Kauai: Where to Eat

I just got back from Hawaii. I visited Oahu and Kauai. Oahu certainly had more varied delicious restaurants from which to choose, but we were able to find a few gems in Kauai. Here are my recommendations.

Disclaimer: my husband and I begrudgingly acknowledge that we fit the “foodie” stereotype. We prefer restaurants that have high quality ingredients and prep with lots of vegetarian and pescatarian options.

North Shore, Hanalei: Bar Acuda ($$$)

It is the only tapas restaurant in Kauai, and has plenty of options for vegetarians and pescatarians, as well as the red meat fans.

This was on par with my favorite DC tapas restaurants, namely Zaytinya and Jaleo.

Since it’s a tapas restaurant, expect to pay around or above $100 for 2 people if you get drinks and 4 small plates–the standard amount they recommend. But it was by far the best food we had in Kauai.

Our drinks were the Hanalei Mule and the Concrete Jungle–the latter being quite high in alcohol, though we highly enjoyed both.

For the main course, we had the Mushroom Arancini risotto, Papas Ajo, Ahi Carpaccio, French Lentils, and Fresh Hawaiian Fish (Ono at the time).

We ordered the Honeycomb with goat cheese and Fuji apple for dessert. (It’s actually in the tapas section, but we don’t normally care much for sweet desserts anyway.)

Yes, we ordered 6 tapas total for the 2 of us. 🙂 On top of the divine free bread and butter they serve, we were more than stuffed.

East Shore, Līhuʻe: Fish Express ($$)

Recommended to us by a local, this is a takeout restaurant that honestly looked like a grocery fish stand. Like other poke restaurants, this place had tons of proteins and fixins from which to choose. The fish topped with seaweed salad and other goodies were fresh, not fishy at all. There is truly nowhere to sit, though: we had to order, pick up our food, and eat in the car in the parking lot outside. We were lucky we got there ahead of the lunch crowd–we were literally in and out within 5 minutes, though I’m sure when there actually is a line, it goes rather fast.

I’ve read some reviews that complained this place and other poke joints start to degrade in ingredient quality as the day draws to a close, so to avoid risking it, I’d stop by here earlier rather than later in the day. But *shrug* maybe this does not matter depending on the place.

It’s easy to miss this building. The sign was quite faded. and the building looked old. Keep your eyes peeled for it!

East Shore, Kapaa: Matcha-Ya ($)

We got an azuki matcha mochi bun here, and it was buttery delicious. I would love to come back and try more of their sweets and drinks.

South Shore, Hanapepe: Japanese Grandma’s Cafe ($$)

This is one of the few restaurants open a little later at night (until 9 p.m.) in the south shore that appealed to us. It did not disappoint. The fish tacos are a must: the “shell” is made of fried wonton. The sashimi selection was good as well. We especially liked the dessert of tart lemon “ice cream” (it was actually sherbet) with a dollop of sweet/savory azuki and a side of hot, bitter matcha tea. Oh, I love the complex combinations of flavors good Japanese restaurants produce.

Southwest, Kaleheo: Kauai Coffee (free – $)

This is the official estate of the Kauai Coffee company. They have unlimited free samples of all their coffee types and flavors. I didn’t think this would be that fun since I don’t consider myself a coffee connoisseur, but I was pleasantly proven wrong! I also have never liked flavored coffee black before, but here I did. However, our favorite was their Peaberry variety.

In addition to samples, they also serve prepared coffee, ice cream, sandwiches, and pastries.

Besides good eats and drinks, it’s also a nice tourist stop to do a free self- or pro-guided tour of their plantation and browse their gift shop.

Multiple Locs., Lappert’s Hawaii ($)

Not to be confused with the mainland joint of the same name. Yummy, flavorful ice cream, gelato, pastry, and coffee place. I had macadamia nut ice cream and hazelnut gelato, while my husband had mango and dark chocolate ice cream. I wish I had more of the mango (my favorite fruit) because it was just so fruity fresh delicious. But we enjoyed all the flavors we had!

Multiple Locs.: Dole Whip ($)

From our experience, we found Dole Whip in mango and pineapple flavors, though it looks like on the Wikipedia page there are many more. Each time, I loved it; I think my husband just really liked it 🙂 . It’s like an extra creamy and light fruit ice cream. We found an fruit/ice cream stand serving it in Oahu by Diamond Head, and another in the North Shore of Kauai.

