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Best Kauai Restaurants

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For much of the history of tourism in Hawai’i, any type of regional cuisine was limited to the traditional fare found at the luau and even that wasn’t the best of it.  Any other fine dining experience would be an impersonation of mainland steakhouses or one of the excellent sushi bars. The evolution of Hawaiian and local staples into a modern regional cuisine is relatively recent, but once it began it flourished. The chefs had a variety of traditions to work with including Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, and Hawaiian, that has led to inventive cuisine. Most high end restaurants focus on fresh fish with complementary sauces and locally raised beef and locally grown vegetables. One restaurant, 22 North, recently opened at Kilohana and focuses on a farm to table approach. As Kauai has grown, its population has diversified and several worthwhile ethnic restaurants have opened including two new Indian restaurants. The local staples hailing from the plantation era still remain: plate lunches with a scoop of rice, scoop of macaroni salad, and a hot main course, sometimes stuffed in a ti leaf bundle.

Duke's Canoe Club

Neighborhood: The Eastside Price: Expensive
This is the apres-surf cocktail spot where you can waltz in, barefoot and bedazzled with salt and sand from a day in the surf, and have spot-hitting “pupu” (Hawaiian for “tapas”) while ponying up to the bar and “talking story” with any number of regulars or fellow visitors. Duke’s is part of the TS chain of restaurants that operate as far away as Huntington Beach, Calif., and under such names as Kimo’s, Keoki’s, and Hula Girl etc. Duke’s at Kalapaki, however, is the one not to miss. 

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Hukilau Lanai

Neighborhood: The Eastside Price: Expensive
One of the best Kauai restaurants of Pacific Rim cuisine on the Eastside, Hukilau is in the elegant but unassuming grounds of the Kauai Coast Resort at the Beachboy. Although dining on the lanai under the torchlight is romantic, one of the best dining experiences there is to take a seat on of the comfy lobby couches and order your meal and drinks there while listening to Hawaiian music entertainment. A recommended course would include the crab and lobster wontons or warabi and sausage as an appetizer paired with the Island Orchid Martini (made of vodka infused with Hawaiian vanilla bean) followed by the Wally’s Steak Crown Royal as a main dish, and the oozing, warm chocolate lava cake for dessert.

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Roy's

Neighborhood: The South Shore Price: Expensive

Though it’s technically a chain restaurant, the Kauai branch features an innovative menu that brings fusion to a new level. Chef Roy Yamaguchi is often credited as the inventor of Pacific Rim Cuisine, which started with the simple but delectable macadamia nut-crusted ahi (still a hit with patrons). Yamaguchi has successfully launched the Roy’s brand into a successful group of restaurants. And here, the menu changes daily with specials and prix fixe menus that include wine pairings from an extensive wine list. The staff places a premium on service and that is anything but saccharine. Highlights include the Roy’s Canoe appetizer for two: shrimp sticks, spring rolls, shrimp gyoza, Szechwan pork ribs and blackened ahi. Also try, the butter-seared sea scallops with organic quinoa tabouleh, local mango avocado relish and watermelon gazpacho, and the potato and black pepper-crusted mahimahi with gratin potatoes, saffron vanilla emulsion and black truffle bernaise. Spicy edamame is used in place of bread and butter.

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Hanalei Gourmet

Neighborhood: North Shore Price: Moderate
This little bistro in the quaint old schoolhouse in Hanalei Town is a great place to unwind and eat up after a long day of playing on the North Shore. There is often live music with a talented local Hawaiian band on Sundays. The eats may not be truly gourmet, but you’ll find upgraded versions of satisfying staples, including a gorgonzola burger and mac-nut fried chicken. Good beer on tap completes the unwinding process. Lighter bar food includes the papaya stuffed with chicken salad or the smoked Hawaiian seafood sampler, with Lox-style slices of local smoked fish with chipotle aioli, fresh pineapple and Kilauea breadsticks. At night, they are sometimes understaffed for a full house and the service tends to be slow.

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Kauai Pasta

Neighborhood: The Eastside Price: Moderate
Despite its unassuming and rather utilitarian name, this is a cult classic on Kauai. They do excellent work with their staples, from homemade ravioli to delectable crab cakes, coconut creme brulee and milk chocolate pots de creme. There are two locations: Kapa’a and Lihu’e. The Lihue location has a quaint street front atmosphere; the Kapa’a location is in a nondescript stripmall, but features the lounge, open until 1AM (late for Kauai’) with a separate menu. Specials rotate based on the season and availability of local produce, but have included wild boar ossobucco with roasted garlic and spinach risotto. Staff at both locations know the cuisine well and are often well-versed in wine pairings. 

