The Island of Kauai seems to be a few generations behind the other heavily touristy islands of Oahu and Maui. If you are looking for a getaway it is precisely what you might be looking for. In terms of dining, the lack of all those extra visitors helps the island retain a good deal of quality local spots where island favorites can be had for very affordable prices.
Splurge on a fancy vacation meal at the Beach House Restaurant in Koloa. Or opt for the local flavors at Pono Market in Kapaa or Dani’s in Lihue. Regardless of which you choose, you’ll find yourself working on your Pidgin English and craving spam when you get home.
I’ve been spending some time in Kauai, exploring the beaches and restaurants with my family. Here are a few restaurants I’d recommend.
The Beach House Restaurant in Koloa
If you could bottle the quintessential Hawaiian culinary experience, you’d take it from the source: The Beach House Restaurant in Kauai. From the open air dining room you are greeted with a stunning panoramic view of a few surf breaks, swaying palms and a glowing sunset. At the Beach House Restaurant in Koloa, it’s all about fresh fish from the Pacific just a few feet away. Try the ceviche with a passion fruit or the ponzu-marinated ahi brushchetta with cherry tomatoes straight from a nearby Kauai farm. The classic Mai Tai will warm you all over just in time for wasabi-crusted snapper and lilikoi lemongrass beurre blanc. The wine list is adequate but the tropical drinks are splendid. This is the place you take someone special.
The Beach House Restaurant, www.the-beach-house.com/
5022 Lawai Rd
Koloa, HI 96756
808 742 1424
Hamura Saimin in Lihue
Pull up a stool. Order by size: small, medium, large or extra large. Now wait for your bowl of sodium, noodles and spam. As you are waiting, have a couple of BBQ skewers, one chicken and one beef. This is true Hawaiian local food. Don’t be surprised if you are the only person from the mainland in this small, simple dining room that provides only counter seating. The ramen is inexpensive, flavorful, and, given the addition of Spam, really kicked into Hawaiian high gear. You won’t spend much, but this is a don’t-miss place. Make sure to save some space for the lilikoi passionfruit pie.
2956 Kress St
Lihue, HI 96766
If there is a local market in Kauai that does it any better than Pono, I’m not sure anyone knows about it. I polled as many local people as I could, and the hands-down favorite was this tiny place on Kuhio Highwayy in Kapa’a. I’ll tell you that Rob, the guy behind the counter, will make you feel like family. He’ll describe in detail every last thing in the market that interests you. He’ll tell you that the pork laulau was made that morning by his dad. He’ll introduce you to his aunty. And he’ll stand behind anything in his market. My choices: Pork laulau, spicy ahi poke and roast Kalua pork. Where else can you buy Kalua pork and a marriage license at the same time? Sign your kid up for the local baseball league while you are there; it’s that local.
4-1300 Kuhio Hwy
Kapaa, HI 96746
Dukes Canoe Club at Kalapaki Beach
You might ask why I would include a Dukes Canoe Club, a chain restaurant, in my examination of Hawaiian dining, but the truth is that if you are looking for one place where you can get a little tourist-trap while still feeling genuine Hawaiian hospitality, it’s at Dukes Canoe Club on Kalapaki Beach. The Macadamian Nut encrusted local fish with steamed rice and edamame is divine, and the sashimi is so fresh the server still had fish scales on her hands. The view of the beach, the sound of the Kau’a Crater Boys and a sip of Pau Hana Punch…a meal here is greatness.
Dukes Canoe Club, www.dukeskauai.com
3610 Rice St
Lihue, HI 96766
Walk into Fish Express, see what’s on the counter and in the glass case, and order. Seems so simple but choosing between the fried octopus, lomilomi, laulau, poke and fresh fish make the decision really tough. And since Fish Express is a to-go market, remember that you’ll be eating in your rental car in the parking lot. The weird thing is that you just might call this the best meal in Kauai. They say they have a grill, but each time I stopped by, I was so mesmerized by all the fresh fish that I quickly snapped up my selections, moved along the line, and forgot to look for the grill. Still not sure where they cook everything.
3343 Kuhio Hwy
Lihue, HI 96766
Sweet Marie’s Hawaiian Bakery
Looking for something quick to get your morning going before you head for some hiking in Waimea or some snorkeling at Ke’e Beach? Stop at this roadside bakery in Kapa’a. Tropical muffins, passion fruit bursts, a few cookies and a cup of some much needed Kauai coffee. All of it is gluten free, if that means much to you.
4-788 Kuhio Highway
Kapaa, HI 96746
Zeke Quezada is the Las Vegas Editor for EscapeHatchDallas and Guide to Las Vegas for About.com, and, since he’s a media star, he rarely pays for anything in Vegas. If it’s on the Las Vegas strip, Zeke has swam, slept, eaten, drank or lounged there.