Honorable Mentions

These restaurants didn’t knock off our socks, but they’re still solid choices.

Kapaa: Java Kai ($)

Good Kauai coffee! On the same block as Matcha-Ya.

Koloa: Puka Dog ($$)

This another famous hot dog stand Anthony Bourdain (RIP) endorsed. I hear it can get quite crowded, but when we went (early September, 2 p.m.), we waited no more than 10 minutes and easily got a seat.

They serve polish sausage and soy-based veggie dogs in a semi-fried bun that has no split opening, squeezed in with sauces and relish of your choosing.

Each dog is about $10 each. Husband got the polish sausage and I got the veggie dog. Both were similar, which I guess makes the veggie dog more impressive for its meat-like texture and taste, though there is slightly less of an umami taste (understandably). I was pleased nonetheless.

Each dog can either be dressed “traditionally” (ketchup, mustard, pickle relish) or Hawaiian style (with their special Hawaiian mustard). On top of those, you can also add a fruity relish (mango, pineapple, lilikoi (passion fruit), etc.) and/or their puka sauce, which has various spice levels.

We both liked our dogs, but we would’ve much preferred more veggies, such as chopped onions and more discernible pickle texture. We felt like we just had a bunch of protein and carbs. Truly this place stands out for its sauces and semi-fried bun, but these things won’t bring us back to it.

On the side, we got a bag of sweet Maui onion potato chips, and those were good!

They also apparently have good, not-too-sweet lemonade, but we did not buy that at the time.

Līhuʻe: Kalapaki Beach Hut ($)

This was within walking distance of our place. Solid french fries, good burgers, yummy fruit smoothie. Seating is a tad dirty and tight in front of the cashier stand; try to get a seat upstairs or take out and carry to the beach. Plus: they have hot and iced coffee.

Līhuʻe: Plantation Coffee Company ($)

This is an odd location–the lobby of an office building behind a post office and bank. We grabbed some sandwiches and coffee from here before heading to the airport. It was one of the few healthier breakfast options we found in the area (most places tend to serve heavier meat, gravy, and rice stuffs, like loco moco). While the name has the word coffee in it, I actually hated my Americano, but thankfully I liked my husband’s drip coffee, so we traded (he liked my drink just fine, by the way!). We both liked our sandwiches: I had a BLTA (BLT with avocado and toasted bread) and my husband had a salami & havarti sandwich, which had some yummy sprouts.

AVOID, please!

Līhuʻe: Lilikoi ($$)

This was also within walking distance of our place. We made the mistake of going here our first night… or at all. Incredibly overpriced for what we suspected were premade ingredients, e.g., Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup in my husband’s $21 “Chicken and Mushroom Vol-Au-Vent”, the same french fries we have had at several other restaurants, etc. (Other Yelpers have suspected their lava cake was pre-made.) I had fish tacos, and I found the Spanish rice, black beans, and tacos incredibly flavorless. Their “homemade salsa” was probably the only homemade thing, and it was pretty good. Drenching all of that over the rest of the plate made everything edible at least.

We were pretty excited to try this place because of the raving reviews and appetizing-looking menu, but alas.

On the plus side, our waitress was nice, and we liked our cocktails well enough. *shrug*

Post-trip packing list thoughts: Hawaii Aug-Sept 2019

You can also read about my packing list plan, pre-trip.

Personal item: Arc’teryx Mantis 26L

This bag held up well between airport and car rental commutes, as a daybag in the town, and as a hiking bag along short hikes. Below is the bag with what it held on the way back home, after some rearranging with my carry-on item to accommodate some souvenirs.

Contents

From top-left to bottom-right. Italicized stuff was acquired during the trip.

