Kauai surprised and captivated me. Beautiful scenery, postcard sunsets, and chill AF surf culture? I expected all of that and it certainly delivered. But crazy good food? Definitely not on my radar. I pictured bland resort-style tourist trap meals and to have trouble sniffing out the best places to eat in Kauai. In actuality, good food smacked me right in my way too low-expectation face for almost every meal.
As a mostly pescatarian who eats meat on occasion while traveling, I didn’t dabble too much in animal products on this trip–except for a bite or two of the delectable local hog meat and an accidental spam topped fish taco–because there was no need to. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the seafood was absolutely delicious. What came as more of a surprise to me was just how good everything else was. From coffee shops to food trucks to elegant farm side tasting menus, I ate back every little calorie that attempted to escape my body during the strenuous and active days.
Here are some of the best places to eat in Kauai, broken down by category and then below that, location.
Coffee Shops on Kauai
There were so many adorable coffee shops in Kauai, but in spite of my devoted love for the beverage, I actually didn’t hit too many. Mostly for budget reasons, I stuck to buying local beans and brewing them at home. These were my favorites, though, of the ones I tried:
Ha Coffee Shop, 4180 Rice St #101A, Lihue, HI
This stop was mainly for the Acai bowl, although the coffee was solid too. It’s in a little strip mall less than 10 minutes drive from the airport, the perfect spot to kill some time before your flight.
Cost: $9 for a Hacaienda Bowl
Garden Island Coffee Truck, 4-1604 Kuhio Hwy, Kapa’a, HI
Newly opened, this little truck is on the side of Rt. 56 right past Kapa’a Beach. We stopped twice, first for the iced coffee and then the next day to peruse the owner’s extensive collection of homemade jewelry. The iced coffee was good, and there were a selection of syrups and milks if you’re into flavored.
Cost: I honestly don’t remember, but it looks like 4 coffees cost less than $20.
Wishing Well Shaved Ice, 5-5080 Kuhio Hwy, Hanalei, HI
Sadly, I did not get to try the shaved ice here, though it looked delightful. Instead, I stopped by an iced coffee, served up in an adorable customized mason jar that I brought the roughly 6,000 miles home with me. The coffee here was great, but it’s not cheap. That little jar ran me $7.
Cost: $7 for a coffee
Food Trucks and Stands on Kauai
Apparently, there are over 50 food trucks in Kauai. Whenever someone tells you how expensive Hawaii is–and no doubt, it is pricey–remember that at the very least you can eat better than most here for under $20/meal.
Poku Dog Hawaiin Style Hot Dogs, 2360 Kiahuna Plantation Dr, Koloa, HI
Made famous when Anthony Bourdain stopped off here for a No Reservations episode in 2008, the hot dog stand has since moved to its new home in Poipu Beach. To start, homemade Hawaiin sweet bread is impaled on a skewer and warmed over hot coals. After, the hot dog is put into the hollowed out bread and topped with a hot sauce and relish.
I went with a veggie dog, banana relish, medium spicy sauce (jalapeno), and Aunty Lilikoi’s passion fruit mustard and loved every single bite. From my notes: “the bread texture is like a croissant and a potato bun had a baby…” Enough said.
Cost: $8 w/ tax for one hot dog
Da Crack Tacos, 2728 Poipu Rd, Koloa, Hawaii (Attached to Kukuiula Market)
A few people recommended this spot, a little window outside of the Kukuiula Market in Poipu. I opted for Ahi tacos with wasabi aioli, pico de gallo, and cabbage with a side of hot sauce. When I broke off a piece of the fish separately it was absolutely delicious, perfectly seasoned, flaky, and obviously fresh. However, I wasn’t into the taco all together. The strongly-flavored toppings took away from what should have been the real star of the show, the Ahi Tuna.
Makai Sushi, 2728 Poipu Rd, Koloa, Hawaii (Inside Kukuiula Market)
Inside the same market as Da Crack is Makai Sushi, a little stand near the cash registers. The menu is small–always a good sign–and included a few simple bowls and rolls to choose from, all made with local seafood. I had the Gorilla Ahi Bowl: Ahi, ono, salmon, cucumber, avocado, and sweet maui onion.
