Compared to other Hawaiian islands, Kauai is relatively rugged, with red soil to the south, lush greenery up north, and the Napali Coast’s impenetrable mountains out west, accessible only by hiking trails or boat. When natives and visitors take a break from all the possible recreation, they need replenishment. Discover 17 top places to eat and drink well on Kauai.
Subtractions: Da Imu Hut (Closed), Feral Pig (Closed), Hanalei Coffee Roasters (Closed)
Establishments appear in alphabetical order instead of order of preference.
Chef Jim Moffat and partner Jondy Malone built on Bar Acuda’s success with Ama, an adjacent Japanese restaurant in a brown and green complex called The Hanalei Center. The patio provided amazing views of cloud-capped mountains lined with multiple waterfalls. Ama takes sourcing seriously, buying produce from local farms and Sun noodles from Honolulu that service many top ramen shops. Well-balanced char siu mazemen featured springy alkaline noodles topped with minced pork belly, pickled red onion, cilantro, jalapeño, Fresno chiles, and garlic chips. My “local fish skewer” starred juicy grilled ono chunks plated atop invigorating mint jalapeño cilantro sauce. Pupus – share-friendly small plates – included deep-fried Brussels sprouts tossed in a savory, tangy blend of chile, lime juice, fish sauce, shallots, and garlic. Poké was atypical, but tasty, co-starring cured local ahi, coconut milk, Thai red chile sauce, lime juice, grapefruit, and avocado.
MUST ORDER: Char Siu Mazemen, Local Fish Skewer, Nuoc Cham Brussels Sprouts
2. Bar Acuda
Bar Acuda is the original Hanalei restaurant from Moffat and Malone, dating to 2005. The space features a wraparound wood patio, tear-shaped lanterns, dining room with an open kitchen, and overhead surfboards. The menu features globally inspired, share-friendly small plates starring local ingredients. Crunchy cucumber salad co-stars creamy avocado, crispy garbanzo beans, Kunana Farms feta, white balsamic vinaigrette and fresh herbs. Ahi crudo embellished raw sliced tuna with bunashimeji mushrooms, lime, jalapeño, olive oil, and shaved fennel. Grilled lamb riblettes showcased three small chops marinated in garlic, honey, parsley, paprika, and olive oil. Seared sea scallop delivered the boldest bites, set atop buttery Yukon gold mashed potatoes with house-made Spanish chorizo vinaigrette and and crunchy pea shoots.
MUST ORDER: Ahi Crudo, Grilled Lamb Riblettes, Local Cucumber Salad, Seared Sea Scallop
Mike Pierce started Chicken in a Barrel in Kapaʻa in 2010, expanded to Hanalei’s Ching Young Village in 2013, and is now taking on four Kauai locations, plus California outposts in Lake Tahoe and Goleta. They smoke chickens in barrels with charcoal on the bottom and kiawe, local mesquite on top. Their chicken was juicy and flavorful, especially parts sporting burnished skin, though the smoke didn’t penetrate to the bone. They serve birds with brown rice and rich chili crafted with kidney beans, tomato, ground beef, and bacon. This Hanalei location housed a small dining room, elevated patio with aqua and orange color scheme, and depicted a chicken surfing in a “barrel” wave,
MUST ORDER: Chicken in a Barrel, Chili
4. Hamura Saimin
Hamura Saimin is a Lihue classic that rests on a side street near the airport. The same family’s run the restaurant since 1952, when Aiko Hamura and husband Charles set up shop on Kress Street. Their descendants continue to feature noodle bowls, BBQ sticks and shave ice, but I’m most fond of lilikoi chiffon pie, which arrives in jiggling slabs with flaky crust, a thin layer of whipped cream and airy filling flavored and stained yellow with passion fruit juice. The space touts worn canary yellow walls, communal tables and counter seating.
MUST ORDER: Lilikoi Chiffon Pie
5. Hanalei Bread Company
Hanalei Bread Company is a bustling bakery, breakfast, and coffee bar that’s become a community hub since opening in 2015 in The Hanalei Center. Local chef AJ Irons bought the business in 2017 and maintained a successful model. People flock for baked goods like their pull-apart cinnamon roll slathered with lilikoi cream cheese frosting. The “brekkie sandwich” features baked egg, bacon, tomato, arugula, cheese, and aioli on soft, house-baked brioche bun. Special frittata may incorporate bacon, avocado, cheddar, and turkey. Monkey Juice is a judiciously sweet smoothie that combines milk, unnamed tropical fruits, bananas, coconut, almonds, and dates. Even the soft house-made granola bar seemed especially thoughtful. Cappuccino, made with Hanalei Coffee Roasters beans, sported a classic monk’s hairline.
MUST ORDER: Brekkie Sandwich, Cappuccino, Cinnamon Roll, Monkey Juice
6. Hanalei Farmers Market
Torrential rain subsided just in time for my family to enjoy Hanalei Farmers Market, which convenes on Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. with mountain views. The market excels at breakfast. Po’okola Sausage Co’s Holly breakfast sandwich featured a griddled sausage patty on local taro bun with fried egg, Jack (or Cheddar) cheese and honey mustard. Breakfast Burritos by Dave has been at the market for seven years. Dave fills satisfying burritos with soft scrambled egg, cubes of melting Gouda, beans, and spicy salsa. People looking for an early jolt will appreciate Warung Bali’s Indonesian combo plates; I’d suggest ono with sambal and spicy putu chicken served with rice. Kauai Kunana Dairy doesn’t just specialize in goat’s milk cheese. The dairy also sells honey, produce, and fresh juice. Soursop mint juice featured the seeded Caribbean white fruit with spiny green skin in a pastel green, sweet, pulpy liquid with a refreshing, aromatic hit of mint. Outpost Coffee Roaster brewed samples of their Mexican beans. To snack on, I recommend Hanalei Organic dried apple bananas and guava strips. For some reason, I always see celebrities at L.A. farmers markets and kept up my hot streak in Kauai, spotting Lisa Bonet and husband Jason Momoa at a jewelry stall.
MUST ORDER: Breakfast Burrito, Hanalei Organic Dried Guava Strips, Kauai Kunana Dairy Soursop Mint Juice, Po’okola Sausage Co. Holly Breakfast Sandwich, Warung Bali Combo