  1. 1 transparent detachable bag with liquids
    • from the Osprey Ultralight Zipper Organizer
    • 1 tube toothpaste, 1 bottle aloe vera gel, 1 bottle facial sunscreen, 1 tube body lotion, 1 bottle argan oil, 1 tube Abreva cold sore medication, 1 bottle Chi hair moisturizing gel
    • I kept as many liquids together as I could
      • in case they exploded in the air (this has never happened to me before, though)
      • in case TSA wanted me to take them out; I am part of TSA Pre-check so I normally don’t, but on occasion an airport will not practice Pre-check so then I do
      • essentially all the liquids are toiletry-related anyway
  2. 1 1oz hand sanitizer bottle
    • couldn’t fit in the transparent bag, but whatever (TSA Precheck)
  3. 1 10″ tablet with case
  4. 1 power brick
  5. 1 soft brace for ankle support
  6. 1 small purse
  7. 1 pen (in purse)
  8. A set of brochures and misc. paper
  9. 1 thin booklet
  10. 1 small notebook
  11. 1 rain cover for backpack
  12. 1 sunglasses case
  13. 1 point-and-shoot camera
  14. 1 1oz container sunscreen
    • couldn’t fit in the transparent bag, but whatever (TSA Precheck)
  15. 1 small wallet
  16. 1 thin detachable bag with 4-5 small charger cables, extra camera battery, extra SD card and camera clip
  17. 1 Vuori thin, quick-drying, comfy jacket
  18. 1 rolled change of clothes for comfort during commute home
    • t-shirt, merino socks, underwear
  19. 1 Ziploc bag of emergency kit items, a few bug repellant wipes, 4 mosquito repelling bracelets
  20. 1 poncho
  21. 1 Ziploc bag of sanitizing wipes
  22. Noise-cancelling headphones in Trakline belt bag
    • Bag was much lighter and thinner than the official headphone case
  23. 1 bag of granola
  24. (not pictured) 1 toothbrush case with electric toothbrush and 2 heads (1 for husband, 1 for me)
  25. (underneath emergency kit bag) 1 house key
  26. (not pictured, would be clipped to bag) 1 travel pillow
  27. (not pictured) 2 water bottles

Carry-on item: Samsonite Ziplite 4.0 16″ Underseater

I’m really happy with this bag. I got it at a good discount and it turned out to be plenty of room for me. Below is, again, the bag with contents rearranged post-trip for souvenirs.

Contents

Again, italicized items were acquired during the trip.

  1. 1 pair sandals
  2. Dirty clothes in sandals: 1 pair merino socks, 1 pair quick-drying underwear, 1 pair feet cushion things
  3. 2 bags of salt
  4. 1 quick-drying towel
  5. 1 misc. set of paper
  6. 1 booklet
  7. Dirty clothes below sandals: 1 bra, 1 shirt, 1 pair shorts
  8. 1 transparent drawstring bag (underneath sandals and dirty clothes)
  9. 2 small misc. souvenirs (wrapped in white and news paper)
  10. 3 quick-drying shirts (in packing cube)
  11. 1 regular shirt
  12. 1 pair shorts (in packing cube)
  13. 2 kukui nut leis (in packing cube)
  14. 1 misc. souvenir (wrapped in red paper)
  15. 1 mini umbrella
  16. 1 skirt/convertible dress (in packing cube)
  17. 1 scarf (in packing cube)
  18. 1 foldable fan (in packing cube)
  19. 1 sports bra (in packing cube)
  20. 3 pairs quick-drying underwear (in packing cube)
  21. 1 pair merino socks (in packing cube)
  22. 1 compression sock (in packing cube)
  23. 1 extra set insoles (in luggage bag)
  24. 1 set foldable trekking pokes (in luggage bag)
  25. 1 tripod (in luggage bag)

Wearing (not pictured)

  1. 1 pair quick-drying climbing/hiking pants
  2. 1 pair quick-drying underwear
  3. 1 pair merino socks
  4. 1 bra
  5. 1 regular shirt
  6. 1 pair hiking boots

In husband’s bag

  1. 1 drybag
  2. 2 waterproof phone cases

Disclaimer: there were minimal other souvenirs that we put into my husband’s eBag backpack, but he still had room to spare.

Analysis

I’m satisfied with the two main bags I brought. The combo of small roller and regular-sized backpack worked very well for me from the continental U.S. to Hawaii and back. Most places were indeed smooth, especially where we ended up dawdling in the airports for food and souvenir shopping. I was concerned about my husband’s pain dawdling around there since he just had a big backpack, but he seemed to tolerate it well. I know from past experience I would’ve struggled.

