FoodTravel & Day Trips

Review: Cafe O’Lei at the Mill House in Maui Tropical Plantation, From a Traveler

The Maui Tropical Plantation is one of my favorite spots to visit on Maui, especially if you’re traveling with kids. It has pineapple fields, banana trees, a tram tour, and even a zip line!

Banana trees at Maui Tropical Plantation

Maui Tropical Plantation also has an excellent restaurant. Cafe O’Lei, formerly known as the Mill House Restaurant, is located right on the grounds of the plantation.

I’ve eaten there three times, twice in the Mill House days and once since the name changed (the menu and ambiance appear almost identical.) 

Here’s my review.

Location and Ambiance

The location of Cafe O’Lei is stunning. The restaurant is set on the grounds of the plantation, right in front of the main pond.

The view from Cafe O’Lei is stunning!

The restaurant itself is spacious, with both an indoor (but open to outside) dining area and an outdoor patio.

The patio looks out onto the pond and the fields and West Maui Mountains beyond. The mountains are perennially shrouded in fog, and the fields are lush and beautiful.

The pond is filled with ducks and birds, and people fly by periodically on the zip line, which was very amusing for my three kids!

Overall it’s an idyllic and lovely setting. Make sure to wear sunblock if you sit outside, as the patio is fairly exposed.

A Historical Setting

One of the coolest things about Cafe O Lei is the way that it’s decorated. The restaurant draws on the plantation’s history.

In the front of the restaurant is a giant, historical steam locomotive! It was originally used to haul sugar on Maui before being displayed in Oahu, damaged in a storm, and ultimately lovingly restored and returned to its Maui home.

The steam locomotive is a museum piece

The locomotive is a museum piece on loan to the restaurant, and it’s a super dramatic accompaniment to your meal, especially for train-obsessed little kids.

  • Pro tip: There’s one table on the patio that’s located right in front of the locomotive. It’s a really cool and unique place to eat. It looks like the old locomotive is coming right at you.
One table is right in front of the train

There’s also a historic rail car that forms the backing for the restaurant’s bar. The pond and patio are decorated with dramatic old rusted cogs and wheels from the plantation’s sugar mill days, which also makes for a unique ambiance.

The patio is family-friendly, but especially in the evening this would be a really neat location for a date night.

The Cafe O’Lei Menu

I’ve been to Cafe O’Lei both in its current incarnation and in the Mill House days. The menu appears to be quite similar, down to the same fonts.

The Mill House menu was perhaps a bit more formal with fewer appetizers. But overall the style of food was similar on all my visits.

Cafe O’Lei serves American food with a Hawaiian and Pacific Rim influence. On the menu you’ll find classics like a burger and fries, but also unique items like ahi nachos.

Here are a few of the dishes that I tried.

Crab Cakes

Crab cakes were nicely fried and tasty

The crab cakes are served as an appetizer. They’re smallish but tasty and crisply fried.

The crab cakes have a nice golden brown crust and are served with a remoulade sauce. Overall they’re a tasty way to start your meal.

Ahi and Wasabi Nachos

A super unique take on nachos

This is one of the most unique ways to start your meal! The ahi nachos are nachos made with fried wonton chips topped with a wasabi cream sauce and pieces of ahi poke.

Picture nachos covered with tuna poke, and you get the idea!

Raw fish goes surpassingly well with these crispy and spicy wonton nachos. It’s a combo I can’t imagine seeing elsewhere, but in this context, it works really well!

Maui Onion Soup En Croute

My kids ate most of this soup

Maui is known for its unique sweet onions. They’re not as sulfury and intense as onions on the mainland, especially after you cook or fry them.

This dish is a classic French onion soup, but made with these super sweet local onions. It’s hearty and hot, with less of the sharp flavor of traditional onions and a pronounced sweetness.

The whole thing is served topped with a puff pasty that gets saturated with the soup and that you can peel off and dip into it. Absolutely delicious!

Kids Meals

Small but tasty chicken tender meal

In addition to adult meals, Cafe O’Lei serves several kids’ meals. I visited with my three young kids, and we tried chicken tenders, pizza, and noodles.

The kids’ pizza is more like a flatbread

The kids’ meals were tasty and basic. The pizza won’t win any awards, but my three-year-old son enjoyed it. It felt more like a flatbread than a true pizza.

The fries and chicken tenders were yummy and well-cooked.

Cocktails and Mocktails

As befits a restaurant in a tropical plantation setting, Cafe O Lei has an extensive menu of mostly run-based cocktails, as well as creative Mocktails.

This was traditionally a sugar mill, after all, so the list of classic rum drinks makes sense!

We tried a Lilikoi No Jito, which is basically a nonalcoholic mojito with passion fruit. It was a tasty drink.

On previous visits, I’ve tried the rum cocktails and they are tasty and tropical.

Service and Pricing

The service at Cafe o Lei was friendly, attentive, and casual. This isn’t the kind of place where you’ll get pretentious wait staff—although it has a nice ambiance, the restaurant wasn’t stuffy at all.

Our server on my most recent visit, Jordyn, was great and did a good job managing the kids’ orders and refilling drinks.

Prices were a bit high for the area

The prices at Cafe O Lei are reasonable, but a little high for the area. I think you’re paying in part for the location and the convenience of eating at the tropical plantation.

We came for lunch, and appetizers were around $16, with entrees around $25. Kids’ meals were around $10.

The mocktail was a good value at $5 but the cocktails are on the expensive side at $15+

Dinner entrees are even pricier, at around $35 each. 

Overall, I don’t think that the uniqueness or fineness of the food justifies that kind of pricing—you’re clearly paying partially for the food itself, but also for the location.

Which is fine—the location is stunning! But it’s something to be aware of, especially if you’re traveling on a budget.

For a cheaper alternative, you can buy more basic food at the plantation’s general store and have a picnic. Still, given that the food is tasty and the setting is beautiful, I think Cafe O Lei is overall worth it.

  • One note, if you’re planning to visit, is to make a reservation well in advance. I dropped in for my first visit and had to wait about 30 minutes.
  • There’s usually a wait, especially on busy days at the tropical plantation, so you’ll want to plan ahead.


You really can’t beat this location

Overall, Cafe O Lei is a great choice if you’re planning to visit the tropical plantation, or you’re looking for a unique place to eat.

  • The ambiance and historical setting are what really set this restaurant apart. Where else can you dine beside a century-old steam engine, while gazing out on fog-shrouded mountains and sipping a daiquiri?
  • Cafe O Lei doesn’t just coast by on its location, either. The food is creative and well-executed, and they manage to cater to families without feeling like a chaotic family restaurant.
  • Yes, the food is pricey, likely in large part because of the stunning location. Still, it feels like a fair trade for an experience that’s classy, tasty and extremely convenient to the plantation.
  • Cafe O Lei gives you the ability to make a day out of a visit to the tropical plantation. Explore the grounds on your own (or try the zip line), then grab lunch before heading out on a tram tour of the fields. 

It’s a lovely way to spend the day in West Maui!

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is a food and travel photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographic work routinely appears in publications including Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times and his writing appears in IEEE Spectrum, SFGate, the Bold Italic and more. Smith holds a degree in Cognitive Science (Neuroscience) and Anthropology from the Johns Hopkins University.

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