Dining in Kauai is an activity unto itself. Dining is not just eating (although you will find scrumptious meals created from locally grown, raised, or caught products) but an entire feast for the senses. Dining on Kauai begins with views and decor. Resort areas will feast your eyes with romantic settings and panoramic ocean views. Dining also means soothing sounds, from the strumming of a ukulele to the gentle rhythm of tumbling waves in the sand. Next on Kauai's sensuous dining experiences are the enticing aromas, especially at ethnic restaurants. Taste the familiar, the new, the exotic, and even the adventurous. I urge you to try at least one restaurant featuring cuisine you are totally unfamiliar with. Who knows, you may become enamored with it.
Expensive $31 and up
Inexpensive Under $24
A Hawaiian Feast: the Luau
Originally, an ancient Hawaiian feast was called a pa'ina or 'aha'aina, but in 1856, the Pacific Commercial Advertiser (the newspaper of the day) started referring to the feast as a "luau," a name referring to the young taro tops always served at the feast. Try to take in a luau while you're on Kauai. A luau today can range from a backyard affair to a commercial production at a major resort. The best ones are put on by local churches, schools, or hula halau. However, most visitors won't have the opportunity to see these truly authentic feasts. Several commercial luau listed below will provide a taste and a feel for them.
Most luau are fixed in price, generally $78 to $99 for adults, less for children. A variety of traditional foods and entertainment is provided. The luau usually begins at sunset and features Polynesian and Hawaiian entertainment, which can range from lavish affairs with flaming knives or torches being juggled, to performances of ancient hula, missionary-era hula, and modern hula, as well as narration of the stories and legends portrayed by the dances. The food always includes imu-roasted kalua pig, lomi salmon, dried fish, poke (raw fish cut into small pieces), poi (made from taro), laulau (meat, fish, and vegetables wrapped in ti leaves), Hawaiian sweet potato, sautéed vegetables, salad, and the ultimate taste treat, a coconut dessert called haupia. Don't worry if you've never heard of these items (and can't pronounce them either), most luau will also have more common preparations of fish, chicken, and roast beef, as well as easily recognizable salads and standard desserts like cake.
The mainstay of the feast is the imu, a hot earthen pit in which the pig and other items are cooked. The preparations for the feast actually begin in the morning, when the luau master layers hot stones and banana stalks in the pit to get the temperature up to 400°F (204°C). The pig, vegetables, and other items are lowered into the pit and cooked all day. The water in the leaves steams the pig and roasts the meat to a tender texture.
One of the larger commercial luau in the island is Smith's Tropical Paradise Garden Lu'au, in the Tropical Paradise Gardens on the Wailua River (pictured; tel. 808/821-6895 or 808/821-6896; www.smithskauai.com), seasonal schedule, so call for dates (during the popular summer months it is 5 days a week Mon-Fri). Luau prices are $78 for adults, $30 for children 7 to 13, and $19 for children 3 to 6; or you can come for just the entertainment at 7:15pm and pay $15 for adults, $7.50 for children under 12.
The luau Kalamaku, Kilohana (tel. 808/245-9593; www.kilohanakauai.com; Tues and Fri) begins at 5:30pm with an imu ceremony where the pig is removed from the pit, followed by a very entertaining performance of the story of how Polynesians came to Hawaii featuring ancient and modern hula performances. The cost is $103 for adults, $72 for teenagers 12 to 18, $51 for children 3 to 12, and free for children 2 and under. The train ride with the luau is an additional $18.
On the south coast, check out Tihati Production's "Havaiki Nui," in the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa, 1571 Poipu Rd., Poipu (tel. 800/55-HYATT or 808/742-1234; www.kauai-hyatt.com), every Sunday and Thursday. They offer an elaborate buffet and a very professional Polynesian show. The cost is $94 for adults, $84 for teens 13 to 20, and $57 for children 6 to 12.
On the North Shore, award-winning Mediterranean Gourmet Restaurant in the Hanalei Colony Resort has the Ocean Front Luau (5-7132 Kuhio Hwy, Haena, tel. 808/826-9875; www.kauaimedgourmet.com) with excellent cuisine and wonderful entertainment at very reasonable prices of $69 for adults, $56 for teenagers ages 12 to 17, and $25 for kids ages 3 to 11 (free for children under 3).