Mama’s Fish House, home of the $30 sandwich

Okay, it’s a really great sandwich.  But it’s still 30 bucks.

I’m talking about Mama’s Fish House, a Maui classic since 1973.  In Paia, the center of the north coast of the island, the restaurant sits on a coconut lined piece of beachfront property.  Mama’s isn’t exactly a mom and pop operation–it’s huge.  Restaurant and hotel, a big spot for weddings and parties.  The walls in front are lined with signed photos of long-gone Hollywood stars like Sinatra, Heston and Sammy Davis, but the management is completely modern.  I made our reservation on Opentable perhaps 10 minutes before we arrived, just to get the $1 premium, and noticed we were seated before the people who were waiting when we got there–always make a reservation.

Mama’s is classically Hawaiian–open walls, lots of bamboo and rattan, very dark and cool inside. As you would expect, the beauty of nature is brought inside as much as possible.

The front yard of Mama's Fish House. It looks like a 1950's postcard, but it's all real.

The interior, with a lot of light added from the camera. Mama's is verrrrrrry dark, and cool, in the daytime. The flowers on the table are fresh, of course.

Bird of Paradise in the entryway.

A floral display on the hostess stand.

The menu is relentlessly modern.  I had an ahi sashimi salad–a tower of salad laced with perfectly fresh and tasty slices of raw tuna, topped with a sesame dressing.

A very modern salad in a traditional setting

The menu is relentlessly modern.  I had an ahi sashimi salad–a tower of salad laced with perfectly fresh and tasty slices of raw tuna.

The house offers complimentary poi, so we had some.  If you haven’t had it, save yourself the trouble.  It tastes like wallpaper paste, with less flavor.

This tiny portion of poi, with 4 itty-bitty spoons is more than enough. Photo by Kate Masiello

The service at Mama’s is extraordinary; I can’t recall ever having better. Flawlessly correct without being the tiniest bit obsequious in one direction or familiar in the other.  We asked the busser to tell the waiter we wanted to start with the lobster guacamole, and in less than 2 minutes it was on the table–no big process, no waiter needing to come over and confirm, no wait, no problem (and the guacamole was fabulous, too). As often as we eat out,  I can’t remember being more impressed with the staff, from the valet parking to the hostess to the waiter and dining room crew, they were all professional and expert.

Wild boar sandwich.

About that $30 sandwich:  Wild Boar on Ciabatta.  Slow cooked wild boar, Maui onion, spinach, fresh ciabatta roll, sweet potato fries, taro chips and a house made pickle. Fantastic.  Phenomenal.  Worth a trip to Maui all by itself.  Okay, that’ going too far.  But it’s really great, as a $30 sandwich ought to be.  The only time I’ve seen a price like that before was for a lobster sandwich at Sotheby’s in London; the wild boar was better.

It’s a bit far to go for Friday night dinner, but if you’re ever in Maui, don’t miss Mama’s.


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