The fish is served on a bed of sushi rice and topped with a shaved dykon & seaweed salad, wasabi sauce, aioli, & sesame seeds. They give you a heap of cubed, incredibly fresh–almost juicy–fish that was more than I could finish. It seems expensive, but with the amount of seafood that comes with it, it’s a huge value.
Cost: $16 for a bowl
El Rey Del Mar, 4-1638 Kuhio Hwy, Kapa’a, HI
I ate tacos constantly in Kauai. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised considering how much I consume them in just about every environment–helloooo Austin taco crawl–but I didn’t anticipate this much Mexican food here. Parked in a sandy lot with views of the Ocean, this was probably my favorite food truck in Kauai.
The owner, a lovely man who insisted on bringing us samples of his many homemade hot sauces and delivering the meals to our table steps away from the truck, completed the experience. Over the two visits we made here, I ordered a truly memorable breakfast burrito, tenderly stuffed with rice, eggs, beans, and a smattering of veggies and an enchilada-style grilled fish tacos served with a spicy sauce, and nachos. All of it was fresh, made to order, and, quite honestly, some of the best Mexican food I’ve had in a while.
Cost: $9 for breakfast burrito, $5 per fish taco
The Shrimp Station, (Waimea) 9652 Kamuali’i Highway Waimea & (Kapa’a) 4-985 Kuhio Highway Kapaa, Hawaii
The Shrimp Station in Waimea makes for a lovely stop off before a long hike in Waimea Canyon or Ko’Kee State Parks. It’s located right downtown and popular with tourists. I skipped over it initially because there was a tour bus stopped there the first time I walked down the main strip in Waimea town but curiosity got the better of me so after the long line of people had moved on I ended up sampling it. Thankfully, it was worth it.
I went for the peel-n-eat sauteed shrimp, Got Garlic style, served with a generous scoop of white rice. The shrimps themselves were cooked perfectly, left tender and tasty. I used my hands to peel off the shell, getting the sauce–a slew of garlic, cream, and oil–all over my face, hands, arms, and probably speckled in my hair.
No matter, I didn’t notice the mess I was making of myself distracted as I was by how damn good everything tasted. The thickness of the sauce reminded me almost of the Augolemono sauce my Greek grandmother served with her meatballs. It was comfort food to a tee: hearty and homey, using simple ingredients to make food that is anything but.
Cost: $12.95/plate; Sauteed Shrimp, Got Garlic
Hole-in-the-wall & Bars with Food on Kauai
The Fish Express, 3-3343 Kuhio Hwy, 3-3343 Kuhio Hwy, Lihue, Kauai, HI
One of the few places I went where the line seemed to be mostly made up of locals, this little off the highway joint was an unassuming little gem. It’s less than a 10-minute drive from the airport and across the street from a Walmart, not exactly the setting I’m used to being served uber-fresh seafood. Time and time again I am reminded not to judge a food establishment by its exterior.
Inside was a super simple counter serving poke bowls, seafood salads, lunch plates, and fish tacos. We got the fish tacos, battered and fried, which were topped with pico de gallo, tiny cubes of spam that I originally mistook for tomatoes, and shredded cabbage. Yet again, the fish was fresh, flaky, and melt-in-your-mouth tender. However, I wasn’t into the spam topping. Next time I’d ask to skip it because every other part of that taco was delightful.
Cost: $9.95/two fish tacos
Tahiti Nui, 5-5134 Kuhio Hwy, Hanalei, Hawaii
More of a bar than a restaurant, this is one of a handful of spots to experience nightlife in Hanalei Bay. There is live music nightly, ranging from full bands to one man playing an acoustic guitar. All of the music was great, although the bar scene itself was a little weird. Initially, we really liked it, but after coming back a second night, we felt like things were a bit strange.
The food was surprisingly good, though. While the menu was made up of mostly bar standards, the best thing we tried was the honey glazed shrimp: giant shrimp served up in a local honey and macadamia nut sauce, served with veggies and rice. Everyone else I was with loved this dish, though for me it was a bit sweet without any heat or citrus to offset it. It’s also worth noting that the prices here are really high considering it is bar food, though it was in line with other prices in Hanalei Bay.
