Where to Eat on Kauai
Thanks to a proliferation of hamburger joints, plate-lunch counters, and food trucks, you’ll find affordable choices (by local standards) in every town. Even in pricey Princeville, the shopping center food court offers a few tasty bargains. At the gourmet end of the spectrum, Kauai’s very expensive restaurants—both on and off the resorts—provide excellent service along with more complex but reliably executed dishes. And nearly every establishment trumpets its Kauai-grown ingredients, which help keep the Garden Island green and the flavors fresh.
The challenge is finding exceptional value in the moderate to expensive range. Costs are indeed higher here, and service is often slower; it’s best not to arrive anywhere—even at one of the many food trucks—in a state of starvation. Patience and pleasantness on your part, however, will usually be rewarded. During peak holiday and summer seasons, avoid stress by booking online with Open Table (www.opentable.com), currently available for 45 Kauai restaurants and dinner shows. The listings below, not all of which are on Open Table, will note where reservations are recommended.
For those with access to a kitchen (or even just a minifridge), check out “Kauai Farmer's Markets”. You’re guaranteed farm-to-table cuisine at a good price—and at your own pace.
This populous area yields several unique, moderately priced dining experiences. In Kapaa, former Red Salt executive chef Adam Watten creates a weekly special menu at his locally sourced Hanai Farmer’s Market ★★ (www.hanaikauai.com; 808/822-2228) from 3 to 6pm Wednesdays at the Kojima Center, 4-1543 Kuhio Hwy. For happy hour appetizers and cocktails with a dazzling ocean view, head to Sam’s Ocean View ★, 4–1546 Kuhio Hwy. (www.samsoceanview.com; (808) 822-7887); Sam’s also serves $5 mimosas with Sunday brunch.
In Lihue, microbrew lovers will find hearty, island-grown food pairings on tap at the expanded Kauai Beer Company ★★, 4265 Rice St. (www.kauaibeer.com; 808/245-2337); don’t miss the organic taro fries ($9) or six-beer sampler ($12). The Greenery Cafe ★★ (www.thegreenerycafe.com; 808/246-4567), in the rear cottage at 3146 Akahi S., will delight health and soul food fans alike with Kauai-grown collard greens, organic rosemary chicken and fresh cornbread.
Note: The restaurants in this section are on either the “Hotels & Restaurants on the Coconut Coast” map or the “Hotels & Restaurants in Lihue” map.
Value seekers will want to visit Olympic Café ★, 4-1354 Kuhio Hwy., Kapaa (www.olympiccafekauai.com; 808/822-5825), where the portions are almost as large as the sprawling international menu. Breakfast is your best bet; be prepared to take home leftovers. (There’s also a location in Poipu Shopping Village, open for breakfast and lunch only.)
Check out these two Kapaa food counters with limited seating: Shrimp Station ★ and Tiki Tacos ★★, 4–961 Kuhio Hwy., mauka side, in the Waipouli Complex. Billed as “Mexican food with a Hawaiian heart,” the latter features sizable tacos ($6–$8) with island fish, kalua pork, and other fillings on handmade tortillas. It's open 11am to 8:30pm daily.
Change comes slowly to the North Shore, so three new restaurants in one year is big news. In Hanalei, Chef James Moffatt serves three kinds of silky Japanese ramen bowls ($18) plus grilled fish and meat skewers ($10–$11) at Ama ★★ (808/826-9452), next door to his Bar Acuda in Hanalei Center; it’s dinner only, no reservations. Across the street in the Ching Young Shopping Center, Northside Grill ★ (808/826-9701) has replaced long-lived Bouchons; open for lunch and dinner, it’s more casual, with affordable seafood and pricey beer.
For those capable of serious splurges, Makana Terrace ★★★ in the Princeville Hotel provides sensational Hanalei Bay and mountain views along with exquisite island-sourced cuisine; try the four-course prix fixe menu ($85; $135 with wine pairing), the Kauai chicken and taro waffle ($37) or the signature Ke Kai seafood medley in a delicate coconut panang emulsion ($51). Also in the posh hotel, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s dark-hued Kauai Grill ★★ offers similarly delicious island-inspired haute cuisine, at even more haute prices.
