The Best Restaurants on Kauai
If you drive the 30 miles from the airport in Lihue to Hanalei in less than an hour, you’re doing it wrong. The coastal route around Kauai’s northeast corner is made for snack stops. Here’s how to take it slow and eat well, starting in Lihue.
5022 Lawai Rd, Koloa, HI 96756, USA
Boasting some of the best views in Kauai, this dreamy eatery serves up spectacular sunsets alongside splurgeworthy lunches and dinners. Start with the signature Monkeypod Mai Tai: A potent blend of Old Lahaina rums and orange curaçao, graced by honey foam. Then try the Thai-inspired coconut crab cakes, followed by the oven-roasted Jidori chicken with goat-cheese polenta or the wasabi-crusted fish with passion-fruit beurre blanc. Vegetarians won’t go hungry either, thanks to dishes like coconut corn chowder sweetened with local lemongrass and slow-roasted beets with tomato-cilantro salad and tempura asparagus. Often voted the island’s top restaurant by Honolulu Magazine, Beach House has also won a steady streak of awards from Wine Spectator.
3343 Kuhio Hwy #3, Lihue, HI 96766, USA
Famous for its poke (raw fish salad), this bustling lunchtime hotspot also serves Hawaiian plates and gourmet bento boxes packed with goodies like grilled salmon and baked teriyaki chicken. Other standouts include a Cajun fish sandwich with honey French dressing and wok-seared island fillets in a yellow Thai coconut-curry sauce.
3610 Rice Street
Duke Kahanamoku, the father of modern surfing, once visited and enjoyed Nawiliwili Bay, which this restaurant now overlooks. Grab Korean street tacos and fire-roasted-veggie flatbread at the Barefoot Bar (especially fun at Aloha Hour from 4 to 6 p.m. daily). Or slip into street clothes and head to the dining room for dishes like Maui onion soup and seared seven-spice ahi.
2829 Ala Kalanikaumaka Rd A-201, Koloa, HI 96756, USA
Iconic chef Roy Yamaguchi helped popularize Hawaiian-fusion food a generation ago, but at Eating House 1849 he takes a delicious detour with dishes inspired by Portuguese, Spanish, and Filipino flavors. This “plantation cuisine” evokes the immigrant dishes served in the mid-1800s, when the state’s first restaurant—a Honolulu establishment called Eating House—opened (according to legend). Yamaguchi brings some serious chops to the table: He trained at the Culinary Institute of America before serving as executive chef in Los Angeles‘s La Serene and winning a James Beard Award. The menu shifts seasonally, according to what farmers, foragers, ranchers, and fishermen produce. Expect delicacies like a beef-and-wild-boar burger and pork lumpia with green papaya. Cap it all off with cinnamon-dusted malasadas (Portuguese doughnuts) with Koloa Rum sauce!
2251 Poipu Rd, Koloa, HI 96756, USA
Surfers have long favored the legendary breaks at Poipu Beach, on Kauai’s south coast, but honeymooners and romance seekers have staked a claim at the beachfront Ko’a Kea Hotel & Resort, a boutique-style getaway in a revamped 1960s lodging that offers a peaceful alternative to the island’s big-name hotel chains. Arranged around an umbrella-dotted pool area, the intimate 121 rooms have private balconies and lanais and island-appropriate decor (think shell-themed artwork and carpeting and coral-embellished drapery framing the sliding doors). Order in to sample sushi prepared with the day’s fresh catch, or head down to Red Salt, helmed by Kauai native Noelani Planas, whose savory vanilla-bean mahi-mahi and lemon-pineapple soufflé pancakes earn rave reviews.
4265 Rice St
This adorable structure built in 1930 shelters a microbrew pub. Start with one of its classic beers, like a malty lager or a dark Bavarian-style brew called Black Limousine. Kauai Beer Company (KBC) also serves kombucha on tap and root beer, both made in-house. Pair your beverage with snacks ranging from poutine-style fries with Gouda to a changing menu of sandwiches like pumpkin, beet, and chèvre, or a Cubano that’s crafted Hawaiian-style (think pork shoulder and seared Spam!). Opened in 2013 by Jim Guerber and his son Justin, this chill Kauai hangout spot appeals to residents and visitors alike. Be sure to check out its seasonal taps, featuring delicacies from an orange-zest-guava-star-fruit beer to hardcore hop-tastic beverages like KBC’s 200th batch: The Bicentennial Double IPA.
