Maui’s beaches are nothing short of magical, but a different type of splendor is found “Upcountry.” Located on the slopes of Haleakala, this region is comprised of Kula, Pukalani, Makawao, and Haiku – four enclaves characterized by their lush beauty, unique personalities, and dramatic vistas.
Kula Lodge: Kula
At Kula Lodge, 360-degree views spool out from nearly every seat you take. Kula is a hidden gem that once catered to the likes of Frank Sinatra and Spencer Tracy. Situated 3,200 feet above sea level, the restaurant and garden terrace is surrounded by a verdant, colorful garden that is almost as delightful as the vistas of the South Maui coast and the West Maui Mountains. Meanwhile, its formal dining room features one of the only fireplaces on the island.
Polli’s opened its doors in Maui’s quintessential paniolo town over thirty years ago – a time when Mexican restaurants on the island were an absolute novelty. It has since become an island institution, not only for its array of authentic Mexican fare but also for its quirky, welcoming energy. Salsa, guacamole, and hot tortilla chips are served in an intimate space that’s always lit up by margarita-fueled camaraderie while Maui’s enthralling windsurfing history is exhibited on the restaurant’s colorful walls. Whether you’re dining at Polli’s as a family of five or a party of two, its extensive menu is sure to satisfy. Fresh ono burritos, carnitas tacos, and housemade tamales are just a few of their dynamite specialties.
La Provence: Kula
Mornings are especially glorious on Haleakala’s bucolic slopes, and there are few more enjoyable ways to kick off a leisurely day than breakfast at La Provence. The popular bakery and restaurant offer patrons the chance to dine al fresco on their lanai, where second-to-none views unfold before your eyes. La Provence is known for its sweet and savory crepes; their crab and spinach crepe with local greens tossed in lilikoi vinaigrette is particularly marvelous.
Casanova Italian Restaurant: Makawao
As the artsiest district on the island, downtown Makawao flourishes with wonderful galleries and splendid boutiques. At the crown of it all rests Casanova Italian Restaurant, a venue defined by elegance and character. Sit at the large and lovely bar to sample one of their craft cocktails and a plate of woodfire-baked focaccia before diving into authentic Italian food as nuanced as it is flavorful. With options ranging from Anatra duck confit served over saffron risotto to bucatini carbonara with Kula onions and pancetta, you may have a hard time deciding. Whatever you choose, leave room for dessert: Casanova’s brandy-soaked tiramisu is positively divine.
Chef extraordinaire Jeff Scheer took the island by storm when he became the Executive Chef of The Mill House in the Maui Tropical Plantation, where he won the esteemed ‘Ai Pono Chef of the Year Award from Maui No Ka Oi magazine in 2015.
Ulupalakua Ranch Store & Grill: Ulupalakua
Whether you’re taking the back road to Hana or dedicating an afternoon to exploring the tree-filled, well-kept grounds at Maui Wine, Ulupalakua Ranch Store & Grill is a must for any local or visitor. The remote, antiquated restaurant may not have the bells and whistles of the island’s resort restaurants, and that’s entirely the point: This is rustic, paniolo country, and the fresh from the ranch food takes center stage. Their venison burgers are the purest you may ever taste, but we have a special fondness for their Kalbi ribs with chili miso. Dine at one of their picnic tables in the temperate, sun-splashed air, and you’ll find an entirely different side of Maui.
Whether you call Haiku the North Shore or Upcountry, the lush, rainswept town holds what is the best sushi restaurant on the island. As an Izakaya restaurant – the Japanese equivalent of a Spanish tapas bar – Nuka is purposely a place where meals are meant to be shared. Every piece of sashimi and sushi roll on their menu is extraordinary, but kama’aina come from as far as Kaanapali and Makena for their Haleakala roll – a baked California roll topped with salmon, bonito, topiko, and dynamite sauce. With a mere 50 seats and gyotaku art framed on its walls, a dinner at Nuka is a downright celebration.
Grandma’s Coffee House: Keokea
Keokea, a community in Kula, is noted across Hawaii for its rich history, magnificent views, and the small, artsy cafe that is lovingly known as “Grandma’s.” The origins of the cafe date back to the early 1900s, when the late Minnie Franco began harvesting Maui coffee on Haleakala’s slopes. Today, her bright green cafe provides patrons with the fresh brews she began perfecting over a century ago. Her recipes still fill the menu, where you’ll find pumpkin-pecan caramel cake and some of the moistest banana bread on the island. In addition to warm-from-the-oven baked goods, Grandma’s offers patrons an extensive selection of breakfast, brunch, and lunch items, including Hawaii’s signature dish, Loco Moco.