Kauai. The mere mention of the word and one is dreaming of the most incredible, lush valleys and picturesque beaches. There is a reason why this Hawaiian island is called the “Garden Isle”.
But Kauai is more than just the setting for many a Hollywood movie scene, it’s a foodie’s paradise.
This summer, I had the complimentary trip of a lifetime to Kauai. And when I get done with this series, you’ll be looking at flights, checking out my hotel recommendations, booking the most thrilling adventures, and yes, bookmarking all my favorite Kauai restaurants and spots for must try local foods.
From the hottest food trucks to restaurants with a view and from a traditional luau to desserts not to be missed, Kauai foods rival the best.
Kauai Must Try Local Foods
While visiting Kauai, I had the unique opportunity to spend the week with locals, people who had grown up on the island.
This proved valuable in many ways. I wouldn’t be on my own trying to find the best flavors and locations. I would be shown everything from tablecloth laden restaurants to hole-in-the-wall gems. Yes, I said gems!
It was a perspective that you will benefit from while planning your trip to Kauai.
First up, Kauai’s must try local foods.
Poke is all the rage here in the United States. It’s one food trend that I’ve been excited to see, as I love seafood.
Poke, or raw fish salad, originated in Hawaii. So a trip to Kauai is not complete without trying it, and I can only imagine that it might just be the freshest poke bowl you’ll ever have.
Poke, pronounced POH-kay and rhymes with “okay”, means “to slice or cut” in Hawaiian and refers to chunks of raw, marinated fish. So if you love raw fish, aka sushi, this Hawaiian staple is for you.
For this dish, we headed to a small market in a strip mall section, yes, a local grocery store called Kukuiula Market. As you walk in, to the left of the cash registers, you’ll spy a small stand called Makai Sushi. It is here where you will find a small but tasty menu, including the popular California Roll and Hapa Roll.
Makai Sushi is a local favorite.
It’s the Gorilla Poke Bowl which steals the show at Makai Sushi. As an avid salmon sushi lover, this dish was one of my savory favorites of the week, filled with Ahi, ono, salmon, cucumber, avo, and sweet maui onion.
Inside Kukuiula Market
2728 Poipu Rd
A popular lunch item or snack in the Hawaiian islands is Spam Musubi. This was one dish that was on my list to try.
Spam often gets a bad rap here on the mainland. When I was growing up, my family would often enjoy it while camping in the mountains, as it was an easy protein to transport and store. I remember it being fried and delicious. So when I heard it was a staple in Kauai, I had to test it out.
Spam Musubi consists of grilled Spam on top of a rectangle block of rice, wrapped together with nori (aka edible seaweed, as found in sushi rolls).
The verict – While I think I would have preferred it more without the edible seaweed (and maybe next time with either soy sauce or Japanese mayonnaise), it wasn’t bad at all. If you are wanting to eat like a local, this is a must-try!
I found the Spam Musubi inside Kukuiula Market as well – a great spot for local delicacies! See above for address.
If you followed along on social media during my trip, you might have noticed I took advantage of all the SWEET treats I found in Kauai. Yes, I’ll admit, I enjoyed every bit of it.
If you were counting, you might have noticed that I enjoyed Hawaiian Shave Ice three different days. I mean, calories don’t count when on island time, right?
But let’s talk about Hawaiian Shave Ice for a minute, because I had to learn a thing or two from the locals.
Is there a Difference between Hawaiian Shave Ice and a Snow Cone?
The answer is a resounding YES! And notice that it’s SHAVE Ice (not shaved).
We all know and love our extra syrup-y sweet snow cones that we find at carnivals on hot summer days. But snow cones are made with crushed ice, usually crunchy, and full of syrups with artificial coloring and flavors.
Hawaiian Shave Ice, on the other hand, doesn’t used crushed, but rather shaved ice, and appears snow-like in texture. It’s often flavored with local ingredients such as coconut, guava, or pineapple, and some feature a distinctly Hawaiian surprise – a scoop of vanilla ice cream inside.
