Jordan Emery

    Celiac.com 10/19/2010 - The plane soared above the vast, blue Pacific Ocean as the gorgeous state of Hawaii loomed beneath it.  When we descended into our tropical destination of Maui, my stomach was a bundle of excited energy, with visions of walks along the beautiful sandy beaches and lounging poolside, soaking in the sun’s rays.  My husband and I’d planned this trip for months—budgeted for the most cost effective airfare, researched affordable hotels, packed swimsuits and summer clothing for our family of five.  Yet, as every person with celiac disease understands, traveling has its hidden dangers of gluten-contaminated food, restaurants that aren’t attuned to the needs of food intolerance sufferers, and the common question of: what am I going to eat when I’m away from my comfort zone, away from my home?
              
    Our adventure began in a resort on the Ka‘anapali Shores of Maui, as the sun was setting and a warm breeze rustled through the swaying palm trees.  While my family mapped out their wish list of activities to embark on during our paradise vacation, I brainstormed what I’d eat in the land of sugar cane, flowered leis, and tropical fruits.  As the warm sun rose each morning, I ate the breakfast bars I’d packed in my suitcase along with a cup of Hawaiian Kona coffee, which we purchased after arriving.  For coffee lovers, I highly recommend it, www.konacoffee.com.  Kona coffee was available at the hotel gift shop, grocery store, and sold as whole beans packaged at the local Starbucks.
              
    Although my diet for the week relied heavily on grilled chicken salads, fresh fruits, vegetables, and almonds, I also sampled local restaurants with my family.  We were interested in venues that offered a children’s menu, had a welcoming and fun atmosphere, and were possibly places providing a chance for exploration and cultural experience.

    Cheeseburger in Paradise
    Anyone who’s ever listened to the song, “Cheeseburger in Paradise” by Jimmy Buffet, will understand my desire to eat at the restaurant.  Maui’s Cheeseburger in Paradise is located on Front Street in beautiful Lahaina.  The two story restaurant sits beside the water, as a cool breeze wafts through a windowless dining area, while patrons enjoy cocktails and their signature burgers and steak fries.  When I spoke to the hostesses, dressed in festive grass skirts, I was informed that they did not have a gluten-free menu, but could accommodate gluten intolerant guests by serving burgers without buns and salads.  Although I contemplated ordering one of the grilled salads, I ultimately decided upon the signature Cheeseburger in Paradise, minus the bun, and a basket of sweet potato fries.  I might have been tempted to try the steak fries as well, but learned from my server that they are flavored with a seasoning salt containing gluten.  It was a pleasant experience and my only wish was that I’d have brought a license plate to hang on the restaurant wall with others from across the country.  If interested, check out their website at, www.cheeseburgerland.com.

    Old Lahaina Luau
    Also located on Front Street in Lahaina, Hawaii, this Luau is worth attending if only for the traditional Hawaiian Hula performance.  The Old Lahaina Luau is a family affair located beside the ocean, providing a beautiful sunset view, as ceremony and tradition are celebrated following pre-dinner learning activities for both adults and children.  Upon entering the Luau, girls are presented with a flower for their hair and everyone is given a fresh flower lei.  Adults are offered the signature island alcoholic beverage, a Mai tai—it is up to the patron whether or not to accept it.  Before attending the Luau we called in advance and requested a gluten-free menu.  This gluten-free request was confirmed by my server when I arrived.  Additionally, I was presented with a complete food ingredient list by him for the buffet.  I would advise anyone with a gluten intolerance to request a gluten-free meal because while reading the ingredient list, I discovered most of the dishes contained soy sauce.  As I joined my family in choosing fresh fruits, salad, and vegetables from the buffet line, my server placed a warm, freshly prepared gluten-free meal of grilled chicken breasts and steamed vegetables where I was seated.  Overall, it was an amazing night and a wonderful time to experience a traditional Lu‘au while enjoying a delicious meal.  For more information or to make a reservation: www.oldlahainaluau.com.

    Pacific Whale Foundation Lana‘i Snorkel and Dolphin Watch Eco-Adventure
    The non-profit Pacific Whale Foundation offers several eco-adventures for people wishing to experience the marine life of Hawaii.  We chose to take the five hour Snorkel and Dolphin Cruise, which provided a continental breakfast, barbeque lunch, and refreshments.  After departing from Lahaina Harbor, snorkel gear and flippers in hand, we sailed patiently through the choppy waters of the Pacific Ocean in search of dolphins.  We weren’t disappointed when about an hour into our adventure we spotted several spinner dolphins spectacularly jumping out of the pristine blue water to entertain us.  In preparation for this voyage, I called ahead to inquire about food offerings and was assured that a gluten-free meal would be provided to me.  I came to find out, while on the cruise, that it was basically a standard meal for all passengers, in which I was to choose only the food that didn’t contain gluten.  As I live with a family who normally consumes gluten, this picking and choosing was not uncommon to me.  For breakfast, I sampled fresh pineapple and passed on the banana bread.  For lunch, I ate barbecued chicken with lettuce and tomato.  As a service to vegetarians, a veggie burger is provided upon request.  I would certainly recommend this cruise for people that are interested in dolphin sightings or who want to be introduced to snorkeling.  For those who have celiac disease, I’d also suggest bringing along some extra snacks.  For more information, www.pacificwhale.org.

