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It’s Maui’s Most Popular Special Occasion Restaurant, but…Is Mama’s Fish House Worth It?

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When asked for my list of must dos on Maui, I can provide you with an endless list of things to do, see, and places to eat. Maui is my favorite Hawaiian Island and easily the island I know best (I used to live there). But the list you really want is my “short” list. Not necessarily the list I throw out to every reader or traveler who asks for tips. This is my “if I only get one day on Maui, how would I spend it” list.

And at the top of that list has always been dinner at Mama’s Fish House. It’s easily the most recommendable special occasion restaurant on the island. Ask 100 people who’ve been to Maui where’s the one place you should go for dinner and 95 of them will say Mama’s. It’s not a “hidden gem” or an out of the way place that nobody knows about. But it’s the best.

Is Mama’s Fish House Worth It? 

From time to time, in my private Facebook group, the question gets asked “if it’s worth it.” Is it really worth the hype? Everybody is telling me to go, but is it actually a tourist trap? Or is there somewhere else that’s better for the money?

The majority of people always assure the question asker that yes, it is indeed worth it. It was the highlight of their trip, etc. But to my surprise, there’s always a handful of responders who say “yeah it was really nice, but not worth the money.” Or “We didn’t get the hype at all.”

So I figured since it’s easily the most popular special occasion spot on Maui, and it generates so much debate, it deserves its own blog post.

So on my last trip to Maui, I headed to Mama’s (oh the life of a travel blogger!) for the express purpose of doing a full review for you, dear reader. Full disclosure- although I’m reviewing my latest experience at Mama’s, I’ve been there over a half dozen times so I’ll be pulling from past experiences as well.

The Lowdown on Mama’s Fish House

Mama’s Fish House is located on Maui’s north shore just past Paia so if you’re staying in the resort areas on Maui’s west or south sides, it’s going to be a bit of a drive.

Since it’s such a hot spot, you NEED a reservation. Prime dinner reservations book out almost six months in advance (they take reservations 18 months in advance) and lunch reservations are usually booked up about 3 months out. But good news- they have a waitlist and I’ve had pretty good success getting a reservation that way, especially for lunch. 

Traditionally I’ve always preferred a reservation time of about 30 minutes to an hour before sunset, but on my last visit I could only get a reservation for lunch (1ish) and honestly, I really liked that too. You cannot go wrong here. 

The restaurant has complimentary valet right out front which really sets the tone. You check in at the podium out front and then make your way down to the property. It’s right on the beach so you’ll get to witness those impressive north shore waves up close.

You’ve also got to get your picture taken. There’s a famous curved palm tree right out by the water. That’s the good spot.

We made our way to the restaurant to check in again (they know people get sidetracked taking pictures on the beach and don’t rush you) and were seated pretty quickly. If you thought the outside of the restaurant was spectacular, wait until you see the inside.

The only way to describe it is as a luxurious beach shack. I call this place “Gilligan’s Island meets fine dining.” The inside of the restaurant is layered and welcoming while still being impressive. Like maybe you’re eating in someone’s home or family restaurant. It feels very Hawaiian too. But not snobby.

Request a table with a window view if you’re dining early, but after dark (which is as early as 5:30 or 6 sometimes during the year), it doesn’t really matter where you sit. Since the restaurant is located on the north shore, you’re not going to see the sunset and some people complain about that. “Why pay all that money when you don’t even get a sunset view.” Trust me, you won’t miss it at Mama’s. There’s plenty else to impress you.

Our server was INCREDIBLE. Of the six or so times I’ve eaten here, three of the servers have been knock your socks off good (like we were still talking about how impressed we were days later) and three were exactly what you’d expect to get at a restaurant like this. If there’s less than stellar service ever at Mama’s, I’ve yet to experience it.

