Sitting on the rail at Pacific’o at Happy Hour makes us very, very … happy.
There’s a beautiful view of the beach and the harbor, and the sunset views are fantastic. If we’re lucky we get to see a fresh-caught tuna carried from the beach landing where the fishermen sell their day’s catch up through the restaurant and past our table. Add this “just caught” freshness to the rest of the menu, the vast majority of which is made with food grown on Chef Owner James McDonald’s O’o Farm in Kula, and our foodie souls relax.
Thankfully, the recipes do justice to the quality of the ingredients. This is Pacific Rim at its best: local ingredients meet European and Asian flavors to fuse into plate after plate of food love (when the chefs are on their game, which is usually).
The appetizers and small dishes really shine. For example, we love the diver scallops roll. Scallops are seared golden brown, slathered with arugula pesto, and then rolled up with coconut rice, sliced, and bathed in a sauce made with citrusy yuzu and limes: perfect acidity to counter the sweetness.
Of all the tomato salads on the island, the tomato “stack” at Pacific’o is our favorite. Ripe tomato slices alternate with slabs of tangy, house-made buttermilk cheese and fresh basil leaves. They rise a few inches with artichoke hearts slipping in between a couple of layers. A carefully balanced vinaigrette made with roasted red peppers and curry is what really brings the flavors together — perfectly seasoning the sweet and tangy in the cheese and tomatoes.
Visitors go gaga over macadamia-nut-crusted fish, and Pacific’o dishes up our favorite version of it: a Thai peanut sauce, creamed up with coconut, is the perfect background to the tropical fruit salsa. Mahi mahi is good, but you can trust the server to steer you toward another fish if something special has come in. The Bling Bling dinner is a lovely Pacific Rim version of surf and turf: petite filet mignon paired with a poached lobster with a ginger butter sauce. The tempura asparagus that’s served with this is crispy and light.
The Hapa/Hapa tempura appetizer is our favorite. The chef takes the two best fish of the day’s catch, cuts them for sashimi (two big blocks of fish — hapa means half), wraps them in seaweed, flash fries them in tempura batter, and plates them side by side with a ying-yang of sauces. The white miso sauce is very good, but the brilliant lime basil sauce has us stealthily licking our fingers.
Chef McDonald’s food is exuberant, fresh, and delicious, and if you haven’t had Pacific Rim yet, this is a great place to try it. While we love the food at dinner, the ambience can suffer if you like quiet with your meal. Between the nearby Feast at Lele lu’au and the nightclub upstairs, timing your meal for romance can get tricksy. We do not come when we want quiet — we come when we want this food. If you want a more sedate experience, we highly recommend Pacific’o for either Happy Hour or lunch, when the menu is less complicated and also less expensive. We take a table on the rail to get a higher view and stay out of the sun (but then again, we live here).
Overall the service — while some individual servers are very good — can be lacking. We’ve seen hostesses flustered by walk-ins when the restaurant is empty and servers who size up guests who ask a lot of questions about the menu, as if dining is a foodie competition. (To be fair, we know plenty of foodies who like to catch a server in a mistake — if you’re reading this, you know who you are. Stop it, relax, and enjoy your meal.)
It shouldn’t be hard to relax at the far end of Lahaina, where the traffic is slower and the salt breeze wafts through the boutiques at 505 Front Street. Pacific’o (and I’o) benefit from some of the easiest, hassle-free parking: street parking, a free public lot, and an underground garage.
Pacific’o is a bright restaurant with good energy, both in and out of the kitchen. We come here when we want to digest some of that brightness ourselves. Special events here are usually over-the-top, because the party patio atmosphere can’t be had anywhere else, and Chef McDonald seems to really like hosting and cooking for a party. If they are hosting a film on the beach, having a special dinner, or doing any sort of a ticketed event, we recommend checking it out.
Address: 505 Front St., Lahaina, West Maui
Meals: Lunch, Dinner
Hours: Daily 11:30 am-9:30pm
Parking: Lot, Street