The covered dining room literally hangs over the ocean between Kimo's and Lahaina Yacht Club. Yet even though the Mai Tai Lounge is in the thick of things at 839 Front St. in Lahaina, it's still hard to find as it's tucked behind jewelry vendors at the front entrance.
But like most hidden gems, it's worth it. You get views of turtles, boats and neighboring islands. The rolling sets of waves bring in a salt mist, and your senses come alive and tell you that you are on a paradise island.
Tourists love the place. Everyone from comedian George Lopez to former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is a regular when in town.
Managing partner Michel Roy (left) and principal owner William Graff toast with mai tais over the flaming hibachi pupu platter.
The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo
Lobster quesadilla with mango salsa
The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo
Now, there's a reason for kamaaina to check out the Mai Tai Lounge and Rooftop Grill.
Especially starting Tuesday, when you get 30 percent off of your entire food bill for any size party, during lunch or dinner, with Hawaii ID.
Plus, you'll also get to taste their famous mai tais for $8, instead of the regular $12 cost. These kamaaina deals on food and mai tais run through Dec. 22, with the exception of Halloween and Thanksgiving weekends.
Mai Tai fast facts:
Hours: Open seven days a week for lunch and dinner straight through from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Rooftop Grill: Opens for dinner in the summer at 6:30 p.m. Same menu, but with tablecloth service.
Chef: Gerald McLaine, formerly with The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua.
Menu highlights:?Riki tiki mahi tacos, flaming hibachi pupu platter, gaucho shrimp enchiladas, grilled shrimp Caesar, Angus burgers and filet mignons, and beer-battered fish and chips.
For more details: Call 661-5288; or visit www.maitailounge.com.
The mai tais are award-winning. Served in tiki glasses, they are packed with light rum, orange curacao, expensive dark rum, various juices, a splash of pineapple, rock candy and orgeat syrup.
They pair perfectly with the crowd-pleasing pupu such as won-ton nachos, kalua-pork quesadillas and ahi-rainbow tower - all easy to share.
"As far as the kamaaina special goes, I want to give back to the community because I know how tough it is out there," says principal owner William Graff, a native of Italy who now resides in Laguna Beach, Calif.
"When I first bought this place in 2008, the economy was collapsing and the management lost all of my money. So I came back in 2010, hired the best guy ever, Michel Roy from The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, and we paid all of the debt. We also gave full insurance to all of the employees, and put $250,000 more into the place with all new furniture, new equipment and a beer tap."
Graff is a luxury home developer and had no restaurant experience whatever when he bought Mai Tai Lounge. Roy had heard his horror stories.
"It used to be really screwed up. But we've changed all that around. We want people to rediscover the Mai Tai Lounge. Put on your flip-flops, your shorts, bring the kids and have a great time."
In fact, the partners have done such a dramatic turnaround on the Mai Tai Lounge that it was just awarded "Business of the Month" in July by the Lahaina branch of the American Savings Bank.
Graff was so excited about it when I visited there, he called over the railing to Lahaina Yacht Club, where Bonnie West, the branch manager, was dining.
"It's an amazing story,"?West told me like a neighbor chatting by a fence. "These guys are the best. They've both really turned it around. Michel guys have done a fabulous job and I commend them."
"Before, nobody would guess that we would make it. But we have, and now we're always putting money in the bank," says Roy. "Now people, locals, are coming back and oh, it's a beautiful thing."
The Mai Tai Lounge also has done charity events with the Lahaina Yacht Club, and they helped the Maui Chamber of Commerce finance the fireworks displays over the Fourth of July weekend.
The flaming hibachi pupu platter is a signature. A giant wood bowl is filled with tender chicken satay, vegetable and pork egg rolls, barbecue baby back ribs, crab and cream cheese won tons and coconut shrimp - all served with fun sauces such as pineapple plum, Thai peanut and island teriyaki.
The ribs are slow cooked for 59 hours and you may also order them as an entree with mashed potatoes and wok-fried veggies. You'll also find three types of fish nightly - from grilled ono to baked mahimahi.