Round 1 – Wailua Shave Ice (Food Truck)
This was my first experience with Hawaiian Shave Ice and of course, silly me was expecting a snow cone consistency. I was then schooled in all things shave ice!
I ordered the Wailua Sunrise which prominently featured fresh pineapple and orange juice (top left in above photo). Deliciously sweet!
Other popular ones on the menu, “Almond Joy” featuring Nutella, Coconut Milk, Almonds, and Roasted Coconut Flakes, or “Lilikoi Cream” featuring Passion Fruit and Vanilla Bean Milk.
Wailua’s Shave Ice doesn’t put the traditional ice cream in, so of course I had to try it again at a new location.
Wailua Shave Ice
4-1306 Kuhio Hwy
Kapaa, HI 96746
Round 2 – Shave Ice Tege Tege (Food Truck)
It is here that I really fell in love with Shave Ice. All flavors on the menu are then topped with organic condensed milk and for an extra couple bucks (totally worth it), they will add in the organic vanilla ice cream. This unexpected addition to shave ice was perfection.
You’ll see my choice, Hawaiian Lemon, in the first shave ice photo above with the ocean in the background. Lemon, yet it’s not yellow! I love that Tege Tege uses organic fruit and syrups are sweetened with organic evaporated cane juice.
Favorite local flavors – Lychee, Hibiscus, Papaya, Mango, Green Tea, Coconut or Jamaican Lilikoi, but kids will love Strawberry, Blueberry, Blackberry, and more.
The kids will enjoy watching them shave the ice manually with a hand crank shave ice machine. They take this seriously!
Shave Ice Tege Tege
4-1620 Kuhio Hwy
Kapaa, HI 96746
Located in the upscale shopping area, The Shops at Kukuiula, Uncle’s Shave Ice is a must during an afternoon shopping spree for souvenirs.
Though you can certainly enjoy Shave Ice here (and I spotted sugar-free options), one stand out treat at Uncle’s is their Honey Toast. Oh, doesn’t it look incredible?
Honey Toast is made with Japanese Sweet Bread, Honey and Ice Cream. According to Uncles’, “the bread is toasted, buttered and cubed in the center, a scoop of ice cream is added, then the entire dessert is drizzled with Honey and whipped cream is added on top”.
Heaven on a plate!
Also on the menu…caramel apples, frozen chocolate dipped bananas, and the new Shave Snow dairy treat (Uncle’s is the only place in Kauai to offer it). What is Shave Snow? It’s a combination of milk, water, flavoring, and sugar frozen together. No syrups necessary.
Ice cream lovers rejoice as I haven’t forgotten about you. Where do you visit on Kauai for the best gourmet ice cream? Lappert’s of course!
Gourmet ice cream is their signature product, but at Lappert’s you’ll also find gelato, sorbet, cookies, pastries, and coffee. Everything is made locally right in Hanapepe, Kauai, so you know it’s fresh.
This was one treat opportunity I wasn’t about to pass up. Ice cream, Kauai-style!
While there were many island flavors on the menu (I spied Kona Coffee, Chocolate Macadamia Nut, and Coconut Pineapple), I had to stay true to where I was. I ordered their signature Kauai Pie Ice Cream in a chocolate covered waffle cone.
We are talking Kona Coffee, Coconut Flakes, Dark Chocolate Fudge, Macadamia Nuts, and Vanilla Cake Crunch.
Who’s ready to fly to Kauai?
Macadamia Nut Pie
If shave ice or ice cream isn’t your thing, maybe a piece of homemade pie is right for you. Head to The Right Slice for Kauai fresh pies with handrolled butter crusts and exotic flavors like Mango Passionfruit, Chocolate Coconut Macaroon, Paradise Pie (blend of macadamia nuts, fresh pineapple and coconut), or Tropical Trio.
As for me, a quick stop resulted in boxing up a slice of Macadamia Nut pie for the road. The crust was to die for. If you love rum, you can add local Koloa Rum to this particular pie for extra ooomph!