I’m largely satisfied with the clothes I brought. I didn’t bring too many and had room to acquire 3 new shirts and a new pair of underwear (it’s extra soft). However, I wish I brought 1 more sports bra. I hiked and swam a lot, both activities ideal for my sports bra. I could’ve done more laundry washing (we ended up washing twice in our 9 night-trip) to avoid wearing my dirty sports bra 2-3 times more than I would’ve liked, but I also wanted to be environmentally conscientious with washing. I guess I also could’ve hand-washed the bra, though, but I’m also lazy.

Especially useful things/decisions

A small umbrella. As predicted, Hawaii’s weather is really unpredictable (!) and not as bad as the forecast turned out to be in terms of rain. It rained maybe 10% of the time, and like Peru, in small bursts. The umbrella was good for those times as well as shielding ourselves from especially hot midday sun. I’m so glad we didn’t bring our rain jackets: it would’ve been even more uncomfortably hot wearing them.

Downgrading to a good point-and-shoot camera. It is just so much more compact and easy to use, but still good quality.

Sanitizing wipes. It felt good to be able to easily wipe down the airplane seat area with these things. It was also useful for wiping down my backpack after hiking.

Light jacket. It was nice to have this on the airplanes when it would get too cold, and also when we went on a helicopter tour with the doors off.

Water bottles. Believe it or not, I only started carrying a water bottle with me on my travels on the trip before this one (Vancouver/Seattle). It was my husband’s first time on this trip. These seem like a no-brainer for most people, but yeah, having them was great in the airports to refill and force us to chug before security (more hydration!), as well as while adventuring to various places.

Priority Pass. (I have the mobile card.) We got free coffee and fruit during our first flight out of Baltimore and free fresh burgers and fries during our quick layover in San Francisco. I’ll do a bigger post on Priority Pass and the Chase Sapphire Reserve sometime later.

Things I didn’t end up needing

An extra pair of insoles. I used this trick in Spain when I wanted to avoid bringing an extra pair of shoes, and that worked well. But while I was quite active in Hawaii, I didn’t walk as much there as in Spain because Hawaii is generally much less walkable (hence rental car).

A full 1oz bottle of aloe vera gel. I knew I didn’t need this much in the beginning, but I didn’t want to buy yet another a smaller bottle or container. But maybe sometime I’ll find another small thing lying around I can reuse.

My tablet. It was nice to use it in the plane, but honestly I had some videos and games downloaded on my phone as well and was just as satisfied watching and playing on that, too.

A second umbrella (in my husband’s bag). Because it rained so little, we just shared my little umbrella whenever we needed it. When we did forget to bring an umbrella and it rained, again it was just so short and felt refreshing since we were hot and humid anyway. But I suppose this sort of thing is hard to predict whether you should or shouldn’t bring it, so I think I’d still have both of us bring an umbrella again next time, depending on the season.

A travel towel. Our accommodations always provided us with extra towels. Now that I think about it, the only time I would need this, really, is if I were hiking a long distance and needed to pack light and wouldn’t be able to access a towel for awhile for bathing or sitting down. But I’m not sure if I’ll chop this off the list for the future. It still seems good to have…

Waterproof phone cases. I got them for us to use while snorkeling with sharks, but 1) my husband got sick and didn’t go, and 2) I wasn’t allowed to use mine because I needed a pole/stick to separate my limbs from the camera device (my phone). The snorkeling instructors said this is because sharks are attracted to electromagnetic signals and may want to interact with the source by chomping on it. 😀

Noise-cancelling headphones (maybe). It was pretty amazing cancelling out the airplane humming, but… my husband and I like to lean against each other… and the headphones would always get in the way. I am used to just using cheap earphones, which don’t get in the way of cuddling, obviously. 😀 Maybe I’ll try to find some semi-noise-cancelling earphones instead. Obviously these have the added benefit of being much more compact, too.

Things I’d like to upgrade

Transparent drawstring bag. The one I got for free from a half-marathon race has been good to have for security-sensitive events and places, as well as a dirty shoe/clothes bag. But it’s become quite unruly to actually carry around because the strings/ropes have become too dangly somehow…

Things I should’ve brought

My Costco Visa credit card!!! It gets me 4% back on gas, and god damn it, there was actually a Costco gas station near our place in Kauai. Ugh!

