We didn’t plan to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary at Maui’s Mama’s Fish House. But somehow, the staff found out that my husband Alan and I had recently passed that milestone date, and during our Maui holiday, they set out to make our stay — and our dinner — extra special.
Mama’s Fish House Restaurant is marking an anniversary this year, too — they’re celebrating number 40. This popular seafood restaurant opened in 1973, on a remote stretch of beach just east of the town of Paia, on what was then the “undiscovered” north shore of Maui.
Over the years, owners Floyd and Doris Christenson gradually built cottages on their property to accommodate family and friends. Eventually, these guest units became the Inn at Mama’s Fish House, which is now a collection of nine cottages and three suites.
Guest Rooms and Amenities
The cottages still have a casual island feel, as if a thoughtful friend had outfitted them for your holiday, with rattan furniture, brightly-hued Polynesian upholstery, and well-equipped kitchens. Like a good friend would, the staff provides a plate of fresh island fruit, a mini-loaf of tasty banana bread, and some local coffee when you arrive, and leaves fresh flowers every day, on the bathroom towels or the kitchen table.
Four of the cottages at Mama’s are beachfront, one upstairs and one downstairs in each of two buildings, just steps from the palm-lined sand.
Each beachfront cottage, including the Malolo Cottage where we stayed, has two bedrooms — a large master bedroom (where these lovebird swans, above, greeted us) with a walk-in closet, and a second, smaller room with a double bed.
The tiled bathrooms are simple but functional, with Gilchrist & Soames toiletries and plenty of fluffy towels.
The spacious living room has a sleep sofa and a flat-screen TV, and the full kitchen — well-stocked with dishes, glasses, and cooking utensils — contains whatever you’d need to prepare your own meals.
A sliding door leads from the kitchen out to the lanai (patio), with a comfy sofa and chairs, as well as a dining table. Facing the beach, the lanai is a lovely place for cocktails, breakfast, or just hanging out.
The beachfront cottages, which rent for $575 per night, could sleep six (if two people slept on the living room sofa), but note that there’s only one bathroom. As long as you don’t mind sharing the bathroom, they’d also work well for two couples.
For couples who don’t care about being right on the beach, I’d opt for one of the newer junior suites (pictured above). With soaring ceilings, these three units feel more contemporary, while retaining the laid-back island feel.
The suites all have a king bed with updated linens, a sitting area, and a compact kitchenette that fits into a cabinet.
The bathrooms in the suites are huge, with granite counters, double sinks, whirlpool tubs, and separate showers.
The suites are tucked into a building behind the office, so they don’t front the beach, but you can walk to the sand in just a couple of minutes.
The junior suites, which are adults-only, rent for $325 per night.
Scattered around the property, between buildings Mama’s owns and other private homes, are several other cottages, which the inn calls their “garden” units, since they’re not oceanfront. They come in studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom configurations, all with island-style decor, with nightly rates of $175, $250, and $275, respectively.
Children are welcome in both the beachfront and garden cottages, although Mama’s caters more to adults. According to Inn Manager Lisa Foth, seventy percent of their customers are couples, traveling either solo or with other couples.
The cottages and suites are all air-conditioned. Wi-Fi, which worked fine during our stay, is included in the room rates.
Location and Facilities
The Inn at Mama’s Fish House doesn’t offer sports facilities, a spa, or other high-end resort amenities, but we found the staff happy to suggest things to see and do nearby. The funky town of Paia, with lots of shops and eateries, is about five minutes away by car, as are several of the North Shore beaches.
Mama’s is very convenient to Maui’s Kahului Airport, typically less than a 20-minute drive. If you’re driving the serpentine road to Hana, you’ll save about an hour starting from Mama’s, compared to hotels on Maui’s west side. And you’re also much closer to Haleakalā National Park, home to Maui’s towering, 10,000-foot volcano.
If you love fresh fish, make a reservation for lunch or dinner at Mama’s Fish House Restaurant, even if you don’t stay at Mama’s.
Bright and bustling during the day, more romantic (but still always busy) in the evenings, the dining room — like the cottages and suites — has a delightfully retro-Hawaiian feel. The tables are topped with tropical-patterned linens, and the staff sport vintage Hawaiian prints.
Mama’s is serious about seafood. The menus list not only where the fish were caught, but the fishermen who reeled them in.
In honor of our anniversary, the staff showed us to a table overlooking the beach and brought me a celebratory fresh-flower lei. Mama’s draws lots of special-occasion diners; couples sitting on both sides of us were also marking wedding anniversaries.
We started our dinner with a deliciously fresh “Tahitian ceviche” (above), raw ono cured in a rich and tangy coconut-lime marinade.
Our excellent main dishes included monchong — a local white fish not frequently seen on restaurant menus, served with caramelized Maui onions and tiny flavorful tomatoes that were grown right up the road — and opakapaka, snapper simply sauced with white wine and garlic butter.
Preparations aren’t fussy, allowing the fresh, flavorful ingredients to shine. This emphasis on freshness doesn’t come cheap, although prices are in line with other high-end Maui restaurants; most appetizers at Mama’s range from $15-24, while mains run $36-50.
Since every good anniversary celebration should include pie, we opted for Mama’s Kuau chocolate version (above), with a creamy chocolate mousse atop a layer of sticky caramel and a chocolate cookie crust. Mmm…
And fortunately, it was just a short stroll from the dining room back to our beachfront cottage.
When you stay at Mama’s Fish House, whether you’re marking a milestone or simply looking to relax at a laid-back beach lodging, you’ll feel like a good friend has helped you arrange a lovely Maui holiday. And having spent 25 years together, Alan and I were happy to have found friends like these.
Hotel review by Vancouver-based travel, food, and feature writer Carolyn B. Heller, author of the new travel guide, Moon Handbooks: Ontario. Ceviche photo © Alan Albert. All other photos © Carolyn B. Heller. Mama’s Fish House, in partnership with the Maui Visitors Bureau, hosted my stay and dinner for review purposes.