The Right Slice
2-2459 Kaumualii Hwy
Kalaheo, HI 96741
While I was visiting Kukuiula Market to order the Gorilla Poke Bowl I mentioned above, I first noticed a sign for Ono Pops, local and organic Hawaiian popsicles. Because they were uniquely Hawaiian and had incredibly curious flavors, I knew it was something I wanted to try before I left the island.
Fast forward a few days and I was visiting Kauai Sweet Shoppe. Not only did I try one, but yes, I had to test several of the flavors. All in the name of research, of course.
I spied flavors like Butter Mochi, Pineapple Vanilla, Mexican Chocolate, and Kona Latte, but ultimately settled on three distinctly different ones.
My choices: Lilikoi Cheesecake, Chocolate Apple Banana, and Crackseed Lemon Peel.
Oh my, deliciousness all the way around. My reward for going on a once in a lifetime helicopter ride, which I will tell you more about later.
And though the packaging might not be the best for little minds (as you’ll see above), just unwrap and enjoy!
Ono Pops found at grocery stores, specialty stores, and more.
I found at:
Kauai Sweet Shoppe
3-2087 Kaumualii Hwy
Lihue, HI 96766
and Inside Kukuiula Market
2728 Poipu Rd
Lilikoi Chiffon Pie
My last stop before heading back to the mainland was a tiny little place. In any town, there are always those small hole in the wall type places where the food is outstanding. Hamura Saimin would be one of those.
It was clearly a local favorite and it was easy to see why. One new friend, who lived on Oahu, had several Lilikoi Chiffon Pies boxed up for her return flight home. I had to know why.
The crust was as flaky as you might imagine. Better than Grandma’s (but don’t tell her I said that). The filling, so light that it was literally the perfect summer pie. The flavor, distinctly Hawaiian.
But let me back up a few steps because we ended our visit to Hamura Saimin with this pie, but we started with a main course…
This traditional noodle and broth dish was developed in Hawaii. With the help of my local friends I ordered the Specialty Saimin which came with what I was told was a pink fishcake on top.
Incredible. Comfort food. Something I would want to have when I’m feeling under the weather (or on vacation in Kauai).
Warning – Hamura Saimin accepts Cash Only. You might find yourself the only tourist there…those are the places I truly love to find when I travel.
2956 Kress St
Lihue, HI 96766
While there are many wonderful Kauai restaurants popular with the tourists, to be honest, most of the time we ate where the locals eat. That said, there were two larger restaurants that you must visit for an incredible meal with outstanding views. But a word to the wise – make reservations in advance.
Overlooking Nawillwill Bay and just steps away from the sandy beach outside the Kauai Marriott Resort, is where you’ll find Duke’s Kauai.
The beautiful setting and open-air seating makes this restaurant a must-visit, though you can find a couple locations on the mainland as well. Though I haven’t been to either California spot, I dare say if you are going to eat at Duke’s, let it be in Kauai.
You are on vacation, so for your beverage order a La Pina drink, which comes served in locally grown pineapple. They will gladly make a non-alcoholic version. It is too cute and very instagrammable!
Our group seemingly enjoyed one of each “Pupu”, or appetizer, and they did not disappoint. I recall the Korean Sticky Ribs fondly. Whether you want seafood during your island getaway, or a hearty steak, Duke’s has something for the entire family.
My week had been full of seafood, so I opted for some beef (can’t take the Texan out of this girl). The Filet Mignon was tasty with sautéed local oyster mushrooms, charred kale, red wine demi glace, garlic mashed potatoes.
But let’s be honest, there’s one reason guests dine at Duke’s (okay maybe more than one, but this will be mine)…
Out of this world. That is how I would describe it with the chocolate cookie crust, macadamia nut ice cream, hot fudge, toasted mac nuts, and whipped cream!
One Hula Pie will easily feed two, if you are willing to share.
Dukes Kauai – next to the Kauai Marriott Resort
3610 Rice Street
Lihue, HI 96766
Beach House Restaurant
Located right on the beach in Koloa, the Beach House Restaurant is the epitome of Hawaiian fine dining.
