Aloha, Friends! I hope you’re ready to get tropical. Break out your flip-flops and grab a tiki cocktail, Her Tasty Life is going full luau status today and bringing you the ‘Best of Kauai’ edition.
I’m fresh off a trip to my favorite place on Earth, the Garden Island of Hawaii, Kauai. It’s a magical place with lush greenery, killer beaches, grand canyons and a slow, languid pace of life that is exactly what turns an ordinary vacation into a bonafide, blissed-out getaway.
Being the small island that it is, however, Kauai isn’t exactly known for its dynamic culinary scene. Legit North Shore surfing? Yes. Progressive Molecular Gastronomy? Not so much.
Shave Ice and Kauai Grass-fed Burgers are usually the trending tasties du jour here, and while I’ll certainly highlight the ‘best of’ those for you, I did scope out some hidden gems and new restaurants on the scene, too. I found something French, something fresh and something very fabulous! Keep reading for your everything-you-need-to-know Best of Kauai food guide.
Aloha Juice Bar | Hanalei | Ching Young Village Shopping Center
I love visiting the Aloha Juice Bar for fresh fruit smoothies, cold, fresh coconuts and this, pictured above. The Açai Bowl is a Best of Kauai and the version at Aloha Juice Bar is my favorite. The açai is blended ice cold and then topped with organic blueberries, granola, banana, chia seeds and shredded coconut. It’s the perfect healthy start to an active, Kauai day.
Kilauea Bakery | Kilauea | Kong Long Historic Market Center
The Kilauea Bakery is actually open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. However, their breakfast is by far and away my favorite meal from them. I go there almost daily for their blended, frozen Chai and house-baked everything bagel with fresh salmon spread. It’s so ono! That means really, really good in Hawaiian life.
Their fresh baked goods are also the best on the island and great to take away with you. Think: mango danishes, lilikoi-lemon bars, dark chocolate turnovers, and these gorgeous guava macaroons, pictured above.
Art Café Hemingway | Kapa’a | 4-1495 Kuhio Hwy
I just adore Hemingway! For all intents and purposes, it’s completely a European breakfast spot. Set amongst the throngs of restaurants serving coconut pancakes and pineapple waffles, it’s an interesting change from the landscape. I guess that can feel a little counterintuitive while on vacation on Kauai, but occasionally a perfectly poured latté, french baguette, brie cheese, and fluffy crepes are exactly what the doctor ordered. You can OD on macadamia nuts alone, you know? Check in here for your antidote.
Hamura Saimin Stand | Lihue | 2956 Kress St
Hamura is a real deal, locals only, off-the-beaten-path saimin shop. Don’t know what saimin is? Take a look above. It’s ramen’s not-too-distant cousin. A flavorful noodle soup with a plethora of toppings to choose from like won-tons, naruto (fish cake), pork, tempura shrimp… the list goes on and on. If you’re thinking it’s too hot in Hawaii for saimin, the always-busy nature of this counter service spot dictates otherwise.
Puka Dog | Hanalei & Koloa | see website for location details
I consider Puka Dog a Best of Kauai from the standpoint that this is almost like the Hawaiian version of getting some street food. With Kauai void of street vendors (though they do have food trucks abound!), Puka scratches the itch of eating something kind of naughty with a local-tasting flare. Their Hawaiian style hot dog is layered with your choice of tropical sauces and fruit-based relishes that make this a very Kauai experience, indeed.
Duane’s Ono-Char Burger | Anahola | 4-4350 Kuhio Hwy
If you can find this gem, pat yourself on the back! This no-frills burger shack in the sleepy town of Anahola is very easy to miss if you’re not looking for it.
As I mentioned earlier, Kauai is known for being fanatical about its burgers and has plenty of beef for your enjoyment. Everyone has their opinion on their favorite joint and Duane’s gets my Best of Kauai seal of approval. There’s absolutely nothing on the island to be found like the “Duane’s Special.” Order this intensely beautiful burger and get down and dirrrty with a serious case of the beef yummies. Stacked up high with a signature charred 1/3 lb patty, 1,000 Island Dressing, Swiss, Cheddar, Sprouts, Pickles and Grilled Onions, it’s like having a religious experience.
Monico’s Taqueria | Kapa’a | 4-356 Kuhio Highway
Monico’s is magnificent! I know, it’s not Hawaiian fare and pupu platters, but does that even matter? Some of the best and freshest fish on Kauai is being prepared right here in dishes like garlic shrimp quesadillas, mahi mahi fajitas, seafood burritos, and catch-of-the-day tacos. My husband and I always remark that it’s the best Mexican food we’ve ever had, which is saying a lot from two native Southern Californians. We love Monico’s so much we even hosted our wedding rehearsal dinner here.
I never miss a trip to Monico’s when on Kauai. You probably shouldn’t, either.
Bar Acuda | Hanalei | 5-5161 Kuhio Hwy
Bar Acuda is 100% Best of Kauai. With very limited “fancy” options on the island, this is one of the few places you can visit and feel OK about getting a little dressed up for a date night with your hunny. It has a chic, urban vibe and the menu to match. Great cocktails (love the Ginger & Smoke), a solid wine list, and yummy sharing tapas like this feta, blistered tomato and lamb chop dish make it an upscale winner.
Also a do not miss: their signature whole roasted tomato bruschetta.
JO2 | Kapa’a | 4-971 Kuhio Highway
Ahhh, mi amour! JO2 is a newer addition to Kauai and for those who may have visited here previously, it’s the sister restaurant to the very popular Josselin’s in Poipu. Run by an uber-talented, James Beard award-winning chef, Jean-Marie Josselin, JO2 is exactly what you would expect from someone of that caliber. The fare is regional, handpicked, and presented in a way that is so elegant and refined, you could be dining at the base of the Eiffel instead of in a strip mall in Kapa’a. Yes, the lovely interior of JO2 doesn’t quite match its commonplace exterior, but the food more than makes up for that.
Shave Ice Paradise | Hanalei | Hanalei Center
Shave Ice is a must-do for anyone visiting the islands. It’s a staple. Shave Ice Paradise is my favorite simply because of its beautiful surroundings in the majestic town of Hanalei. I grab my shave ice, head to the Hanalei Pier, and eat it (fast, before it melts) while overlooking the bay. Nothing better.
Pro Tip: on this last trip I was made aware of a new, craft shave ice spot called The Fresh Shave which is doing shave ice that has fresh fruit flavors, syrups and toppings. None of that psychedelic rainbow stuff. I was hoping to get there but never made it. Maybe one of you can try and report back for me?
Papalani Gelato | Poipu | Poipu Shopping Village
Ice cream on vacation? Oh, go on! Make sure to stop by Papalani Gelato in Poipu for its outstanding local creamery flavors like this coconut macnut fudge cone I devoured. They also have some nice, tropical sorbetti’s if you’re looking for something on the lighter side. Roosters in the background sold separately.
Well, that’s it for our Best of Kauai food journey. I hope you enjoyed, but more importantly I hope it made you hungry. Sending lots of Kauai kisses your way. Mahalo!