The Best Places to Eat on Kauai
A friend recently mentioned that she had not been to Kauai in a long time because as a self-proclaimed “food snob,” she could not find anywhere good to eat on the island. My mouth nearly hit the ground. How can a place known as the Garden Island not have good food? With its fresh organic produce, top-notch farmers markets, and a healthy, sustainable relationship with the land, the topography makes this place a culinary heaven.
You just have to know where to look and some of the best eateries are not fine dining restaurants but mom and pop establishments. Here are my favorites:
Hamura’s Saimin Stand
2956 Kress Street
Lihue, HI 96766
Sitting along the shared counters of this ram-shackled restaurant, the sweltering heat will hit you like sunbathing in the Sahara. You might have to stand in line for up to an hour. Consuming hot soup on a tropical island is an oxymoron. The service is…wait, what service? But seriously, you have to eat here.
There’s nothing on the menu except for chicken skewers, pie and saimin, a dish developed during Hawaii’s plantation era. Saimin is a staple food across the state and consists of Chinese noodles in a Japanese broth. It’s usually served with fishcake, spam, green onions and wontons or gyoza. Finish with a slice of the amazing lilikoi (passion fruit) pie. You have to love the fact that this place won a coveted James Beard award and didn’t even bother to go to New York to accept the honor.
Hanalei Juice and Taro
5-5070 Kuhio Hwy B
Hanalei, HI 96714
This lunch wagon is my very favorite place to eat in all of Hawaii. The Haraguchi family has been running this cart for three generations. Poi is made fresh daily from the family taro farm across the street (62% of Hawaii’s taro comes from Hanalei). They serve fresh fruit smoothies, taro hummus, taro burgers, mochi cakes, and plate lunches. Try the pork lau lau plate; it comes with lomi salmon, poi (or rice), taro mac salad and taro mochi. So good it borderline brings me to tears.
4-1300 Kuhio Hwy
Kapaa, HI 96746
Ask any local what’s the one food they can’t live without. You will get just one answer: “poke.” Known as Hawaii’s soul food, this dish is usually consists of fresh raw fish tossed with sesame oil, kukui nut relish and seaweed. Pono Market is known for some of the best ahi poke around. Fish Express in Lihue also offers a huge selection of poke, I love the spicy clam version. Grab some rice, and a few other pupus (appetizers) and you’ve got a perfect healthy meal.
Koloa Fish Market
5482 Koloa Rd
Koloa, HI 96756-9421
This little deli offers one of the best Hawaiian plates on the island. A typical Hawaiian plate consists of any of the following: lau lau (meat or fish wrapped in taro leaves), lomi salmon (cold salmon, tomatoes and onions), kalua pig (slow cooked pork made in an underground oven) poi (thick paste made from taro), poke (raw seasoned fish), chicken long rice (side dish made with vermicelli noodles), beef stew or pipikaula (Hawaiian beef jerky).
Tip Top Café
3173 Akahi St
Lihue, HI 96766
This place has been around since 1912. It’s mainly known as a good place for breakfast, and the macadamia pancakes are superb, but the absolutely must have is the oxtail soup. It’s a brothy soup made with beef tails, and if you are lucky, boiled peanuts.
Duane’s Ono Char Burger
4-4350 Kuhio Hwy
Anahola, HI 96703
I once stopped by this side of the road eatery with a big time New York food editor. She was practically hyperventilating over these burgers. Try the Local Girl, it’s flavored with Teriyaki and a slice of pineapple. Not much more I can say.
Taro Ko Chip Factory
Hanapepe, HI 96716
Taro Ko Chips Factory consists of a few family members producing taro chips in a dilapidated old plantation house in the sleepy town of Hanapepe. The taro is grown on the farm, and the chips are handmade by the Nagamine family, who has been doing this for generations.
NOT SO HEALTHY MUSTS
I recently read a review from a diner that proclaimed: “when I die, I want to die with spam musubi in my mouth.” I know how this guy feels. Spam musubi is composed of a block of rice with a slice of Spam that’s wrapped up with nori (seaweed). Hawaii residents eat more spam that the rest of the country combined due to the fact that during WWII it was the only type of meat that could be brought into the islands. You can you can find spam musubi anywhere on Kauai: at the supermarket, 7-11, the gas station, the liquor store, even at the airport (warning: they normally run out by lunchtime). Try it, you’ll like it.
The million-calorie plate lunch is a quintessential part of Hawaii’s cuisine. Standard plate lunches consist of two scoops rice (we leave out the word “of”), a scoop of macaroni salad (nicknamed mac salad), and a entrée such aas chicken katsu, beef teriyaki (shortened to “teri beef”) or hamburger steak. For a real treat, order a Loco Moco: hamburger smothered with brown gravy and placed on top a bed of rice with a fried runny egg. The best places for a plate lunch on Kauai are Kalena’s in Lihue (2985 Kalena Street), Da Imu Hut in Hanapepe (3771 Hanapepe Rd) and Mark’s Place in Puhi (1610 Haleukana St # A) or Lawai (2-3687 Kaumualii Hwy).