Way back in 1991, a group of twelve executive chefs in Hawaii got together to talk about their craft. Their idea was that rather than importing ingredients across thousands of miles of ocean, wouldn’t it make sense to create a new type of cuisine, fusing the many ethnic foods popular in Hawaii, and locally source all the ingredients from Hawaiian farmers, fishermen, and ranchers?
Thus was born Hawaiian Regional Cuisine.
When I travel to Hawaii, I make a point of seeking out regional cuisine – foods that you’ll get nowhere else on the planet.
So, where’s the best Hawaiian Regional Cuisine on Kauai? I’m glad you asked.
As you might expect, most of the restaurants in Kauai are found on the coasts – the north, east and southern coasts. Remember that the entire island is not very big and that its 60,000 or so inhabitants live in about 20 cities.
The largest city on the island is Kapa’a, with about 10,000 people, on the northeast coast.
Let’s head to Kapa’a first.
Toes in the Sand at the Lava Lava Beach Club
As the name implies, the Lava Lava Beach Club is right on the beach. You’ll be dining outdoors and can “dig your toes in the sand” while you do so. It’s a great place to come if you like to watch the sunrise. Their specialty is seafood, but they’ve got some vegetarian offerings as well.
If you’re there for lunch, try their Bambu Pupu – a sampler plate of ahi poke (raw ahi), coconut shrimp and Fritto Misto (battered and deep-fried calamari and shrimp). For dinner, I’ve got to recommend the Coconut Coast Fish Tacos, with tempura mahi-mahi.
Sam’s Ocean View
For an ocean view without the sand, try the aptly named Sam’s Ocean View. On any day except Tuesday, when they’re closed! Make sure you make reservations first. Once you’re settled in, try their Parmesan Crusted Island Fish or their Wagyu Steak Chimichurri, prepared to order.
Now let’s head on over to Lihu’e, the second largest city on Kauai with about 7,000 people. Lihu’e is only about a 20-minute drive south along the coast from Kapa’a. (Kauai is only 25 miles long, and 33 miles wide – doesn’t take a long time to drive anywhere.)
Timbers Kauai is a resort community in Lihue, and their fine dining restaurant, just opened in 2018, is Hualani’s.
Friends of mine have raved about their Summer Squash Spaghetti, but I prefer their Seven Spice Half Chicken myself. If you’re a seafood lover, check out their Seared Ahi Tua. And for dessert, their Macadamia & Chocolate Lumpias are to die for.
If you’re enjoying the beaches of Kauai and don’t feel like getting dressed up to go into a restaurant, there are plenty of “mom and pop” shops around where you can pick up a Kauai delicacy – spam musabi. Yes, I said spam. You’ve never had spam until you’ve had it prepared the spam musabi way!
Kauai is the ideal island for a laid-back, enjoyable vacation with great surfing and great food. I’ve just shared a handful of ideas with you – go food-exploring on your own and see what you find!
About Rory Brown (Charleston, SC): Rory Brown started his food criticism blog in Charleston, SC in 2008. Ten years later, he has expanded his culinary tasting adventures across three continents. Rory Brown has homes in Charleston, SC, Kauai, Sydney, and Lake Como so that he can keep his global audience up to date on the latest healthy culinary trends.