    Hard Rock Café Maui
    In an effort to introduce my children to the cultural likes of good old rock and roll, I suggested that we eat dinner at the Hard Rock Café, located in the Old Lahaina Center, of Maui.  I was happy to find that a children’s menu was available, but slightly disappointed to learn that a gluten-free menu wasn’t.  Our server, however, was more than helpful, willing to look at food ingredients in the computer for me and alert me to items containing gluten.  Unfortunately, the nachos I’d been craving contained wheat, so I instead ordered a cheeseburger, minus the bun.  It was my second cheeseburger of the week and I was truly unable eat a quarter of it because it was such a generous portion.  The atmosphere was lively and loud, nothing less than what I’d expect from a Hard Rock Café.  It was a fun night out and I was happy to leave with a Hard Rock Café Maui tee-shirt from the restaurant gift shop.  If you’re looking for a quieter venue and are interested in seafood, there is a Bubba Gump Shrimp Company located directly across the street from the Hard Rock Café, providing shrimp and lots of Forrest Gump memorabilia.  Hard Rock Café’s website is www.hardrock.com.  Bubba Gump Shrimp’s website is www.bubbagump.com.

    Our vacation to Maui was primary restricted to the beautiful Ka‘anapali Shores and town of Lahaina, therefore I didn’t explore a lot of the island, nor did I locate any grocery stores providing a gluten-free selection.  This is not to say that they don’t exist, rather, that I was not able to shop at one.  I’d recommend travelers to take their own gluten-free snacks, as long as they are approved through the agricultural inspection.  Hawaii is a state full of fresh produce, including savory pineapple, seafood, and sweet potatoes, which provide many healthful options for those with celiac disease.  My family also enjoyed the thirst quenching and tasty shaved ice, www.ululanisshaveice.com, and the extremely delicious frozen treat, gelato, and its dairy-free counterpart, sorbetto, www.onogelatocompany.com.

    For the residents of Maui, I appreciate your understanding and willingness to accommodate my gluten intolerance.  To you I say, “mahalo.”


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    I went to Maui a year ago.

     

    The luau I went to was the Feast at Lele. There is no buffet. They bring all the food to the table. When the dish contained gluten my server would bring me a similar dish that had been made gluten free. I did not miss out on anything.

     

    Lunch at Ma'la in Lahaina was wonderful. They did not have a gluten-free menu, but they said a gluten free meal was not a problem. We got there before lunch time and they opened early to serve us. We had organic chicken, rice and garlic spinach. Normally we would have had fish, but this was the last day and I wanted something other than fish.

     

    LuLu's Lahaina Surf Club & Grill located near the Safeway store was also very gluten free friendly. Again, no gluten-free menu but they made us some gluten free omelets with potatoes for breakfast. They are not open every day for breakfast.

     

    The best fish we had was the fresh fish we bought and grilled at our condo.

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    From a person who wants to eat out in Maui, this is not really a very detailed response. Driving from the airport at the first intersection you can go right and very soon there is a new whole Foods. If you continued from the airport to Ka‘anapali as on all maps, you drive right past a natural foods store where I have shopped for my gluten free items for 10 years.

    Cheeseburger in Parasise - do not eat any of their fries, in fact do not eat any fries in Maui - 99% of them seasoning or not have a light flouring on them to keep them crispy and so they do not melt or expire or flop on your plate due to the humidity. Neither Cheeseburger in Paradise, Hard Rock Cafe or Bubba Gumps serve people with celiac disease very well and their knowledge is poor. If you try Bubba Gumps the only thing you can have there are steamed peel and eat shrimp. There are MANY gluten free places on Maui - explore a little more and get away from the chains.

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    From a person who wants to eat out in Maui, this is not really a very detailed response. Driving from the airport at the first intersection you can go right and very soon there is a new whole Foods. If you continued from the airport to Ka‘anapali as on all maps, you drive right past a natural foods store where I have shopped for my gluten free items for 10 years.

