Kauai (mostly south) report
I've seen many Kauai reports, but most seem to be at least a year old or focused on the North Shore. I just got back from a week in the south with 6 other adults and one 3-year-old, so I have (what I think is) a pretty broad report -- many eaters equals many dishes sampled. In the interest of brevity (and because menus change frequently) I won't often mention specific dishes. This is in the order of meals we ate out, mostly dinners; I've added links to Places entries here, which include Web sites when available. Hope someone finds this helpful. And let me say thank you to the many Chowhounds whose earlier reports I used as the basis for our samplings.
Plantation Gardens (Koloa/Poipu): We stayed at Kiahuna Plantation Resort, so this was our around-the-corner place. I've seen mixed reviews on Chowhound, but our dinner was fantastic. Yes, the service is a little indifferent, but the setting is upscale and handsome and the food inventive, pretty, and worth the high price. Don't try to split meals, though; they're not big enough. Note: We could not get a reservation at the Beach House, the other fancy/delish spot many recommended, which is the one place we didn't visit that I regret.
Tomkats Grille (Koloa): Not my first choice, but surprisingly OK. My sis & BIL loved the fish special dinner, and their potatoes were scrumptious; I was less enamored of the fish taco (huge but with little fish). Pleasant if slightly grungy setting. Great for a large group and for kids, and not too pricey.
Keoki's Paradise (Koloa/Poipu): I'm embarrassed to say we went for lunch (3 of us) and dinner (all 8 of us) on the same day, for convenience. Very pleasant setting, with a sort of inner lagoon, and gracious service at both meals (they're particularly good with kids). The food is not gourmet, but it's not bad; I'd rate it about a 6 or 7 on a scale of 1-10.
Brick Oven Pizza (Kalaheo): We went for lunch. Crust and toppings are good enough, but sauce is out of this world. I think it includes something illegal. We preferred the white crust to wheat, which was too chewy for our tastes. Funky, entertaining decor.
Brennecke's (Poipu): A last-minute dinner option for a big group. We sat right by the windows and watched the sun set over the beach, which was sweet. The many geckos entertained my son. Food was similar to Tomkats/Keoki's, which is to say, not high-end but serviceable, if a bit spendy for the quality.
Olympic Cafe (Kapaa): We went for breakfast, and the raves didn't stop. Impressive, inventive menu; pretty setting; swift service; enormous portions. If you can't make it to the North Shore for brek (i.e., Princeville or Bali Hai), go here.
Poipu Tropical Burgers (Koloa/Poipu): We couldn't make it to Bubba's or Duane's, so we went across the street to the Poipu Shopping Village. The burgers are pretty tasty but overdone (the menu says they cook to "health standards," which translates to no pink whatsoever, so be sure to request rarer if you prefer that). Best kids' menu we saw.
Gaylord's (Lihue): We went for lunch, after a train ride on the adjacent Kilohana Plantation Railway (http://www.kauaiplantationrailway.com..., great for kids!). Again, pretty setting and tasty food, if a bit pricey and not especially Hawaiian (I had a Reuben). Definitely better than Tomkats/Keoki/Brennecke's, tho.
Dondero's (Koloa/Poipu): The best meal we had on the island, and the most expensive by far. They put the 8 of us in our own little room (no view, alas) and treated us like kings, even the 3-year-old. Intricate, astonishing dishes, from an "open-faced" (i.e., made-to-order) seafood lasagna to a Barramundi/asparagus risotto to a strawberry-balsamic gelato. Italian with a local twist, gorgeously plated. Skip the kids' menu, though -- sad for so nice a place.
Hamura Saimin (Lihue): Two of us were in the area, so we chose this over the also-recommended Omoide's Deli in Hanapepe. No atmosphere and brusque service, but a good, hearty lunch for little money. Like udon with different noodles; skip the meat skewers.
Roy's Restaurant (Koloa/Poipu): This was a lovely capper to our week. Not a single miss among our many dishes and drinks (swamp water -- mmm!). Server was a goofball but quick; food was thoughtful and tasty; and the bill, while high, seemed appropriate. Like Dondero's, though, the kids' food is an afterthought.
