Traditionally seen as a haven for hammock-swinging, hang ten-ing hippies, Hawai’i is now being heralded as one of the United States’ hot spots in the country’s heated obsession with all things foodie.
Having had the pleasure of sojourning in Hawai’i recently – Maui specifically – I decided, as a concerned citizen of this foodie-crazed culture, to make a concerted effort to see exactly what was what in the land of “it is what it is.”
So where did I concentrate my culinary curiosity, you ask? On Michelin-starred restaurants? On eateries featured in esteemed gastronomic-themed magazines?
Nope, not in the least.
I focused my stomach and selective standards on three hamburger joints whose ratings are as dubious as trade winds and whose esteem comes mostly from Mauians. Could they have the best burger in Maui?
Best Burger in Maui Just Might be at Stopwatch Sportsbar & Grill – Makawao, HI
I saw an ad for Stopwatch Sportsbar & Grill while flipping through one of the many tourist-friendly pamphlets on hand at the airport. It was noted as being a new addition to Maui’s burger scene and as having “great” burgers.
Great! I thought. The only thing better than being on Maui is being on Maui with a great burger!
Or a significant other…I guess.
Sadly, as is the case with some significant others, Stopwatch’s burgers also did not live up to the hype.
Upon biting into my pepper jack cheeseburger, I was sorely disappointed with its fire-and-brimstone toasted bun, the meat’s unimpressive taste, and the burger’s overall lack of greatness.
As I chewed somberly, I tried to recall whether the server had asked me how I wanted my burger cooked. (I like my burger cooked medium, in case you and that server are wondering.)
What I did recall, however, is that Makawao – the city in which Stopwatch is located – is at the heart of Maui’s storied cattle country.
Well this is ironic, I thought, and sad.
The only things that saved my burger from being any more disappointing were the pepper jack cheese, al fresco dining and my silent prayer to the ghosts of Makawao’s great cattle ranching that they would inspire actual greatness in Stopwatch’s burgers in time for my next visit.
Cool Cat Cafe – Lahaina, HI
As you can see, I believe in second chances. That’s why I’ll be going back to Stopwatch on my next visit to Maui, and that’s why I went back to Cool Cat Cafe on this visit.
I first dined at the latter last year. I was told repeatedly through various Maui advertising mediums how Cool Cat Cafe had been voted as having “Maui’s Best Burger” every year for almost a decade.
Great! I thought. The only thing better than being on Maui is…
(You know the rest.)
I also thought that this burger joint had to be extremely good if it maintained the coveted “Maui’s Best Burger” title for all that time.
I thought wrong.
I don’t know who these people are who are continually casting their burger ballots for Cool Cat Cafe, but after actual tasting one of “Maui’s [supposed] Best Burgers” – specifically, the “Luna” – I don’t necessarily want to know them; I don’t trust their judgment.
Now don’t get me wrong, the burger wasn’t terrible. (And I’m sure the people who keep voting for this place aren’t terrible either.) I mean, how can you go wrong with something like the Luna that’s topped with bacon, Jack cheese, avocado, mayo, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and Thousand Island sauce?
Well, you can if the burger’s toppings distract the eater’s taste buds to the degree that they actually diminish the overall flavor of the burger by disguising the flavor of the meat…or lack thereof.
The bottom line is that although the Luna sounded tasty, it did not meet my admittedly high expectations of what “Maui’s Best Burger” should actually taste like; high expectations, I will add, that were fueled by Cool Cat Cafe’s ubiquitous campaigning and its loyal constituency. (Really, who are these people?)
In any case, after about six months I went back for round two. No, not for another Luna; this time I tried the “Leader of the Pack,” which is the place’s most basic, but “lead”-ing burger.
I’ll keep my review of this burger short, since I’ve already exhausted the bulk of my Cool Cat Café energy: “Leader of the Pack,” you are not the burger.
Can’t you just see another burger on Maui excitedly doing the not-the-burger dance?
Well friends, you can put your imaginations on pause because after traveling back and forth and back and forth to Hawai’i – brutal, right? – I have finally found Maui’s best burger.
Moose McGillyCuddy’s – Kihei, HI
Like Stopwatch, Moose McGillyCuddy’s is a sports bar. But unlike Stopwatch, Moose’s serves championship games alongside championship hamburgers. And like Cool Cat Cafe, Moose’s is advertised around Maui has having the island’s best burger. But unlike Cool Cat Cafe, Moose actually does.
Now I’ll admit I was more than a little hesitant to give this place a shot in the first place. I had already been burned by two near facsimiles and as I previously stated, I believe in second chances—but three?
My begrudging nature aside, I made the trek down to the city of Kihei to test the limits of my patience and the legitimacy of yet another pamphlet ad.
Yet, I didn’t go on Moose’s famed Wednesday “Burger Nite.” I didn’t even want to try one of their “Famous Burgers with Maui Cattle Co. Beef.” No fame. No frills. I just wanted a damn good burger, that’s it. And that’s exactly what I found in “The Basic Burger.”
Described as “your friendly unassuming burger served with melted cheddar cheese,” The Basic Burger’s understated nature underlined the thing that ultimately matters to me most in a burger—taste.
The large beef patty was cooked to medium perfection.
My palate isn’t proficient enough to point out every element that was in the patty’s seasoning, but I’m a burger-lover who’s seasoned enough to know that whatever was in it was good.
The bun, though tough on the outside, was just a big ol’ softy on the inside.
And the cheese, lettuce, tomato and Thousand Island sauce didn’t act as devices of distraction; instead, everything worked in harmony with everything else to deliver a savory symphony to my most celebrated of senses.
Written by Stephanie Rochelle Redd – StephanieRochelleRedd.com