We’ve covered what I consider the Big 4 of Kauai restaurants: Roy’s, The Beach House, Josselin’s, and Merriman’s. Plantation Gardens is also a reliable choice in Poipu that I usually visit, but didn’t this time, nor did I get to try the new Kauai Grill at the St. Regis in Princeville, with a menu partly created by Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
Banana Joe’s: An excellent fruit stand just past Kilauea along the highway. Choose some fresh papaya and one of the few places to sell Hanalei Poi Co.’s poi. The real reason to come is for the “frosty,” a treat where frozen fruit (banana and pineapple) are forced through a juicer machine creating a refreshing, soft serve ice cream like treat, but much, much healthier.
Bar Acuda: Jim Moffat, one of the leading chefs of San Francisco in the 90’s, moved to Kauai a few years ago for the surfing, and also created a tapas place, Bar Acuda, in Hanalei. Hanalei is certainly what you would call a sleepy town, except at Bar Acuda (and Tahiti Nui). Moffat brought with him a dash of urban sophistication that makes dining at Bar Acuda a loud, sleek, festive affair, not far from an experience in SoMa or SoHo. This really is a tapas place, where a party of four essentially orders the whole menu. One or two larger plates could help. Prices are steep for what you get: a single, somewhat rubbery scallop over mashed potatoes and a strong truffle reduction was $14. The white on white on white appearance of the dish was none too pleasing either.
Grilled flank steak skewers had a terrific honey-chipotle chili marinade, but the meat was tough. I appreciated the slow braised bbq pork shoulder, which did not need the tasteless potatoes alongside. Whole roasted tomato bruschetta is intriguing, neither better or worse than the traditional style. I love dates more than anyone, but even to me a couple of medjool dates with celery shavings, parmesan, and aged balsamic isn’t worth $10. The one dish I would return to again and again is the superb housemade chorizo. These are fine tapas, yet more is expected from a restaurant that should have grander ambitions than this. Also, since these are tapas, do not order everything at once, or pacing will be quite the adventure.
Brennecke’s: The classic kid-friendly, happy hour friendly beach broiler right on Poipu Beach. Don’t come for a game with the tiny selection of beer or tiny televisions. Don’t you dare order the mai tai, a travesty. Don’t order a salad or it’s $14 for overcooked ahi and a bed of greens. At least service is harming, the view great, the vibe celebratory, and the ahi tacos are decent.
Hamura Saimin Stand
A Guy Fieri approved hole in the wall in Lihu’e, this former laundromat serves some top notch saimin (not too far off from ramen). The fried saimin noodles didn’t move me, but the Saimin Special, filled with tender pork shoulder, fish cake, and hard boiled egg is satisfying on a cold day or any day in Kauai (no such thing as a cold day). It’s popular, cramped, and perfectly old school. An institution in Kauai that the tourists are just now getting to. It’s amazing how three women do all the serving, cooking, cleaning during the lunch rush. A must stop in the county seat of Kauai.
On the west side of the Island, an excellent stop for some serious coffee sampling from Kauai’s dominant coffee grower and roaster. The flavored roasts steal the show, especially the banana nut. Lots and lots of free, good coffee. I could make it a daily habit.
Based in Waimea, the cookies are similar to shortbread, not at all soft or gooey. They beg for milk to soften up. The guava macadamia nut has no guava taste and a sliver of a macadamia nut inside. The chocolate chip macadamia nut seems to always forget both ingredients too. The corn flake crunch cookies can be quite special though.
Koloa Rum Distillery
New to Kauai, this award winning distillery now has a tasting room in the Kilohana Plantation to sample their rums and create a mai tai shot for happy hour in the middle of the day. The dark rum is wonderfully deep and robust, but oh how that white rum is not meant for sipping on its own…
Lappert’s Ice Cream
The late Walter Lappert’s ice cream chain branched out to the mainland, where a few outposts still exist, but those no longer are affiliated with the ones in Hawaii. The ice creams are made in Hanapepe and tend to be awfully rich in butterfat…a good thing. Flavors veer toward the traditional with many featuring macadamia nuts, coconut, and Kona coffee. The Aunty Lilikoi passion fruit is shockingly good. However, Kauai Pie, a mix of everything Hawaii with Kona coffee, chocolate, coconut flakes, macadamia nuts, and vanilla cake brunch, is the masterpiece. I’m not a cone guy, but when I do, it’s always the chocolate macadamia nut waffle cone at Lappert’s.
Living Foods Market
Jim Moffat’s import of Portland or San Francisco foodie locavorism to Kauai in the form of this charming, very expensive market in Kukui’ula. An excellent selection of sandwiches, wood fired pizzas, plus fresh produce, and a tiny, but high quality selection of local meat (even duck confit!) and fish. This is the place for fresh baked raisin focaccia bread or a superb morning coffee, though the espressos veer to the watery side. Living Foods sells many Kauai products too from Aunty Lilikoi passion fruit habanero mustard to Monkeypod coffee jelly.
Trying to challenge Lappert’s, gelato in the Poipu Shopping Village. The strawberry is subpar, but others are fascinating such as kulolo (taro-coconut-brown sugar bread pudding) or avocado. The gelato itself is excellent consistency, pure, with no icy spots.
Right next to Papalani Gelato, the veteran Puka Dog now has lines around the corner thanks to its Travel Channel fame. The hot dogs luckily are better than ever, topped with mango relish or coconut relish or the superb papaya version, especially with some lilikoi mustard too. No need for the too watery lemonade. A Kauai classic.
Taro Ko Chips Factory
Hidden in a run down shack in quiet Hanapepe, this family has been creating some life-changing taro chips and potato chips for decades. It’s hard to find, but well worth seeking out for your beach lunches. The li hing mui covered sweet potato chips may be the most delicious food item on Kauai.