One of the strongest reflections of any culture, any place, is it’s cuisine. With it’s distinct asian influences, Polynesian staples and penchant for fresh, locally sourced ingredients, the island of Kauai is a haven for foodies and casual travelers alike. Take a tour with me along the island’s coast as I show you the best places to eat in Kauai for a truly diverse experience.
For An Interesting Dining Experience: Josselin’s Tapas Bar
At the hands of Chef Jean Marie Josselin, guests are treated to tapas style dining with plate after plate of delicious foods prepared with locally sourced ingredients and cooked in wood-burning ovens. Josselin’s Tapas Bar & Grill is all about the experience. In addition to fun, tapas style dining – perfect for people like me who love to try one of everything – the restaurant features an open kitchen where you can watch your food being prepared, and signature sangrias are served table side from their sangria cart.
As we ate our way through nine dishes, Chef Josselin’s team proved to be consistent with every dish. They all came to the table piping hot and cooked to perfection. But of all the dishes, three really stood out for me. The Roasted Lamb Meatballs were incredibly savory and offered a burst of juicy flavor with each bite. The Slow Cooked Butterfish was indescribable. It was flaky, moist and just seemed to melt right in your mouth. I could have devoured the whole plate by myself, but unfortunately tapas = sharing. I had a similar experience with the 36 Hour Braised Pork Belly. It was so tender and moist you could have cut it with a spoon.
Josselin’s Tapas Bar is definitely a place you must stop if you’re on the south shore of Kauai.
To Eat with the Locals: Hamura’s Saimin Stand
Whenever I travel somewhere not yet discovered, I always want eat “where the locals go” at least once. Hamura’s Saimin Stand is just that. Located on a one way street in Lihue, Hamura’s isn’t a place you would ever find without looking. The building, much like the experience, is nothing fancy. You’re responsible for choosing your own wooden stool along the Formica bars and flagging down a waitress if they don’t notice your arrival. From there, service is minimal but efficient. It’s a very laid back dining experience but don’t mark that down in the negative column. Take it for what it is and enjoy.
There are really just about three things on the menu here – about a dozen variations of Saimin, two types of meat skewers and a single dessert: the famous Lilikoi (lemon) Chiffon Pie. I’m going to be honest here, if there are two things I have never liked, it’s ‘ramen’ and lemon pie. So what what was I doing here? See the above “where the locals go” combined with “I’ll try anything once” vacation mentality. Which is why I was so surprised to love everything I tried – and of course I tried it all.
It starts with the Saimin. This is no ramen you have ever tasted before. Not only is the consistency different, but the noodles themselves also hold more flavor. I opted for the ‘Fried Noodles’ which consisted of Saimin, Ham, greens and bacon! For just over five bucks, I was served a delicious dish that could have fed two. That didn’t stop me from also trying a meat skewer, beef please. It was tender, flavorful and juicy. In other words, just right. Meanwhile, my table mates all ordered the Saimin Special, which is a hot broth-based dish loaded with fried egg, wantons, ham and greens. And because the locals said we had to, we finished off the meal with the Lilikoi Pie.
To Experience Dinner and a Show: Smith’s Family Luau
A family vacation favorite is to take in dinner and a show. Of course, when in Hawaii, the obvious choice is to find a Luau and there are many to choose from. But what sets Smith’s Family Luau apart from the rest is that it offers the total experience during the four hour event. After being gifted with a shell lei, the evening begins with a narrated tram tour, or a leisurely stroll through the 30 acre family garden.
According to the Smith family, the heart of any luau is the pa‘ina, aka the feast. This delicious spread included Kalua Pig roasted in an imu oven, (of which I went back for seconds…okay thirds), a juicy teriyaki beef, Ono mahimahi, tasty chicken adobo, numerous salads and a full fruit bar. Beverages are almost limitless at the open bar and include adult specialties, soda, juice and water.
Over dinner we were serenaded with Hawaiian love songs and also had the opportunity to learn to hula ourselves. After dinner we made our way to the pavilion for the anticipated show. What I found unique about this Luau is that it paid tribute to the many faces of Hawaiian ancestry: Polynesian, Tahitian, Japanese, and Samoa’s with hula unique to each culture. Perhaps most thrilling was the closing fire dance that had much of the audience at the edge of their seat.
For the Best Dessert On The Island: Keoki’s Paradise
Keoki’s Paradise puts a very Hawaiian influence on an ice cream pie with it’s chilly Hula Pie. This bad boy (girl?) features a dark chocolate cookie crust, buttery macadamia nut ice cream, rich fudge sauce, candied macadamia nuts topped off with whipped cream. Eating this baby is a science and if you’re like me, you want a little bit over everything in every bite. My advice? Start at the top and slide your spoon all the day down to the crust.
Thank you to the Kauai Visitors Bureau for hosting my stay and meals. All opinions are my own.