Dive into restaurant at Maui Ocean Center in Maalaea for happy hour and new lunch and dinner menu items

New hire and born-and-raised Maui girl Bianca Medeiros brings a pupu plate to the table with grilled focaccia bread topped with parmesan cheese and a housemade side of craft beer cheese sauce. “It’s my first day on the job!” she told diners. The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photos

Happy hour has never been happier at Seascape Maalaea Restaurant. The expansive, open-air hot spot of Maui Ocean Center features a separate entrance so that you don’t need to pay admission to the aquarium exhibits in order to dine there. Just head to the mall side of the aquarium, walk down the ramp and enter through the wide restaurant doors.

Regulars know this secret and flock there to savor sustainable seafood and other fresh menu items that pop with taste and are easy on the pocketbook, too.

“I would say it’s 50-50 Maui residents and visitors who come to Seascape,” says Food & Beverage Director James Morrison, who’s been with the company for six years this month.

Happy hour runs from 3 to 5 p.m. daily with $2.50 Kona draft beers, $4 select wines by the glass and $5 mai tais. A lively group of happy-hour diners at the next table said they were the “best mai tais we’ve had on Maui all week.”

“As for pupu, most notable is our avocado stuffed with crab cake,” says Morrison. “It’s got a hot, buttery flavor and is drizzled with Kilauea and Kabayaki sauces.”

Crab-stuffed avocado is one of the top sellers at happy hour.

Bring your pals and enjoy share plates of seared-ahi flat-bread pizza with bechamel sauce, mozzarella cheese, truffle oil and fried capers; and grilled steak poke tossed with fresh veggies.

“We’re still doing lunch daily from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.,” says Morrison. “And dinner is now Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 5 to 9 p.m. We have live entertainment with Anthony Pfluke on Fridays and Kaulike Pescaia on Sundays.”

Seascape is the perfect dining destination to relax with a refreshing beverage while watching surfers offshore, boat action in Maalaea Harbor and humpback whales that are in season now.

All of the menu items follow Monterey Bay Aquarium’s “Best Practices” list of sustainable fish and seafood.

From “makai” or the “sea” comes Kauai shrimp scampi in creamy fennel-lobster sauce, mac-nut mahimahi with lemongrass beurre blanc and fresh catch and chips with a side of cole slaw.

“On our dinner nights, we have different specials, from the freshest fish to whatever Chef Henry Tariga picks from our chef’s garden,” says Morrison. “Some ingredients that we have been incorporating into the menu include taro grown right on property and apple bananas. New dinner options will roll out Friday.”

From “mauka,” or the “mountains,” comes Madeira wine and Big Island mushroom chicken, Maui-onion crusted lamb chops, fire-broiled New York steak and sugar-cane braised short ribs.

“Great pricing is part of our philosophy,” Morrison says. “We don’t want to gouge people. We try to be fair. At night, kamaaina are a big percent of our clientele and we want them to keep coming back. We also offer 10 percent off lunch and dinner to those with valid Hawaii ID.”

New lunch items that rolled out Jan. 1 are dill-shrimp salad in Maui-grown papayas and fish tacos with ahi tuna.

“The dill-shrimp salad is so refreshing with the coolness of the Greek yogurt and the papaya,” says Morrison. “As for our tacos, we do a twist with seared ahi and wasabi aioli. Most restaurants use mahi. But the products we found were not sustainably sourced, and our locals fishers couldn’t keep up with the demand. We keep working with top local vendors to have farm-to-table and ocean-to-table cuisine.”

Vegetarian and gluten-free menu options abound, island desserts tempt as do some kid-friendly choices.

Upcoming changes to the restaurant will include new menu layouts, new furniture and a new and expanded wine list as well as bar menu.

“The new menus are sustainably sourced bamboo, instead of the plastic we’ve used for all of these years. Our new tables will be made of reclaimed Amish barn wood. The theme here is environmentally friendly and we try our best.”

Seascape fast facts:

• Where: Located at Maui Ocean Center in Maalaea. Admission is not required to dine there.

• Lunch: Service is from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. New menu items just rolled out Jan. 1 by James Beard Award-nominee Chef Henry Tariga, include shrimp in papaya and ahi fish tacos.

• Dinner: From 5 to 9 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. New menu items launch Friday.

• Happy Hour: Jumps from 3 to 5 p.m. daily with discounted beverages and pupu.

• Private events: Want to stage a wedding reception, corporate party or family affair by renting Seascape or other areas at the Maui Ocean Center? Different event packages are available. Call Ann Pascua at 270-7000.

• For more details: Call Seascape at 270-7068.