On this trip, my two friends that I was traveling with are gluten free (allergy, not by choice), and I made note of it on our reservation, but before we could even remind our server, he informed us that he had been briefed by the kitchen earlier about every item on the menu. I must say, hearing him break down the menu was truly impressive. It’s something that they do at Mama’s for every table, but hearing about it from a gluten free perspective made it that much more impressive. These servers truly know every ingredient in every dish and how everything is prepared.

One of my favorite parts is that the menu is printed fresh everyday so they can list not only which fish they’re using in each dish, but where on the island it was caught and the name of the fisherman. I’ve never seen anything like that anywhere else.

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My Usual Order

I must confess, I get the exact same thing EVERY time I’m at Mama’s. I mean, when I’m paying this much for a meal and I find something outstanding, I just don’t like to mix it up.

Mama’s has an impressive cocktail menu, but they also have a full bar (a good one too) so they can make you whatever you want. Our server had been a bartender here for a long time so we got a pretty extensive overview of their best offerings, but I always have a hard time passing up the guava fizz. 

They start everyone out with a little cup of bisque (the flavor varies by day) along with bread. 

The crispy shrimp wontons are by far my favorite appetizer. 

And then comes the main event. I always get Mama’s special, which is lobster and crab stuffed mac nut crusted mahi mahi (sometimes they change the fish but it’s always a mild, white fish). 

It’s always been PHENOMENAL, but this last time I noticed that they’ve started serving the sauce on the side so the fish stays nice and crispy the whole time and it took it to a whole other level. 

I’ll say something about the portion size here…these aren’t heaping portions of food like you’ll find at TGI Fridays, but it’s pretty hearty. This isn’t a place where you’re going to leave hungry. With a cocktail, the bisque, bread, an appetizer, entree, and dessert…it’s a lot. I always feel like one appetizer is plenty to split with 2-4 people and I’m still questioning whether or not I really need dessert. 

But you can’t skip dessert at a place like this! The Black Pearl is their specialty (chocolate mousse with a lilikoi center covered in chocolate ganache) and it’s very photo worthy, but I’ve always been partial to the coconut cake. 

What to wear to Mama’s Fish House?

So, how should you dress? Women always ask me this. Yes, it’s the fanciest/nicest place on Maui, but you don’t have to “dress up” if you don’t want to. They probably have a dress code that’s something like “resort casual” which means don’t come in your swim suit.

Basically, for me, shorts and a nice shirt (tee shirt or aloha shirt) is totally fine. For women, pretty much anything goes. I’ve worn a sundress, niceish shorts and a tee shirt, jeans, an aloha shirt, a skirt and top, etc. and always felt very comfortable. Some people will be dressed up –most people are celebrating a special occasion after all, but dressing more casual also doesn’t feel inappropriate. It’s Hawaii.

Mama’s is also surprisingly kid friendly. I’ve been with a child several times, and they’re always accommodating with the menu, even bringing out a little mocktail with the adult drinks. This last time I was at Mama’s there were several tables with small children and you could tell the server was taking cue from the parents about how to pace the meal. I bring this up not to try to convince you to bring your kids (because it’s expensive!), but to assure you that if you do, nobody will bat an eye (as long as they’re relatively well behaved). 

Side Note: If you’re looking for a rental car for your trip, I LOVE Discount Hawaii Car Rentals. They’re seriously the only company I ever use. They’ll give you the very best prices, you don’t have to reserve with a credit card or pay until you show up, you can cancel and re-book anytime if you find a better rate, and they usually have a special that adds additional drivers for no fee. It’s a no brainer. Click here to check rates for your trip.

So the big question…is it worth it?

First up, what kind of numbers are we talking about? The last time I ate here (May 2024) our bill for three people came out to $405 with tip. That included two cocktails, one glass of wine, one appetizer, three entrees, and one dessert. 

We didn’t skimp or splurge, we just all ordered exactly what we wanted (don’t forget that also includes bread service and an amuse bouche (bisque). 

**If you’re ordering 2-3 drinks per person, you’ll run up a tab here in a HURRY (but that’s the case pretty much anywhere on Maui nowadays). 

