When a kanaka maoli (Native Hawaiian) attends a luau that is geared towards visitors we usually come with high expectations. For the most part, it’s because we’ve been to Hawaiian feasts where the food is home cooked by loved ones and we’re celebrating a birth, marriage, graduation or retirement. It’s hard for any business to recreate genuine aloha like that, so guys like me are usually really hard to impress. With that said, I was pleasantly surprised at how ‘ono (delicious) the Old Lahaina Luau was. I left this iconic feast with a new found respect and appreciation for the folks putting on this Hawaiian cultural experience. I wanted to let you know how thrilled I was with the Old Lahaiana Luau I devised the following rating system utilizing pohakukuiai, otherwise known as a “poi pounder.” This stone instrument is a critical piece of Hawaiian culture because it was used to mash various staple foods like taro and breadfruit into poi. This review is from a native perspective and utilizes a rating system from one poi pounder to five. One being as legit as a plastic pineapple and five poi pounders having the realness of Kamehameha the Great’s ahu ula (feather cloak). In this rating system you can think of the pohakukuiai like Michelin stars, but the only difference is that you can actually use a poi pounder to make food.
You get an orchid lei and a delicious mai tai in a double rock glass right when you walk in and that is worthy of four poi pounders by itself. But, the fact that Maui Brewing Co. made a sweet potato beer called the Uala Lager just for the Old Lahaina Luau gives them five enthusiastic poi pounders in my book. This craft beer is an exclusive beverage and can only be found here so maybe you start off the evening with a mai tai, but try to drink as many Uala Lagers as possible because who knows how or when you'll be able to have it again. Also, if you’ve already seen a pig coming out of an imu, then skip the ceremony and go to the bar instead. There's no line and it was a good time talking to the bartenders.
Before I could fill up on too many beers we sat down for dinner. Each section is invited to the buffet line in an order so that there is not a mad rush for the food. For the most part, everything was delicious and had just the right amount of salt. The lomi (massaged) salmon had big chunks of fish, the kalua pig was moist, and the mini laulau was not dry and the perfect size. My only gripe was the lack of white rice and, though the paiai (pounded taro) next to the imu (underground oven) was fresh, the poi was watered-down. Poi is made by pounding steamed taro to a paste and then water is added to get the desired consistency. Personally, I like my poi to have a consistency like hummus, but the poi that was served in the buffet line had the same kind of viscosity as porridge. Other than the Hawaiian food, there was also shoyu chicken, but I didn't really waste my time with the Asian cuisine because when you're at a luau you're there for the dishes that are native to Hawaii.
While we dined there was a hula show that featured Hawaiian and Tahitian dancing. The kumu hula (dance teacher) who choreographed this show was legit because there was full-on show about Pele, the Hawaiian fire goddess, and her trip to Hawaii. The skilled dancers of the Old Lahaina Luau was a treat for the malihini (visitors) and kamaaina (residents) alike. Plus, the live Hawaiian band that played during the performance and before dinner was super good as well.
If you want to look skinny in pictures like I do then don't wait till after dinner to take pictures. Furthermore, you want to capitilize on the natural light from the setting sun, which is magical. Sunsets in Lahaina are gorgeous! And, since you have the ocean to your back at the Old Lahaina Luau, the selfie opportunities are next level. If you’re ever going to pay a professional photographer to take your picture on this trip then this is the place you should do it and make sure that you snap some pictures before you sit down for dinner.
All of the workers were so cool! Tip your cocktail server first thing at your table to keep the libations flowing. Our server was so rad that he would quickly bring us fresh drinks when he knew he wasn’t going to be able to come back to the table for awhile. Overall, this was the best commercial luau I've ever been to, and if given the opportunity, I would gladly go again.