Sheldon Simeon’s Tiffany’s Maui Is a Homecoming for Palate and Soul
The Top Chef alum and James Beard Award nominee turns a local sports bar into his family restaurant.
When you think of chefs of Sheldon Simeon’s caliber, you imagine their restaurants in high-profile locations with throngs of starstruck diners. In varying degrees this was true of kitchens that Simeon, a Top Chef fan favorite and James Beard Award nominee, had a hand in over the years: Star Noodle, Migrant and Lineage, the last a Hale ‘Aina gold award winner for Best New Restaurant in 2019. But Tiffany’s Maui, Simeon’s latest, is in Wailuku, a sleepy town that most visitors find little reason to drive through.
Not surprisingly, Tiffany’s is also the place where Simeon’s style of cooking—simple local classics (he’s from Hilo) with cosmopolitan twists—feels most at home. Lineage is at the posh Shops at Wailea; Tin Roof, with its more ground-level menu of deceptively simple rice and noodle bowls, is often a first stop for tourists arriving at Kahului Airport. Tiffany’s, which Simeon bought with his wife, Janice, last summer, was for 19 years a beloved, no-frills bar and restaurant where customers felt comfortable showing up in rubber slippers. It was a place Simeon loved for what it was. So this humblest and least chic of all the restaurants on his resume is the one that feels like a homecoming.
It’s 4:29 p.m. when we roll up to Tiffany’s on Lower Main Street, and already a line of people wraps around the building. The Simeons did a quick renovation after taking over in July and reopened three weeks later. The new Tiffany’s retains the appeal of a dim sports bar, but sprawls out with 120 seats. Servers in jerseys carry sizzling platters and trays of beers to high-walled booths upholstered in royal blue and tables of large groups.
Through the evening, the place fills nearly to capacity with folks from all walks, from families taking grandma out for Sunday dinner to uncles with Bud Light bucket ice cooling off after tee time. The atmosphere pulses with songs you’d jam to as you drive up Kahekili Highway.
Ask anyone about their go-to order—everyone has a longtime favorite: the signature Fat Chow Funn noodles, the honey walnut shrimp, steak bites, kim chee fried rice. The menu, extensive at 50-plus items, had around 150 before Simeon and chef de cuisine Nolan Gonzales trimmed it down. That doesn’t mean signature dishes from the old Tiffany’s are gone, but they just may have been tweaked.
We start with an order of hamachi sashimi ($22) in ponzu fina’dene. Before we can tuck in, Simeon swings by with a trio of small bowls. When the ownership changed hands, nearly the whole kitchen crew left, except Mr. Park. One of the original cooks, Mr. Park prepares Tiffany’s famous banchan of shoyu pickled onion, daikon and kim chee ($3 each). They are ice-cold and start us off on a solid note. The generous portion of hamachi, with the bloodline removed, is firm and picks up the lip-puckering fina’dene with shiso. It’s spicy, umami-rich and sour all in one bite. Pro tip from the servers: Order a side of rice for the leftover sauce.
Next, we dive into dishes that speak to our feelings. Honey walnut shrimp ($20), a cheeseburger ($8), spicy pork ($18) and the classic saimin ($10). How can we be so hungry after an all-day eating spree?
The shrimp, from the original menu, is divine. Crispy fried morsels with toasted walnuts and candy-sweet mayo offer the crunch we’ve been craving. The platter of Korean-style spicy pork, enough to feed a family, is served with butter lettuce wraps and micro shiso. And dare I say that Tiffany’s saimin trumps Sam Sato’s on its best day with its rich, clear dashi broth and curly Sun Noodles. Pairing it with the local-style cheeseburger is an easy win for both.
Other options we’ll save for next time include mabo tofu ($16), beef broccoli cake noodle ($21) and a jazzed-up bowl of Wailuku Saimin ($15) with pork belly, choi sum, won tons, egg and kamaboko.
We’re coming up for air when Fat Chow Funn ($10 for small, $16 for large) and fried chicken wings ($14 to $19) appear. They are not our favorites: The chow funn is a bit too fat for our preference (read: not the same as Cantonese-style chow funn) and the chicken wings are dry. The loaded Fancy Fries ($13) are another miss—crinkle cuts dressed in truffle oil and mounded with parmesan cheese and Redondo’s hot dog “chips.” Neither the fries nor the hot dog chips are as crispy as we expect.
When the table is finally cleared of dishes we think we’re pau, but at that point Simeon brings over his Just Like Oxtail Soup ($23). It turns out to be the star of the night. Instead of oxtails, tender slices of brisket are served in a bowl on their own with shiitake, onion and cilantro. The broth, its unctuous notes of beef elevated by star anise, peanut and coriander, intoxicates with comfort. Though painfully full by now, we find the space to take care of this dish. Next time it will be in our first round along with the hamachi and honey walnut shrimp.
An off-menu special ends the night on a fun note: Magnolia ube ice cream sandwiches between senbei rice crackers. A stoner dessert, but one that speaks to us. We swoon, too, over a macerated strawberry parfait that unveils more as you dig deeper. Was that frozen strawberry Jell-O?
It’s kind of funny that the dream of many chefs, including those with lofty pedigrees, is to open a sports bar. If it isn’t a quick service shack, it should be a dive. A place where anyone can walk in as they are, find a seat and just grind. That’s what Tiffany’s was and still is.
If you’ve visited Maui as a Top Chef fan, you’ve probably made the pilgrimage to one of Simeon’s restaurants. I’ve taken day trips from O‘ahu just to eat at Tin Roof, Lineage and now, Tiffany’s. This is the one that feels like home to me, too. It’s a place where the food is ‘ono and unpretentious even with elevated twists, and where I can walk in with food stains on my shirt and no one really cares (it’s dark enough anyways). You don’t have to be a Top Chef fan to appreciate that.