5482 Koloa Road
I rarely get fooled when I follow the local lead and the Koloa Fish Market has my attention. It’s easy to start talking about this little fish palace across the street from the post office. Nondescript is telling it like it is. Observing the stream of locals flowing thru the doors on any given day pegs this place as perfect. This is a fresh fish paradise. Poke prepared in the traditional and innovative styles is the big draw for me. Their wasabi dipping sauce is a great complement to the delightful seasonings. If you need to avoid the raw bar options, you can always hook something to take home to cook. In one of the thousands of hotel rooms without cooking facility? Try the seared ahi with the special teriyaki sauce for a tender treat that easily fulfills lunch or dinner. For those who crave things that walk, they have wonderful treatments on their chicken and pork. Kim chee influences spice things up. The Koloa Fish Market is easy to find and hard to forget. It’s cash only so put your plastic away. No seating onsite, but no shortage of picnic spots on Kauai. It’s just another reminder of a simpler, sustainable Kauai existence. Great testament to the Aloha spirit of the islands.
1354 Kuhio Highway
In the heart of old town Kapaa, the Olympic overlooks Main Street with laid-back Hawaiian style. Upstairs in an old building that’s been converted into a collection of ragtag shops, the cafe has a commanding presence. Park and wander along the street to make your way to the stairs leading up to the bar and cafe. No pretense upon arrival. The tables lining the open windows in front are choice for people watching and catching the breeze from the prevailing trades. Late afternoon sun streams in and heats things up but is a welcomed delight. There’s always something cold close by to help with the temperature regulation. The bar is a mix of locals and tourists. Happy hour is a draw from four to six with discounts on drinks and select appetizers. I’m a big fish fan when near the source and the fish tacos at the Olympic take the gold. Dressed with a mango salsa and sides of beans and rice, they use two kinds of fish to keep your tastebuds guessing. There is a good selection of island beers and all the fruity umbrella drinks you can imagine. It’s right on the Kapaa multi-use path, so you can cruise in on your beach bomber for a refreshing break. Staff are friendly and service is casually good. Worth a stop when trolling around Kauai for someplace to take a break from vacation.
5-5190 Kuhio Highway
For an early breakfast treat, get some malasadas at the Village Snack and Bakery Shop (a hole-in-the-wall eatery) located in the Ching Young Village Shopping Center. They sell out of them fast every morning, so you need to roll out of bed early. The shop is owned by an attentive local family and it has been there since I first came to Hanalei 15 years ago. When I asked exactly how long, I was told ‘forever’.
5-5161 Kuhio Hwy, Hanalei, HI 96714, USA
Every evening on the North Shore of Kauai, diners pack Bar Acuda for Mediterranean-inspired tapas that highlight local products. “The key is taking the finest ingredients and not doing much with them,” says chef Jim Moffat. He frequently changes his seasonal menu and sources such produce as citrus, avocados, fennel, and herbs from his home garden and the Hanalei Elementary School Garden, a program for local students that he helps run. Moffat often shops at farmers’ markets, but locals know they can also sell their fruits and vegetables at Bar Acuda’s back door. One firefighter even drives his 30-foot ladder truck to drop off cases of tangelos. “If you have a vacation rental and there’s something ripe, bring it to me,” says Moffat, who promises a gift certificate in exchange. His food philosophy creates a dining experience that’s greater than the sum of its dishes. “It’s about the lifestyle more than anything.” This appeared in the May 2015 issue.
3474 Rice St, Lihue, HI 96766, USA
The beef is local and grass-fed, the french fries and french toast are good, the people are nice, and it’s got views of a little bay. We ate one meal here, then another, and another. Sometimes when you find a good thing, you stick with it. Especially when you’re traveling with a 5-year-old.