Breeze flowing through the restaurant.
Epic ocean views from your table.
Savory dishes to drool over.
This is the Kauai restaurant to go to when you finally want to get dressed up and enjoy a beautiful night out.
You will not be disappointed, though for once, there’s not really a stand out dessert I’d recommend. Their menu focuses on the savory, not sweet, and you’ll find only a sorbetto trio or flavors of cream pie. I say take this one night off from dessert (based on what I’ve recommended above, you just might need it).
I highly recommend the Slow Braised Pork Belly with sweet and spicy onion marmalade, mandarin orange star anise gastrique for an appetizer, though I dare say I tried them all. For entree, try the Crab-Crusted Island Catch with moloka’i mashed sweet potatoes (purple) – you’ll love it.
All in all, I fell in love with the view.
There was a light rain when we arrived, and apparently that meant we would catch a glimpse of some incredible surfing – a highlight of the trip for sure!
The Beach House Restaurant
5022 Lawai Road
Koloa, HI 96756
Kauai Food Trucks
Though I mentioned the food trucks Wailua Shave Ice and Shave Ice Tege Tege above, I have to say we dined at many throughout the week I was visiting. There are many worth mentioning, including Roots in Culture.
It was at Roots in Culture that I fell in love with Kalbi. You must order it. I’m talking about marinated boneless shortribs that melt in your mouth. And have someone else in your party order the Crispy Pork Belly. You will want a bite!
Don’t forget to order a side of Fried Brussel Sprouts with candied macadamia nuts. Even if you don’t think you love brussel sprouts, try them!
Roots in Culture
3540 Koloa Rd
Kalaheo, HI 96741
Another food truck worth mentioning would be Al Pastor Tacos, just in case you are craving some Mexican food while on the island. Spot on goodness.
If you want to keep up with the food truck locations, be sure to visit Best Kauai Food Trucks…they have a great map!
You are in Kauai, but I don’t expect you to give up your desire to stop by a coffee shop each morning. I have got the perfect casual Kauai restaurant (aka coffee shop) for you…Java Kai.
This small shop has limited seating, but what it lacks in chairs, it more than makes up with charm and flavor.
Starbucks move over. You’ll be wanting to stop on by for a morning breakfast or quick lunch in addition to grabbing an iced coffee on the go. Ask me how I know!
From avocado toast to tropical waffles for breakfast and a plethora of sandwiches for lunch, just enjoy. But word to the wise, don’t order a salad or chips for your side. Order the purple potato salad…a staple in Hawaii, made from Hawaiian sweet potatoes.
And the coffee…while I didn’t partake of the hot, I do highly recommend the Iced Macadamia Nut Latte. It was exactly what this girl needed after her long flight.
4-1384 Kuhio Hwy
Kapaa, HI 96746
While on the island, make sure you check out the many options provided by Kona Brewing Co.
You’ll find these handcrafted ales and lagers all over the island.
Of course, a Blue Hawaii while in Hawaii is appropriate. This one from the luau I attended.
Speaking of luau…
One can’t visit Kauai without attending a traditional luau. My choice on the island…Luau Kalamaku.
An unforgettable experience with food, dance, entertainment, and even a bit of shopping thanks to local craftsmen.
Kilohana Plantation Train rides are offered before the feast begins and it is not to be missed. You will get a firsthand look at the plantation and an up close look at some of the animals on the land.
Don’t miss the unearthing of the whole pig roasting underground in an imu (Hawaiian earth oven) wrapped in banana leaves, salt, liquid smoke. The Kalua Pork is delicious and a highlight of the dinner.
An incredible feast will fill you which is followed by a theatrical luau performance, one that tells a brilliant story.
3-2087 Kaumualii Highway
Lihue, HI 96766
I can’t wait to tell you more about my adventures in Kauai!
Have you visited the island of Kauai before?
Would you add anything to this list of top Kauai restaurants and must-try local foods?