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

    Penne Pasta has bad cross contamination issues. They cook the gluten free pasta in the same pasta cooker as the regular pasta. Twice in one evening (after sending back my first plate of food) I found a gluten containing noodles in with my brown rice pasta. I contacted the restaurant but I didn't get any response about possibly changing the way they do things.

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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.

    I agree about not eating fries here on the island. None of the restaurants on island are using separate fryers, as far as I know. If there are, please let me know. I want fries!

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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.

    Maui Tacos now states that none of their food is considered gluten free friendly as they cannot prevent cross contamination. They have removed their gluten free statement from their website at my request. I no longer dine there myself due to too many times of getting sick in the past year.

     

     

    Two other stores in Kahului with more gluten free options are Alive & Well on Hana Highway next to the Birkenstock store, and Down to Earth on Dairy Road.

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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.

    If you are extremely sensitive to cross contamination of any kind, skip flat bread. I have about a 50/50 rate of illness after eating their gluten-free pizzas. I spoke with their chef, and they do try very hard to prevent cross contamination, but it's a pizza place and they do make their own gluten crusts and have giant bags of flour just sitting out in the restaurant.

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    For us, it is harder to come across gluten-free (vegan or "healthy"-eating) in North of Lahaina and into Ka'anapali.

    We travel to Maui several times a year and tend to stay Kihei or south (Makena/Wailea) area. I agree with the above poster that Mala is fabulous. Cafe O'Lei will also accommodate diners but to a lesser degree. Joy's Place for lunch in Kihei cannot be beat!

    We always spend time in Paia and yes, we do dine at Flatbread and their salads are amazing alone (w/o the pizza)! [Paia is also the town with Mana foods.] As the poster right above mentioned, Cafe Mambo is da' bomb!!!

    So yes, a little detective-work is necessary for your dietary needs, but not difficult for this particular travel destination!! ALOHA!

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    Hey all gluten-free Maui eaters. The latest update. I'm from Maui, now live on mainland so visit often. Here's what and where we ate w three of the four of us being celiac and sensitive... All w out reaction. Kimo's in Lahaina.... Amazing sunset view, have a gluten-free menu and accommodated us beautifully with the manager checking in as well. Stella blues in Kihei has long been a favorite. Manager personally answered all questions and guided our ordering. Ribs and fish were awesome!!! Flat bread pizza was great as always and even have added gluten-free brownies Ala mode! The kids were so excited. Call ahead for seating as it gets really crowded. Lastly our new discovery was wholefoods in Kahului is now doing gluten-free pizzas to go. These became our go to when we needed food to travel. We even took them on the plane home. Hawaiian Moons and Mana Foods are great local markets for all things gluten-free and more convenient depending on where you stay. FYI if flying through LAX, bring food. No good options there at all...

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    Hey all gluten-free Maui eaters. The latest update. I'm from Maui, now live on mainland so visit often. Here's what and where we ate w three of the four of us being celiac and sensitive... All w out reaction. Kimo's in Lahaina.... Amazing sunset view, have a gluten-free menu and accommodated us beautifully with the manager checking in as well. Stella blues in Kihei has long been a favorite. Manager personally answered all questions and guided our ordering. Ribs and fish were awesome!!! Flat bread pizza was great as always and even have added gluten-free brownies Ala mode! The kids were so excited. Call ahead for seating as it gets really crowded. Lastly our new discovery was wholefoods in Kahului is now doing gluten-free pizzas to go. These became our go to when we needed food to travel. We even took them on the plane home. Hawaiian Moons and Mana Foods are great local markets for all things gluten-free and more convenient depending on where you stay. FYI if flying through LAX, bring food. No good options there at all...

    I second the Whole Foods option. We stop there straight from the airport & stock up (there's plenty of prepared food too), then head for our condo. I love Kimo's. Look for sushi places, just don't use the soy sauce. There's a wonderful Asian noodle house in a more industrial part of Lahaina with rice noodles etc. Count on eating rice instead of fries as a side dish. Have fish that's grilled or sauteed with no breading. I have both dairy & wheat allergies, and I do fine here.

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    WOW, all you folks are awesome! My wife just figured out that gluten was her problem for all these years. We were worried about going back for our 2nd trip to Maui (what do you expect? we're silly mainlanders, don't know a thing...) Thanks for all the personally-gained experience and for sharing all the info.

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    I am new to celiac disease, as I just found out about 2 months ago and this was extremely helpful. I had a trip planned to Maui in a week and was dreading having to find places to eat and feared i wouldn't be able to go out to dine at all. I have emailed a number of places and will be sure to update on my trip and the restaurants that I find. Thanks again!

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    Recently went to Maui. Shopped at Mana, local fruit stands and Long's drug store. Spent two weeks there and never ate out. This is our third visit, just love Maui. Had plenty of time to explore and talk to the people. Every day is a good day when you don't have tummy troubles. We are a family of five, with three gluten-free.

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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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