In the ten years or so that I’ve been going to Mama’s, their prices haven’t really increased all that much. They used to be “high” even compared to other nice places on Maui. But in the last few years (as I’m sure you’re aware) prices for everything are shooting up. I’ve been kind of surprised on my last few trips that other restaurants on Maui (high end but also just nice-ish) are now on par (or more) than Mama’s and honestly most of them don’t bring the kind of value that you’ll get here. 

So is it expensive? Absolutely. But it’s looking like a better and better value comparatively speaking. You could find yourself at a mediocre “nice” restaurant in one of the resort areas spending 80-90% of the price of a meal at Mama’s. 

Based on the above numbers I’ve mentioned (roughly $135/person for an average meal – not skimping/not splurging), that’s FAR LESS than a luau and I might argue a nicer experience ; ) 

Anyways…I never feel let down after a meal at Mama’s. Whenever I’m headed there, I’m always a little worried that maybe I’ve overhyped it in my mind and it won’t be as good as I remember. But it always is. Always. 

On this latest trip to Mama’s, after we had paid, my friend (who had never been before) said, “I didn’t expect the food to be this good.” I asked her if she’d read something that said it was overhyped and she said no, but when she got there and saw the setting and the inside of the restaurant she just figured the food wouldn’t be that good because it didn’t have to be.

And that’s what’s special about Mama’s. It hits the holy grail trifecta of restaurant goals –atmosphere, food, and service. They nail all three. I’ve been to many other fine dining spots in Hawaii that get two right, but 3/3 is tough.

The last thing I’ll address about value are a few comments I’ve seen about price comparisons. I’ve seen something along the lines of this from a few people: “Mama’s wasn’t bad but it’s too expensive. I can go down the street to a local place and get a heaping plate of food for $15. It’s a rip off.”

I don’t even know what to say to that. Yes, take out from a food truck is radically less expensive than a four course gourmet meal at an oceanfront special occasion restaurant. 

The biggest thing you have to understand is…you know how you value your money and are comfortable spending it. Some people just aren’t comfortable spending money on an expensive dinner no matter how good it is. It will never be “worth it” to them and that’s ok.

Not everyone enjoys the same things and if you’re the kind of person who just can’t stomach spending $$$ on dinner when there’s a good option for $, then by all means skip Mama’s and put that money towards something you will enjoy.

But if you’re looking for an out of this world special dining experience, you will not regret Mama’s Fish House.

Want to read more posts about Maui? I’ve got plenty!

Things You Can ONLY Do on Maui // 4 Day Maui Itinerary // My Favorite Road to Hana Itinerary // Things to Do Upcountry // Tips for Sunrise at Haleakala National Park // Snorkeling Molokini Crater // Whale Watching

My Favorite Hotels on Maui // Where to Find Condos on Maui // Wailea vs Kaanapali // Every Resort in Wailea Ranked // Four Seasons Maui Review // Andaz Maui Review // Fairmont Kea Lani Review // Wailea Beach Resort Review // Four Seasons vs Andaz Maui // Andaz Maui vs Wailea Beach Resort

Best Restaurants in Wailea // Best Breakfast in Wailea & Kihei // Mama’s Fish House // Best Luaus in Wailea

My Favorite Things to Do in South Maui // Best Beaches in Wailea & Kihei // Road to Hana Tips // Driving the Backside of the Road to Hana // Where to See Turtles on Maui

Maui vs Kauai // Everything You Need to Know BEFORE you go to Maui

Here’s one more really important thing you need to know before your Hawaii trip…

Reservations You Need to Make BEFORE Your Hawaii Trip

You’ve got your airfare, hotel, rental car and your big activities booked, so you should be good to go, right? Wrong!

Travel is BOOMING in Hawaii so a lot of state and national parks used the closure and reopening to institute reservation systems at some of the island’s most popular spots to make things a little more sustainable.

That means that there are now over half a dozen sites (beaches, trailheads, etc.) that require advance reservations. And some sell out well before you arrive on the island so you really need to have some sort of a plan.