Cost: $27 for the Honey Glazed Shrimp
Sit-Down Dinner Restaurants on Kauai
Farm Fish & Forage by Kauai Ono at Princeville Ranch, Kuhio Hwy, Princeville, HI
I could probably write an entire post on this meal, and maybe I will, but for now I’ll try for a brief rundown. The setting was absolutely stunning. The half-dome tent was set in the middle of a grassy lawn and lit by string lights. Two long tables allowed all the guests to eat together, with a couple of large ice bins in the middle where we all threw our wine bottles (it’s BYOB).
The menu is a five course rotating tasting that features a variety of dishes based on what is locally farmed, fished, or foraged beforehand. There is only one seating a night, and it’s quite the production. The server talks you through each plate as it is put down, often noting where each ingredient was from and how it was prepared. Here is a breakdown of what we ate for the night:
1st course- Shredded green Papaya salad served with farm-raised pig and mashed taro root
2nd- Ponzu and Olive oil rubbed kale picked this morning with Walu Walu (butterfish)
3rd- Field greens with shaved jicama and a citrus ginger vinaigrette
4th – Sushimi grade ono (wahoo) rubbed with ginger lemongrass and kafir lime and purple Okinawan sweet potato with a dairy-free coconut taro cream sauce
5th – Coconut hot chocolate and a mocha chiro
Cost: $60 for five course tasting menu
Piazza, 4280 Kuhio Highway 05, Suite F100, Princeville, HI
This was a surprisingly good Italian restaurant near our AirBnB in Princeville. The Shrimp Scampi, which is not a dish I usually choose, was so good that I made a pitch to go back for it the next night and eat the same exact thing again. The fettuccini pasta, made fresh in house, was tossed with giant cloves of garlic and jumbo shrimp. The sauce was light enough that it didn’t feel like the pasta was swimming in it, but left enough over at the end that we asked for a second bread basket solely for dipping.
Cost: $32 for Shrimp Scampi
Bar Acuda, 5-5161 Kuhio Highway, Hanalei, HI
The most expensive restaurant I tried on Kauai was Bar Acuda, but I didn’t find it to be overpriced. The portions were small, but the food was excellent, made with high-quality ingredients and prepared beautifully. Also, this was one of my favorite settings, with the majority of tables sitting under a covered lanei, trimmed with soft lighting and decorated in a modern, minimalist style. I found the whole experience to be just lovely.
This is a tapas spot, so I won’t recount every single thing we ordered, but the biggest hits were the seared sea scallop, served with Yukon gold mashed potatoes, macadamia nut romesco, & local pea shoots and the local cucumber salad tossed with avocado, crispy garbanzo beans, feta cheese, white balsamic vinaigrette & fresh herbs.
Cost: $18 for the Cucumber Salad; $16 for the Scallop
Looking to find eats based on your accommodation’s location?
I re-organized them for you based on location within Kauai, below.
Where to Eat on the North Shore
Wishing Well Shaved Ice
Farm Fish Forage
Where to Eat on the East Shore
Ha Coffee Shop
The Fish Express
Garden Island Coffee Truck
El Rey Del Mar
Where to Eat on the South Shore
Da Crack Tacos
The Shrimp Station
Where Not to Eat in Kauai
There were, of course, a few bad meals here. These are the places to eat that I would suggest you skip on your visit to Kauai.
In a moment of weakness, I ate at the Koloa Landing Resort poolside hotel restaurant. Don’t make the same mistake I did. As expected, the food was bland and overpriced.
We also didn’t like the Saenz Ohana Breakfast Truck in Hanalei Bay, though admittedly we did not get the pig benedict they are known for.
Best of the Best Places I Ate on Kauai
Of all of the tasty treats I had here, Princeville Ranch and El Rey Del Mar were my favorite places to eat in Kauai.
Tips for Eating on Kauai
- The hours here are early! Coming from cities, we all underestimated how challenging it would be to get food past 8 or 9 PM. Kauai is a sleepy island, made from early sunrise wakeups. Although the coffee doesn’t open until late either. We assume it’s due to that whole amazing work/life balance lifestyle that island is known for.