Bar Acuda’s busy chef-owner James Moffatt also runs Hanalei Bread Company ★★ (808/826-6717), a bakery and coffee house in Hanalei Center, 5-5161 Kuhio Hwy. It’s open 7am to 5pm daily, but the delectable breakfast and lunch entrees, including avocado toast and pizza ($10–$12), are only available till 2pm. Locals line up early for chocolate chip scones, lilikoi cinnamon rolls, and other goodies to go with their espresso drinks; don’t be in a rush when you arrive. For other moderately priced island and American dining options, see the listings for Tahiti Nui ★★ in Hanalei and Tiki Iniki ★ in Princeville under “Kauai Nightlife”.
Beside plate lunches, the best bargains in North Shore dining usually come from food trucks, often found at Anini, Hanalei, and Haena beach parks, but with fickle hours. Hanalei Taro & Juice ★ (www.hanaleitaro.com; 808/826-1059), makai side of Kuhio Hwy., a mile west of the Hanalei Bridge, has reliable hours and shaded seating. It’s open daily 11am to 3pm, with most items under $10; be sure to sample the banana-bread-like taro butter mochi. Nearby, the tiny storefront Pink’s Creamery ★ (808/212-9749), 4489 Aku Rd., is as justifiably renowned for its grilled-cheese sandwiches on sweet bread with pineapple and optional kalua pork ($8–$9, including chips) as it is for delicious tropical ice creams and housemade frozen yogurt and sorbets; it’s open daily 11am to 9pm.
In addition to the choices here, see the listing for Keoki’s Paradise ★★, a perennial favorite for its tropical landscaping, casual vibe, and ambitious, locally sourced island menu (dinner main courses $30–$35), under “Kauai Nightlife”.
Pop into Little Fish Coffee ★★ (https://littlefishcoffee.com; 808/742-2113) in Poipu for fresh pastries, salads, panini specials, and beautifully swirled coffee and tea drinks, just like its original location in Hanapepe. It’s at the entrance to the Poipu Beach Athletic Club, 2290 Koloa Rd., and open 6:30am to 3pm daily. Anuenue Cafe ★ (www.anuenuecafe.com; 808/295-0109) in Poipu Shopping Village opens daily at 6am, serving locally sourced omelets, mac nut pancakes, and kalua pig sandwiches, among other treats, till 12:30pm. In the Kukuiula strip mall, 2827 Poipu Rd., Da Crack ★ (808/742-9505) is a takeout window where a line often forms for fish tacos with wasabi cream and the massive but relatively healthful burritos (vegan beans, brown rice); it’s open 11am to 8pm Mon–Sat and till 3pm Sun.
In Waimea, go to Gina’s Anykine Grinds Cafe ★, 9734 Kaumualii Hwy., mauka side by the theater (808/338-1731), for casual breakfast and lunch ($7–$12), or just killer handheld coconut pies ($5). It’s open 7am–2:30pm Tues–Thur, 7am–1pm Fri, and 8am–1pm Sat. For lunch or early dinner, shrimp platters ($13) are the stars at The Shrimp Station ★, 9652 Kaumualii Hwy., Waimea, makai side, at Makeke Rd. (www.theshrimpstation.com; 808/338-1242). If you don’t want to get your hands messy peeling shrimp, order the chopped shrimp tacos, a fried shrimp burger, or the fried coconut shrimp with a zesty papaya ginger tartar sauce. The open-air picnic tables do attract flies, so consider making yours a to-go order. It’s open daily 11am to 5pm; the Kapaa location at 4-985 Kuhio Hwy., mauka side, at Keaka Rd. (808/821-0192) stays open till 8:30pm. Ishihara Market ★★ (see “Plate Lunch, Bento & Poke”) also has good picnic fare.