I recently saw somebody in a Hawaii travel group post in a panic that they didn’t know they had to make reservations for things in advance…they thought they could just show up and “go with the flow.” I was tempted to say, well, “as long as the flow doesn’t take you somewhere that requires reservations, you can!” ; )

But I don’t want YOU to be that person, so I’ve pulled together a list of all the places you need to reserve entry in advance (plus all the details on booking windows, price, links, etc.) and a handful of popular tourist hotspots that book out really far in advance too.

Haleakala National Park (Maui)

To visit Haleakala National Park for sunrise at the summit, you must make reservations in advance here.

Reservations are required to enter the park gates between 3AM and 7AM (sunrise hours).

Online reservations are $1 per reservation/vehicle PLUS you’ll pay the park entrance fee of $30/vehicle when you arrive (National Park annual passes are also accepted at the gate).

The reservation booking window opens 60 days in advance at 7AM HST. There are also a limited number of tickets released two days before.

You can make one reservation every three days with the same account. So if you want to make reservations for back to back days (in case of weather/conditions), you’ll need to do so with separate accounts (email addresses).

If you can’t get reservations for sunrise, you can enter the park anytime after 7AM without reservations. The summit is spectacular during the day and you don’t need reservations for sunset.

I strongly recommend creating an account before and making sure you’re logged in at 7AM HST because it’s not uncommon for reservations to sell out quickly.

Waianapanapa State Park (Maui)

To visit Maui’s famous black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park on the Road to Hana, you must make reservations in advance here.

Reservations are required to visit the beach and are distributed in windows from 7AM-10AM, 10AM-12:30PM, 12:30PM-3PM, and 3PM-6PM. And they are pretty strict about exiting by the end of your window time (you can arrive anytime within your window).

It’s $5/person to enter plus $10/vehicle to park and those fees are paid when you book your time slot.

Reservations open up 30 days in advance.

Iao Valley State Park (Maui)

To visit the lush, green mountains and hike at Iao Valley State Park, you must make reservations in advance here.

Reservations are offered for 90 minute time slots beginning at 7AM and ending at 6PM. They ask that you arrive within the first 30 minutes of your time slot.

Entry is $5/person plus $10/vehicle to park.

Reservations open up 30 days in advance.

Diamond Head (Oahu)

To hike to the top of Waikiki’s famous Diamond Head, you must make reservations in advance here.

Reservations are offered in two hour increments beginning at 6AM (6AM-8AM, 8AM-10AM, etc.) and ending at 6PM. If you’re parking onsite, they ask that you arrive within the first 30 minutes of your reservation window.

Entry is $5/person plus $10/vehicle to park.

Reservations open up 30 days in advance.

Tip: I recommend booking one of the first two time slots because there isn’t much shade on this hike and it gets pretty hot.

Hanauma Bay (Oahu)

To snorkel at Oahu’s pristine Hanauma Bay, you must make reservations in advance here.

Entry times are staggered in 10 minute increments from 7AM to 1:20PM with roughly 1000 slots being assigned in advance every day.

Reservations can be made two days in advance and they open at 7AM HST. They’re usually gone in minutes (if not seconds).

If you’re unable to get an advanced reservation, you can try for a day of, walk in ticket. They open at 6:45AM and they only have a limited number available. Everyone in your group needs to be present when you purchase your tickets in person.

There are no reservations for parking and it’s first come, first serve. $3/vehicle.

It’s $25/person to snorkel at Hanauma Bay (12 and under, active military, and locals with HI ID are free).

The Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is open Wednesday through Sunday (CLOSED MONDAY AND TUESDAY) from 6:45AM-4PM. Last entry is at 1:30PM, the beach is cleared at 3:15PM and you have to leave the facility by 4PM.

Jellyfish patterns can also affect whether or not the bay is open so double check the day before/day of.

USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor (Oahu)

If you want to take the boat tour at Pearl Harbor out to the USS Arizona, it’s recommended to make advance reservations here.