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Olympic Cafe

Neighborhood: The Eastside Price: Moderate
This popular Kauai restaurant serves practically everything from pasta, to wraps, to over-the-top salads. Known for its larger than life food portions and bloody Mary bar, this is one of those spots that’s rarely empty. Aloha Fridays feature an all-you-can-eat taco bar that’s free, provided you buy two drinks—therefore, that’s when the bar is most crowded, but also most happening. Nicknamed the “OC” surfers galore hit up this spot apres surf for big eats, as they’re hungry and there is little to do late night on Kauai anyway. Location helps, as it’s also near several surf breaks.

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Grove Cafe

Neighborhood: The Westside Price: Moderate
This is the only bar worth its salt on the Westside. Not only does the Grove Cafe features Kauai’s only brewpub, its location is one that invites a beachside stroll amidst tiki torches, a wild sunset and grand banyan trees. Though this is the only survivor of three original brewpubs on island, live music and a steady stream of regulars make it seem deserving. The beer is excellent—particularly the chocolate porter or the passionfruit (lilikoi) wheat. The food is hearty, comforting, and stacked high, particularly the kalua pork nachos. (Kalua pork isn’t something you want to miss on Kauai if you’re a meateater). There is live music on Thursday and Friday, and dining on the open lanai allows you to feel the heat of the Waimea day give in to a cool night. 

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The Fish Express

Neighborhood: The Eastside Price: Budget
A small market in Lihue, this venue serves up some of the island’s best poke (pronounced “po-kay,” which is seasoned, raw fish), pupu, and plate lunches. Also, if you want to grill fresh fish later in the evening, this is where you buy it. The menu is limited, and based around the daily fresh catch. But don’t let the lack of options fool you. People drive from all over the island for the fish served in this little shack-like shop. It’s also one of the only places on-island where you can get a fresh Hawaiian plate similar to what is served at lu’aus, as it offers some of the best, homemade laulau or kalua pig you’ll ever sample in your life. Laulau, which is salted pork steamed in lu’au leaves, is cooked to the point of perfection here, and the kalua pig (slow-cooked pork, traditionally made in an earth oven or “imu” underground on the beach) requires little, if any, mastication. Rice and a serving of poke and lomilomi salmon will come as side orders to your Hawaiian plate, sure to leave you in a pleasant food coma for hours to come.  

Duane’s Ono Char Burger

Neighborhood: The Eastside Price: Budget
This unassuming, dive-y little roadside stand in Anahola with five outdoor concrete tables has long been known for turning out Kauai’s best burgers. Their fries and shakes are pretty good as well. The place is popular and small so sometimes the wait can be up to forty-five minutes. The best plan is to call ahead if you know you’re heading that way. Recommendations? The “Local Girl” (charbroiled burger piled high with pineapple, mayonnaise, rice and teriyaki) and the “Western Barbeque” (charbroiled burger with bacon and teriyaki) are among the local favorites. 

Obsessions Cafe

Neighborhood: The Westside Price: Budget
Obsessions Cafe is built to provide good food and if good food takes three eggs and some kind of pork-based side dish. That’s not to say everything here is heavy or unhealthy. There are vegetarian wraps and salads, but what this place does well is comfort food, and the pastrami sandwich with fries is particularly good. But if you’re a believer in the old adage, When in Rome, then have at the “loco moco,” the Hilo-based Hawaiian diner favorite that pays homage to the greasy spoon, consisting of a bowl of rice with a hamburger patty, gravy and an over easy egg.

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Kountry Kitchen

Neighborhood: The Eastside Price: Budget
This popular spot is one of the best places to eat breakfast on Kauai. The fare is diner style with local additions such as kim chi or kalua pork to the omelettes or that cardiac arrest inducing island favorite the loco moco, made of rice, two eggs, a hamburger patty and brown gravy. They usually have specials involving pancakes and make a pretty decent stack topped with strawberries and whipped cream. Although they are open for lunch, Kountry Kitchen is known for its breakfast as evidenced by the line going out the door on Sunday mornings.

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