Tried & True: Hawaii Regional Cuisine Hawaii's tried-and-true baseline remains Hawaii Regional Cuisine (HRC), established in the mid-1980s in a culinary revolution that catapulted Hawaii into the global epicurean arena. The international training, creative vigor, fresh ingredients, and cross-cultural menus of the 12 original HRC chefs have made the islands a dining destination applauded and emulated nationwide. (In a tip of the toque to island tradition, ahi -- a word ubiquitous in Hawaii -- has replaced tuna on many chic New York menus.) And other options have proliferated at all levels of the local dining spectrum: Waves of new Asian residents have transplanted the traditions of their homelands to the fertile soil of Hawaii, resulting in unforgettable taste treats true to their Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese, and Indo-Pacific roots. When combined with the bountiful, fresh harvests from sea and land for which Hawaii is known, these ethnic and culinary traditions take on renewed vigor and a cross-cultural, uniquely Hawaiian quality.
Plate Lunch, Bento & poke
If you haven’t yet tried the Hawaii staples of plate lunch, bento, or poke (seasoned, raw fish), Kauai’s inexpensive eateries are a good place to start.
EAST SIDE—In Kapaa, the indispensable Pono Market, 4–1300 Kuhio Hwy. (makai side), Kapaa (808/822-4581), has enticing counters of sashimi, poke, sushi, and a diverse assortment of takeout fare. The roast pork and the potato-macaroni salad are top sellers, but it’s also known for plate lunches, including pork and chicken laulau (steamed in ti leaves), plus flaky manju (sweet potato and other fillings in baked crust). It’s open Monday to Saturday 6am to 4pm. Kapaa also has Sleeping Giant Grill, a renamed branch of Kilauea Fish Market (see "North Shore," below) at 440 Aleka Pl. (808/822-3474; Mon–Sat 11am–8pm); try the mochi ono tacos (battered in rice flour) for a deliciously crisp take on fish tacos.
In Lihue, Po’s Kitchen, 4100 Rice St. (808/246-8617), packs a lot of goodies in its deluxe bentos ($8.50), including shrimp tempura, chicken katsu, chow fun noodles, spaghetti mac salad, hot dog, ham, and rice balls. It’s hidden behind Ace Hardware and open Monday to Saturday from 6am to 2pm (cash only). One block away, Garden Island BBQ, 4252 Rice St. (808/245-8868), is the place for Chinese plate lunches, as well as soups and noodle dishes; it’s open Monday to Saturday 10am to 9pm, Sunday 11am to 9pm. Across the highway from Wal-Mart, the Fish Express, 3343 Kuhio Hwy. (808/245-9918), draws crowds for its wide assortment of poke (the ahi with spicy crab in a light mayo sauce is a favorite), pork laulau, Spam musubi, bentos, and plate lunches, including lighter entree options such as Cajun blackened ahi and smoked fish. The downside: no seating. It’s open Monday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm.
Mark’s Place, in Puhi Industrial Park at 1610 Haleukana St., Lihue (www.marksplacekauai.com; 808/245-2722), fashions daily salad and entree specials with a California-healthy bent: shrimp and grilled-vegetable quinoa salad, say, or cornmeal-crusted mahi with chipotle aioli. But it also serves island standards such as Korean-style chicken, beef stew, and chicken katsu and is famed for its baked goods, including butter mochi and bread pudding. It’s open weekdays from 10am to 8pm, with a handful of picnic tables for seating.
NORTH SHORE—Everything is pricier on the North Shore, and ahi poke and plate lunches are no exception at Kilauea Fish Market, 4270 Kilauea Rd. (enter from Keneke St. across the street from Kong Lung Market), Kilauea (808/828-6244). At $29 a pound, skip the poke and opt for Korean BBQ or grilled teri chicken plates ($11–$12); the burrito-like ahi wrap ($11) is a messy but filling alternative. It’s open Monday to Saturday from 11am to 8pm, with outdoor seating only. Locals head to Village Snack Shop and Bakery, across from Puka Dog inside Hanalei’s Ching Young Village, 5-5190 Kuhio Hwy. (808/826-6841), for loco moco (eggs, meat, and gravy on rice) at breakfast and chili pepper chicken at lunch; everyone loves the chocolate haupia (coconut cream) pies, malasadas (doughnut holes), and other pastries. It’s open 6:30am to 4pm Monday to Saturday, until 3pm Sunday (kitchen closes an hour earlier). In Wainiha, near the end of the road, Sushigirl Kauai, 5-6607 Kuhio Hwy. (808/827-8171), offers gluten-free takeout, from ahi poke bowls with rice, local organic greens, or quinoa ($12) to seafood and veggie sushi rolls ($12–$15). It's open 11am to 7 pm Monday to Saturday, noon to 4pm Sunday.
