Hawaii Eats: Tiffany’s and Papa’aina, Maui
Wailuku, Maui, HI — If there’s one chef who embodies aloha spirit and is the ultimate cheerleader for Maui’s hospitality industry, it has to be Sheldon Simeon.
The “Top Chef” star who was voted “Fan Favorite” of the Bravo TV competition not once but twice, has the golden touch when it comes to heading restaurants, from his days at Star Noodle, Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop to Migrant, Lineage, and finally, Tin Roof. In essence, if he opens it, they will come.
Such was the case, too, when he and his wife Janice Simeon bought the nearly two-decade-old Tiffany’s restaurant last year when its former owners, the Orite family, decided to retire. Long an old-school locals’ favorite, the expansive restaurant had a lived-in look and a huge menu leaning into Chinese, Japanese and Korean classics.
When the Simeons took over, they refreshed the interior a bit, but kept its funky island flair. The menu was honed, with some more Filipino influences added, as well as a few of Simeon’s signatures such as his version of Fat Chow Funn.
Having visited nearly every other one of their restaurants, my husband and I couldn’t pass up dining at Tiffany’s on our most recent visit to Maui last month.
When he’s in town, Sheldon Simeon can often be found here. Alas, this night, he and his family had gone on a well deserved spring vacation.
If you’re staying in Ka’anapali like we were, it’ll be about a 45-minute drive to get there. But you’ll be richly rewarded at the end.
Don’t be surprised to find it packed and with a wait to get in. That’s how popular it is, crowded with couples and families packed into blue vinyl booths or big tables underneath TVs airing sports.
This is stick-to-your-ribs food, so come hungry.
The banchan trio ($7) will rev the appetite with spicy cabbage kimchi, pickled daikon and carrot, and the sweetest, most addictive shoyu onions that I couldn’t stop reaching for with my chopsticks.
The potato mac salad ($3) is an ample rice bowl-sized serving of rich, mayo-heavy macaroni salad with potatoes mixed in. Needless to say, this delicious indulgence is as far from diet food as it gets.
I was expecting the mandoo ($9 for eight, $12 for a dozen) to be pan-fried. But these were full-on deep fried, audibly crispy when bitten into, and filled with a juicy center of minced pork, cabbage and carrots. Dip them into either/and a vinegar sauce or a spicy red sauce.
Simeon’s Fat Chow Funn ($10 for a small) also gets tossed with minced pork, bean sprouts, and green onions. With supple, slightly chewy thick noodles, it’s totally homey tasting.
Don’t miss a frequent special that’s quickly becoming a signature: the Peking Pata ($45). Think pork shank fried twice, leaving the skin like chicharron armor — so seriously crunchy that even with a knife, you’ll have to work to cut through it.
A server carries the hefty platter to the table, and before you blink, uses gloved hands to take it all off the bone for easier eating.
The succulent meat, strewn with fresh mint leaves, has the taste of sweet soy. Off to the side are crunchy salt-cured cucumbers. The pata is served with three house-made steamed clam-shell buns. You can tell they’re made fresh because of just how fluffy they are through and through. Cradle some meat, mint and cucumber inside and enjoy a most blissful bite. The pata also comes with a small bowl of shrimp chips for more crunchy fun.
If you have room for dessert after all of that, enjoy the black sesame mousse cake ($14). It’s two slices, too, of chocolate cake layered with black sesame mousse, black sesame cake, white chocolate cardamom mousse, whipped coffee cream, and crisp shards of Dalgona honeycomb. If you love the taste of milky, sweet coffee with a slightly bitter toffee edge, you will inhale this.
The cake is actually served frozen, which was a surprise. Although the mousse would have a more luxurious texture if it weren’t icy, it is refreshing this way, especially on a warm night. Plus, the cake keeps longer in the freezer, making it more convenient for the restaurant to offer it.
Note that Tiffany’s doesn’t take reservations. But you can put yourself on the Yelp waitlist online when you arrive by typing your info to the handy-dandy touchscreen tablet at the entrance or beforehand on the Yelp app on your phone. Just know that your entire party has to be present to be seated, though.
Lahaina, Maui, HI — When on Maui, head from one “Top Chef” star’s establishment to another. That’s just what you can do if after Tiffany’s you make a beeline the next morning to Papa’aina, opened in 2019 by Chef Lee Anne Wong.
Consider it the bookend to her popular Koko Head Cafe on Oahu. Wong must be a morning person because both establishments are serious breakfast-brunch joints with indulgent fare that proudly highlights local ingredients in everything. (You can get dinner at Papa’aina, too, but only on Fridays and Saturdays.)
It’s located inside the historic Pioneer Inn. Built in 1901, it’s one of Hawaii’s oldest hotels, and boasts a picturesque location at the water’s edge on Lahaina Harbor.
Start the day at one of the open-air tables and you know you’re in for an exceptional rest of the day.
Much has been said about the price of the Tropical Fruit Plate, which is $16. It’s a dazzler, with an array of technicolor fruits, all grown on Maui. Some were brand new to me, and I will be the first to admit I wasn’t even sure what a few of them were, such as Brazil cherries and purple star apple, as I happily dug in with excitement to try each and every one.
For me, one of the joys of any visit to Hawaii is discovering incredible fruits that I’d never even knew existed. Wong has taken on the effort of scouring farms and farmers markets to put each day’s best on a plate, so that I don’t have to hunt for them, myself. I’d say that’s worth $16 easily, especially for a plate like this that surely does a body good.
My husband zeroed in on the he-man serving of Fish & Eggs (market price, which was $32 that day). It’s a bountiful bowl centered around a sizeable mahi mahi fillet with two over-easy eggs, bok choy, shiitakes and kimchi with a shoyu-garlic-butter sauce. There’s just enough heat to do the trick in jolting you gently from any morning slumber.
We also shared the lilikoi coffee cake ($10). With a tender, moist crumb and a thin layer of baked-on streusel, the aromatic sweet-tang of passion fruit came through beautifully.
I also couldn’t resist the biscuit ($8) made with cheddar and furikake, and served with miso-coffee butter. As large as my whole hand, the biscuit, the drop biscuit was nicely crunchy-crumbly on the outside and fluffy within. It was buttery and savory-sharp tasting with the butter adding more delectable rich umami.
Friend Carroll, who heads to Maui each year, had told me I had to get the cinnamon roll. But alas, Papa’aina was already out of them when it opened that morning.
I’d say that makes for the perfect excuse to make another trip to Maui sometime soon then.