I spent $64 at the best restaurant in Hawaii. My meal came out in 5 minutes, but I'll just stick to drinks next time.
I ate at Down the Hatch, the highest-ranked Hawaiian spot on Yelp's Top 100 US Restaurants in 2022.
I spent $64 on a mai tai, ahi poke, grilled cheese, and spiked shave ice — all were worth the price.
The food line can get long, and the dishes are heavy, so I'll probably go for just drinks next time.
Down the Hatch, a seafood restaurant in my hometown of Lahaina, Maui, has received local and national accolades.
I decided to try Down the Hatch in Lahaina, Maui, after hearing so much praise about the seafood restaurant.
This year, Yelp ranked it at No. 28 on its Top 100 US Restaurants list, based on Yelpers' favorite dining destinations. Of the four Hawaii-based restaurants on the list, Down the Hatch is the highest ranked.
This eatery also received various accolades at the 2022 ʻAipono Awards, which honor the best Maui restaurants based on votes by residents and visitors.
Down the Hatch won first place for best restaurant poke, best bar, and best late-night dining. It also got second place for best happy hour and an honorable mention for best handcrafted cocktails.
The establishment has also been featured on "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives," a Food Network show hosted by Guy Fieri. Here's what it's like to eat there.
In anticipation of a long line, I arrived early and dined during happy hour.
Down the Hatch is located down the street from my house on Maui, so I pass by it often. It doesn't accept reservations, and I typically see the line to order food extend far past the entrance.
That's the main reason I usually eat elsewhere and go straight to the bar.
With a potential wait in mind, I opted for an early dinner and arrived during the restaurant's happy hour, which runs daily from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
It didn't hurt that I could also take advantage of discounted food and drinks during happy hour — like 15% off select appetizers, $6 draft beers, $6 well cocktails, and $7 Hawaiian cocktails, including mai tais and lava flows.
Surprisingly, there was only one party ahead of me when I went to order my meal.
Guests order food at the counter, take a number, and then seat themselves.
When guests get to the front of the line, they order their food and drinks at the counter. Then, a staff member gives them a number and directs them to find a seat in the open-air dining area.
If they arrive after 5 p.m. when there's more foot traffic, they may need to be seated by an employee.
If and when diners desire more drinks, they can order them directly from the bar. There's also a self-service station with extra plates, utensils, napkins, and condiments.
Because I was there during happy hour, I took advantage of the discounted food and drinks.
When I got to the counter, I ordered a mai tai, which was made with passion-orange-guava juice (POG). It cost $7.
For my meal, I wanted to try the special of the month, an $18 ahi poke, because Down the Hatch won the 2022 ʻAipono Award for best restaurant poke.
I also got the lobster-and-crab-stuffed grilled cheese — the dish that was featured on "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives" — for $24.49.
My total was $53.14, including tax and tip.
The interior has a tropical vibe with water features, koi fish, potted plants, and aquatic decor.
I've always loved the koi river that runs through the restaurant. I remember visiting it as a kid to feed the fish, long before Down the Hatch opened in 2015.
My favorite piece of decor is the tiger-shark sculpture hanging above the bar. Athena Medina, the local artist behind the work, made it using recycled materials. At night, the shark is illuminated by an aqua-colored light.
Wrapped around the backside of the bar is a rock wall that features a waterfall, and there's also normally a thick layer of leaves, but that was missing when I visited. Perhaps they were in the process of replacing it with fresh foliage.
There were potted plants dispersed around the dining room, which provided some greenery.
My entire order was on the table within five minutes of leaving the counter.
A couple of minutes after I sat down at a table, the mai tai I ordered arrived. I took a few pictures of the cocktail, and before I could take my first sip, a server delivered my food.
I checked my receipt and saw that the order was closed out at 4:28 p.m., and I had my entire order in front of me at 4:33 p.m., a mere five minutes later.