To come: a post about our activities and what I recommend doing (and not doing).

Hawaii Aug-Sept 2019 packing list

Islands and Duration: Oahu (4 nights, 4.5 days), Kauai (5 nights, 5 days)

Considerations

pack as little as possible without sacrificing comfort

Since I’m still dabbling in minimalism, a few of my recent subreddit obsessions are r/onebag, r/HerOneBag, and r/ultralight. As a result, compared to previous trips, I’ve decided to

  • downsize my camera from a mirrorless* one to a still-good point-and-shoot one
  • invest in quick-drying clothing
    • merino socks, performance shirts/bras/underwear
    • the undergarments can then double-function as swimwear
  • downsize my toiletry bag
  • leave out shampoo and soap
    • I more intentionally checked whether my accommodations already provided these (they do)
    • I don’t trust hotel conditioner, though, so I’ll still bring that
  • downsize my umbrella
  • bring a small bag of disinfectant wipes
    • some Redditors suggested this for wiping down your plane seat area

Unfortunately, I am recovering from a sprained ankle. I can walk without crutches or a brace, but it’s probably not a good idea to run. That said, I can additionally leave out running shoes, running shorts, and a pair of socks.

But there are some additions I’m a bit ashamed to note. I’m still considering whether I should forego them:

  • noise-cancelling over-ear headphones vs. simple earphones
    • Sony WH-1000MX3 vs. some Minisos bought in emergency in Viet Nam
    • I’ve always used cheap-o earphones everywhere I go, but recently a coworker convinced me to splurge on those Sonys–thankfully I bought used for a discount and they are still good. I’ve heard they are amazing on planes for drowning out machine noise and people. Buuuut they’re so bulky!
  • trekking poles

Update 08/26: decided to bring both.

Still have room for SOUVENIRS

But resist as much as possible buying any. 😀 #minimalism

Tailor your packing style to your destination(s)

Despite the subreddits, for this trip (and my previous one to Seattle and Vancouver), I’ve decided to move away from one large 40L backpack to a small (~17in) roller bag and regular (26-28L) backpack combination. I have struggled with the one large backpack in terms of my back, even though I’m supposed to be a spry young adult still.

The mobility of one large backpack is amazing for sure, and it was especially useful when traveling in Mexico, Viet Nam, and Spain, where there aren’t as many smooth roads for rolling something around. Plus, in Spain and Viet Nam, I was changing lodging every few days, and typically not with a car readily outside my building–in which there were typically many stairs and no elevator. I may still go back to one bag if I go to a destination like these again.

But I have read that, Hawaii, like much of the continental U.S. and Vancouver, is very roller-bag friendly.

Still, I’m sure there will be times I will have to carry my roller bag, and this (along with wanting to pack light) is why I’m sticking to an almost-underseater roller bag.

Brace for mosquitoes

Kauai is kinda infested with them, I’ve heard, and I’m prone to getting bitten–unlike my blessed husband. I have plenty of DEET-filled towelettes I still haven’t used (remnants from a 2017 Peru trip), and I also will be trying out these funky-looking mosquito-repelling bracelets. Finally, for when I do get an inevitable bite or two, I’ve found it soothing to rub some aloe vera gel on my skin, so I’ll bring a little bit of that as well.

Brace for rain in a hot climate

Interestingly, in terms of humidity and temperature, Hawaii looks to be similar to the DC area right now. From my experience here, it’s definitely more comfortable having an umbrella vs. a rain jacket or poncho if you plan to be walking a lot. And unfortunately, it looks like most days in Kauai are forecast to have rain. Of course, these days with climate change getting worse, it’s hard to predict the weather, but even before this time, I’ve read that Hawaii weather is notoriously unpredictable in terms of rain.

Though, to be honest, I’m considering doubling up on a rain jacket and umbrella combo. Thankfully both items don’t take up much room.

Update 08/27: decided on just the umbrella.

Scan for activity-specific stuff

We plan to visit Pearl Harbor, which bans bags of any kind unless they’re transparent. Thankfully, I have a transparent drawstring bag (from a crowded race that demanded similar security measures). I can substitute a few packing cubes for this.