    Cheeseburger in Parasise - do not eat any of their fries, in fact do not eat any fries in Maui - 99% of them seasoning or not have a light flouring on them to keep them crispy and so they do not melt or expire or flop on your plate due to the humidity. Neither Cheeseburger in Paradise, Hard Rock Cafe or Bubba Gumps serve people with celiac disease very well and their knowledge is poor. If you try Bubba Gumps the only thing you can have there are steamed peel and eat shrimp. There are MANY gluten free places on Maui - explore a little more and get away from the chains.

    Thank you Lynda for your comment. I would like to reiterate that this was my first time to Maui and that I was also traveling with small children who share an opinion in where we eat. I'm sure readers will be interested in knowing about the Whole Foods. As I stated in the article, I did not have an extended opportunity to explore the island. My vacation was brief, but if I had been there longer, I'd have more time to sample other restaurants serving gluten-free food. The point of this article was to provide travelers with information on my experience and to also give them tools to eat out gluten-free while traveling.

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    Mala in both Lahaina and Wailea has to be one of the best gluten free restaurants I have ever been to anywhere. My husband and I were blown away by the quality of the dishes. Many on the gluten free menu were merely minus the soy sauce (bring your own!!!!) which we miss the flavor of, so we instead asked the server to ask the chef to recommend what he thought would be best. Wow, was that an amazing decision. We ended up with a Thai inspired curry that we still talk about almost a year later. The food can't be fresher and it's amazing. Definitely your nice night out though.

    Also there is a Whole Foods very near the airport, stop there before continuing on (also a Costco if you are a member, it's a good place to get staples reasonably). In Kihei go to Hawaiian Moons Store for more gluten-free selection than even Whole Foods and a great hot bar with many gluten-free options. Maui Tacos is a local chain with fabulous gluten-free options for those who love Mexican, and any nice restaurant can make you fresh fish and veggies that will blow you away. Also try the local Maui beef, it's served in many restaurants and sold at Whole Foods and Longs Drugs. It's all grass fed and so good..... Maui takes a little work (b/c most things are made with soy sauce), but it's so worth it. Call ahead and ask the chef about their accommodations. Also don't forget to go to Flatbread in Paia (on the way to Hana or the North Shore)... great gluten free pizza (call ahead to make sure they have gluten free crusts and prepare to wait a little or call your order in early as all gluten-free pizzas are made separately). Most restaurants on Maui are family style and want your kids to be happy too, they are happy to substitute baked potatoes if fries aren't ok or grilled chicken or steak instead of chicken fingers, etc. Be nice and tip well and they will work hard for you. Your business is their livelihood.

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    There is also an Outback restaurant in Maui, this Australian chain is amazing for celiacs, they have a dedicated gluten free menu, and their dessert "Thunder from down under" is to die for! Chocolate brownie with whipped cream,syrup, nuts and a cherry on top!well worth visiting. I found the Hard Rock Cafe very uninformed and limited.

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    Informative and interesting experience you have shared. Thanks. An addition to the list of destinations where gluten free food is available.

    You missed Penne Pasta in Lahaina. For a small charge, they will make you gluten free pasta, and they know what they're doing.

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    Guest Charmaine Stillwell

    Posted

    It was a very informative article and I enjoyed hearing about her trip. Food choices are a challenge in every day living but sometimes travel can be almost impossible but improving more each day.

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    Thanks for the useful info. Just FYI to anyone visiting, the Kahului Ale House is NOT GLUTEN FREE friendly, as it is listed on some reviews. It is under new ownership and does not have any gluten free options. The hostess looked at me like I had 2 heads when I asked about their gluten free options.

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    I live on Maui and HIGHLY suggest all celiacs make their 1st stop Mana Foods in Paia. It is close to the airport and blows Whole Foods outtadawatah for gluten-free foods, packaged and prepared!

    As was mentioned above Flatbread makes a good gluten-free pizza, and yes...there is an Outback in Kihei.

    Also Mama's Fish House is very accommodating, and Cafe Mambo in Paia has many options.

    More important is where you stay. You can try www.homeaway.com for house rentals, or Maui Sports Vacations, but a house, condo or apartment is always e best bet for Celiacs because of the obvious. With a house & Mana Foods, you can have a great vacation on Maui...and save money too!

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    Guest Jack Darrington

    Posted

    Great ideas, thanks. I'm dating a girl with celiac and we're planning a trip to Hawaii so I really needed some direction. Quick question, I've heard that coffee from the tropics is to die for and I really want to try some Hawaii coffee beans. Now I want to be sensitive to my girlfriend's gluten intolerance so I was wondering if coffee had gluten in it or not? Probably a dumb question but I'm new to all this.

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  • About Me

    Melissa Blanco is a freelance writer and blogger who was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2007.  You can visit her website at www.melissablanco.com.

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