I intended for the ahi poke to be my appetizer and the grilled cheese to serve as my main course, but I didn't mind that the dishes came at the same time.
The mai tai and ahi poke paired well together.
When I finally tried the mai tai, I realized the cashier wasn't joking when they said it was strong. It was also quite sweet, and the POG made it a fruit-forward refreshment.
The ahi poke tasted fresh — no surprise, as the restaurant's fish supply comes from the Lahaina Harbor across the street — and flavorful.
This month's special had Asian and Pacific Islander influences. The ingredients — like kimchi mayo; wakame, or kelp; 'inamona, or relish made from roasted kukui nuts; furikake, or Japanese-rice seasoning; and house-made poke sauce — were on a bed of garlic rice.
This quintessential Hawaiian-style fare and drink paired well together, offering a deliciously light bite.
The lobster-and-crab-stuffed grilled cheese is the ultimate comfort food.
This sandwich, which made an appearance on Food Network, features Hawaiian sweet bread filled with lobster, lump crab, cheese, tomatoes, cabbage, creamy butter sauce, and the eatery's signature spicy lava-lava sauce.
It also came with a side of seasoned shoestring fries.
Although I expected the lobster and crab to be the sandwich's main focuses, the bread's sweetness and the sauce's spiciness dominated my first bite. The seafood provided more of an aftertaste.
It was still delicious, but I made a mental note that I should only order it if I was looking for comfort food, as it was a bit heavy. I ended up taking more than half of my meal home.
For dessert, I got an "adult" shave ice, which was spiked with alcohol.
Down the Hatch doesn't have a dessert menu, but diners can order a sweet treat from its sister restaurant, Breakwall Shave Ice Co., which is under the same ownership and roof.
Those 21 and older can choose from a selection of adult shave ice that's spiked with alcohol. This is a unique offering, as I've never found another place in Hawaii that serves something similar.
I inquired about the most popular flavors, and the server said they were strawberry-guava daiquiri and piña colada, the last of which was also featured on "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives."
The piña colada was more appealing to me. The bottom had haupia, also known as coconut pudding, and the top had coconut shavings and a creamy snowcap, which is a drizzle of condensed milk.
Watching them make it in front of me was also part of the fun.
Since I ordered food from Down the Hatch, I got a 15% discount at Breakwall Shave Ice Co. For a small spiked shave ice, my total came out to $10.74, including tax and tip.
I could get an even bigger discount next time if I go back during happy hour, when the dessert is only $6.
Down the Hatch also serves as a venue for live music and other events.
Thanks to a rotation of local performers, Down the Hatch has live music every day during breakfast and happy hour. The restaurant also hosts trivia nights, karaoke, silent discos, dancing, and special events.
On the day I dined, Amber Fiedler, a contestant on season 18 of "American Idol," was singing to guests.
The $64 I spent on three courses and a cocktail was worth it, but I'll probably just go back for drinks next time.
After factoring in the happy-hour deals, my kamaʻāina (Hawaii resident) discount, and the 15% I got off the price of adult shave ice, my total was $63.88, including tax and tip.
This price point is pretty standard for Maui, and I knew I was also paying for the location, ambiance, live entertainment, and locally sourced fish.
Additionally, since the portions were big, I was able to stretch my order into two additional meals. I had the ahi poke as a late-night snack and saved the grilled cheese for lunch the next day.
I will certainly return to Down the Hatch, though it will more likely be on a night out, as it's a popular watering hole for locals.
That said, I have yet to try the breakfast menu. With $12 carafes of mimosas and bloody marys alongside dishes like seared ahi Benedict and mango-bread-pudding French toast, it's calling my name.
It's hard to say whether Down the Hatch is the best restaurant in Hawaii, as "best" is pretty subjective.
But if you're seeking a casual setting with good food and drinks at relatively reasonable prices, Down the Hatch definitely delivers — as long as you're willing to wait in line.
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