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*