We also plan to visit a Hindu monastery, which demands conservative clothing. While they provide free sarongs, I would feel less embarrassed if I came prepared myself.

We definitely want to ride in an off-door helicopter, and while these tours tend to go a little slower and thus be less windy, I myself get cold easily so I’ll want to bring a light jacket (which will be useful anyway in the plane).

Some people also think about bringing their own snorkeling gear if they plan to snorkel a lot (especially on their own), but I think my husband and I will only be going out no more than twice, with each time the gear already being provided for us by a tour guide.

Seek advice from locals

r/HawaiiVisitors, r/Hawaii, r/Kauai!

And now, the list

Bags

  1. Samsonite Ziplite 4.0 16″. underseater
  2. Arc’teryx Mantis 26L
  3. Transparent drawstring bag
  4. Small Kindle-sized purse
    • doubles as camera bag

Misc.

  1. 1 minimalist wallet
  2. house key (remove extra keys)
  3. 1 point-and-shoot camera
    • with case, extra battery, charging cable, extra SD card
  4. 1 small tripod
  5. 1 old Nintendo DS bag for camera
  6. 1 pair sunglasses
  7. 1 pair eyeglasses
  8. 1 pair earphones
  9. 1 6L drybag
  10. 1 waterproof phone case for underwater pics
  11. 1 tablet
  12. 1 smartphone
  13. 1 charging cable between tablet and smartphone (yay!)
  14. 1 travel pillow
  15. 4 granola bars for emergency
  16. 1 small insulating water bottle
  17. 5 mosquito-repelling bracelets – 1 per limb, and 1 for husband
  18. 1 small umbrella
  19. 2 foldable trekking poles
  20. 1 pair over-the-ear headphones
  21. 1 set of emergency first-aid things
  22. 1 Ziploc bag for first aid and mosquito-repelling items

Clothing

  1. 3 pairs Darn Tough merino wool socks*
  2. 1 Zensah sports bra for hiking and swimming
  3. 2 regular bras*
  4. 5 pairs performance underwear*
  5. 1 skirt, which can convert to a sundress (!)
  6. 1 pair sandals
  7. 1 pair hiking boots*
  8. 1 pair shorts
  9. 1 pair quick-drying pants* – casual/hiking
  10. 1 scarf
  11. 1 light quick-drying jacket*

(*) Wearing 1 on plane.

Toiletries

  1. 1 menstrual cup 😦
  2. 1 small bottle conditioner
  3. 1 small container sunscreen – share with husband
  4. 1 small facial stick sunscreen – share with husband
  5. 1 small bottle facial lotion
  6. 1 small bottle aloe vera for mosquito bite relief
  7. 1 contact lens holder of Tylenol, ibuprofen, allergy pills
  8. 1 mini toothbrush
  9. 1 mini toothpaste tube
  10. 1 razor
  11. 1 small bottle Argan oil for face
  12. 1 small capsule foundation
  13. 1 toiletry bag
  14. 1 pack of insect-repellent towelettes – share with husband
  15. 1 pair earplugs
  16. 1 eye mask
  17. 1 Ziploc bag with disinfectant wipes
  18. 1 small brush
  19. 2 hair ties
  20. 1 tweezer
  21. 1 nail clipper

And maybe

  • 3 pairs contact lenses for swimming, helicopter
    • though my vision is thankfully not bad to begin with

But remember your companions

In this case, my companion is my husband (as usual), and he is naturally very simple in terms of packing. We share on some things–he won’t bring a separate tablet, insect repellent, transparent bag, disinfectant wipes, or toiletries (except literally just a toothbrush and toothpaste), for example. He probably at most fills up 25L of his 40L bag (and I’m being generous). So, I can consider sneaking in some of my maybe items into his bag 😉 and definitely some things we both share.

Update 08/26: Husband and I did a preliminary pack-up last night, with me consolidating some items. Indeed, he has a good ~20L free in his 40L bag, and surprisingly I have about 10L free in my backpack (with trekking poles)! This is after a lot of “maybe” stuff moved to the “definitely” list. That said, packing list has been updated (anything in italics).

Coming soon

Pictures of everything laid out! And a post-trip analysis of this list.