Online reservations are guaranteed a specific boarding time to go out to the USS Arizona. If you’re unable to get an advance reservation, you can wait standby when you arrive. The line could be short (15 minutes or so) or long (hours) and it just depends on the day (if they’re having problems with the loading dock sometimes they don’t take many from the standby line) and the time of day.

Reservations are supposed to open up 60 days in advance, but keep an eye on your exact dates, because lately they’ve actually been opening up about 57ish days in advance???

They also release a small batch of tickets the day before.

The boat ride out to the USS Arizona is free, but it’s $1 to make the reservations online.

They recently started charging $7/vehicle for parking at Pearl Harbor.

Haena State Park / Kalalau Trail (Kauai)

If you want to hike Kauai’s famous Kalalau Trail, you must make advance reservations here.
You’ve got three options here:

1) Parking & Entry: This is the most flexible option and also the most limited. THESE RESERVATIONS SELL OUT IN LESS THAN A MINUTE. There are three time slots available: 6:30AM-12:30PM, 12:30PM-5:30PM and 4:30PM to sunset. You can purchase multiple time slots if you want to stay longer. It’s $10/timeslot (parking) plus $5/person and you have to reserve every person when you initially book. Everybody has to arrive in the same car and your ID needs to match the reservation.

2) Shuttle & Entry: If you can’t get parking at the trailhead, there’s also a shuttle option. Shuttle reservations are $35/person (16+), $25/person (ages 4-15), 3 and under can ride free. The shuttle runs every 20 minutes 6:20AM to 6:40PM.

3) Entry Only: If you’re a Hawaiian resident (with HI ID) or someone WITH a Hawaiian resident, you can purchase entry only for $5/person with no advance reservations. Also, if you’re walking or biking to the trailhead you can do this option. But there is NOWHERE to park in the area to walk in. So this really only works for those with bikes or who are staying close enough to walk. They will tow your car if you park outside the designated areas.

The reservation window opens 30 days in advance at 12AM HST. The parking & entry option usually sells out in a minute, but the shuttle availability will last longer.

There are a TON of FAQs here including the possibility of snagging a canceled reservation.

Other Things to Book in Advance

Hawaii is a busy place these days! Besides the state and national parks above, here’s a handful of miscellaneous things you should make reservations for in advance (if they’re on your radar):

Mama’s Fish House (Maui): The iconic spot is the most popular restaurant in Hawaii and dinner reservations usually start filling up about 6 months in advance (they open up bookings 18 months in advance). Make reservations through their website and if the dates you want are already booked, you can join a waitlist. Most people have pretty good success getting in on the waitlist (even if it’s for lunch).

Old Lahaina Luau (Maui): Honestly, any luau you’re planning to attend you should book early, but most people are usually shocked how far out the Old Lahaina Luau books out. Book it as soon as you know your dates (I think they open at the six month window). They also have a waitlist.

Kualoa Ranch UTV Tour (Oahu): Everybody loves Jurassic Park so getting to ride UTVs where they filmed the movies is very popular. The ranch offers a lot of different tours but the UTV tours usually book out a couple of months in advance.

Spa Reservations: If you’re staying at a resort with a spa (or planning on visiting one), don’t wait until you arrive to make your reservations. I’d make them at least a month in advance.

Tee Times: Same for golf, reserve your tee times well in advance.

Dining Reservations: Any “fancy” or resort restaurant is likely to be booked up these days so if you like having a nice dinner every night, make your plans in advance.

P.S. Thanks for sticking around and reading this whole post! If you have ANY questions about planning your trip to Hawaii, you can join my free Facebook group here. I’m there answering questions every day and there are 7500+ other friends who have a ton of Hawaii information to share!

Also, if you want to follow along on my travel adventures in real time, you can follow me on Instagram (@caitylincoln). My post captions are full of travel tips and I have a ton of story highlights and videos with great info. And please share my account with your friends that are headed to Hawaii! Your support really helps me keep this blog running!