SOUTH SHORE—The Koloa Fish Market, 5482 Koloa Rd. (808/742-6199) in Old Town Koloa, is a tiny corner store with two stools on the veranda. Grab some excellent fresh poke, plate lunches, or seared ahi to go, and don’t forgo decadent desserts such as Okinawan sweet potato haupia pie on macadamia nut crust. You can also pick up raw seafood to grill. It’s open weekdays from 10am to 6pm and Saturday till 5pm. Sueoka’s Snack Shop (808/742-1112), the cash-only window counter of Sueoka grocery store, 5392 Koloa Rd. (www.sueokastore.com; [tel] 808/742-1611), offers a wide selection of meat-based lunch plates, such as shoyu chicken or kalua pork for just $6.25. It’s open Tuesday to Friday 8:30am to 2pm, weekends 9am to 3pm.
WEST SIDE—Ishihara Market, 9894 Kaumualii Hwy., Waimea (808/338-1751), a block past the bridge on the makai side, is well worth a stop heading to or from Waimea Canyon. A local favorite founded in 1934, the family-run Ishihara’s deli counter stocks an impressive variety of fresh poke and has a grill making plate lunches Tuesday to Saturday. The grocery store is open Monday to Thursday 6am to 7:30pm, Friday and Saturday till 8pm, and Sunday till 7pm.
Cheeseburgers in Paradise
Delicious as Hawaii’s fresh seafood is, sometimes what you’re really looking for—in the words of Jimmy Buffett—is a cheeseburger in paradise. Luckily, Kauai boasts several joints bound to satisfy.
The first thing to know about Duane’s Ono Char-Burger ★★, 4-4350 Kuhio Hwy., makai side, Anahola (808/822-9181), is that its burgers ($5–$8) are not made of the fish called ono (wahoo); they’re just ‘ono (“delicious” in Hawaiian). The second thing to know is that waits can be long at this red roadside stand, opened in 1973, where wild chickens, cats, and birds are ready to share your meal with you. Duane’s is open Monday to Saturday 10am to 6pm and Sunday 11am to 6pm. Duane’s founders also run Kalapaki Beach Hut ★, 3474 Rice St., Lihue, near the west end of Kalapaki Beach (www.facebook.com/KalapakiBeachHut; 808/246-6330). The two-story oceanview “hut” offers grass-fed Kauai beef burgers ($7–$10), a taro burger ($9) made from organic taro grown nearby, and shave ice.
Famed for its sassy slogans (“We Cheat Tourists, Drunks & Attorneys,” among them) as much as for its burgers ($4–$8) made from grass-fed Kauai beef, Bubba’s ★ (www.bubbaburger.com) claims to have been around since 1936. It’s certainly had time to develop a loyal following, even while charging $1 for lettuce and tomato. It also offers a vegan Maui taro burger, hot dogs, and chili rice. The original Bubba’s is in Kapaa, 4-1421 Kuhio Hwy. (808/823-0069), where the deck has a view of the ocean across Kapaa Beach Park; the Poipu location is on the makai end of the Shops at Kukuiula, 2829 Ala Kalanikamauka (808/742-6900). Both are open daily from 10:30am to 8pm, although the Kukuiula closing time may vary depending on business.
Wailua’s more upmarket Street Burger ★★, 4-369 Kuhio Hwy. (www.streetburgerkauai.com; 808/212-1555), has made a juicy splash with gourmet salads, truffle fries, and toppings such as olive tapenade, jalapeño pineapple marmalade, and brie on its Makaweli beef, Niihau lamb, and veggie burgers ($10–$20). Large parties (6 or more) should call for reservations.