Other random eats:
Papalani Gelato (Koloa/Poipu): Lappert's still rules and shave ice is most authentic, but this place was a nice change of place. Fresh fruit flavors were quite refreshing.
Puka Dog (Koloa/Poipu): "Puka" means "hole," and here the bun goes all the way around the hotdog. My BIL described it thusly: "They stick all this crap in the hole, like mayo, and then stuff the dog in. Disgusting." I didn't try it, so this is second-hand.
Blossoming Lotus (Kapaa): The main vegan restaurant was closed, so two of us popped in to the juice bar (The Lotus Root) around the corner for an afternoon snack. One coconut tiramisu and two agave limeades later, we were happily refreshed and felt wholesome.
BarAcuda (Hanalei): Heard many good things about it (even as we exited the plane in SF), but just couldn't make it that far north. See this post for a rave: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/259188.
Thank you for the report. You have covered a lot of spots, that we missed, but have been mentioned much longer ago. As restaurants do change, this is greatly appreciated.
As for Plantation Gardens, we wanted to love it. The meal was just OK, and the service as you described. The busboy was top-notch, but our server needed a swift kick. The food was less than it should have been, and the venue could not make up for this.
Dondero's was a 100 and a 60, at best. If we'd both gone with MY entree, it would have been a 100 all of the way round. Unfortunately, my wife ordered something besides the beef tenderloin and they got graded down significantly. Too bad, as one dish was excellent. I'd go back, but my poor wife would order differently.
The board will benefit from your reviews - mahalo,
I am glad you enjoyed PGs...it is one of my favorites....I can't remember if I ranted about Beach House here, but it is like a crazy tourist zoo and it really killed the experience for me. Maybe if I was a tourist, I wouldn't be so put off but while my friend and I were just enjoying our dinner, EVERYONE ran outside to take their pictures, kids were swarming us, and of course we were solicited to buy leis and have our picture taken. Really, all I wanted to do was enjoy my meal (which was good....). The food is comparable at PGs and the ambiance is MUCH better (despite lacking the ocean view).
I have never heard a single good comment about Poipu Tropical Burgers. Honestly, they make money off of tourists who will visit once and won't return. There is a reason no one will return!
Why didn't you like the skewers at Hamura's?? I LOVE them and the tempura shrimp...
Also, when was your trip? I heard there is new management at Brick Oven and the quality of pizza has gone WAY down. I haven't had a pie there since about Feb and with these rumors and the crazy price, I don't think I will try it anytime soon...
I really think that Puka Dogs is hit or miss. People either love it or hate it. I don't eat hot dogs, but I love their lemonade!
Wow, that is saddening, concerning the Beach House. Our meal was absolutely perfect, in all respects. This included the food, the ambiance, the wine service (so very much better than PG) and the food service (again, so much better than PG). Maybe going in Oct/Nov was a big plus. There were no children and, though the place was filled, everyone was concentrating on their food. There were no vendors of anything. Yes, wife did snap a shot, or two, of the sunset, but no one did much, besides pause to look and reflect. There were some tourists outside the restaurant, who did stop and look, but that should be expected.
What time of the year were you there? Glad that I had the excellent experience I did, and sorry for yours. Based on my experience, I'd definitely dine there again - though maybe I'd probably schedule it in the "off-season."
My full reports of both: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/334698
re: Bill Hunt
The food was good at BH, but I would say that Tidepools is just as good, if not better and PG's was almost as good (I think I eat there too often to accurately judge the food, if that makes sense).
I went to eat there a few weeks ago, maybe in July? And then I have also visited last September. Both of my experiences were hectic, but I think because there were more children on this last visit, it was worse. Of course, I am a bit biased because going to a place like the Beach House isn't really as special for me, a resident, as it would be for a tourist. I see that sunset every night and can get a lei every day from work. I go to restaurants here to eat, and not necessarily for the same experience as a tourist would, if that makes sense?
Tidepools was OK, but fell behind both Dondero's and Beach House for both of us. It was, however, above Plantation Gardens, and we really wanted that to be great. I had done a copy of their wine list, and knew what to expect there, but still, it was less than the others. Venue was great. Food was food, and wine was as I had expected, but the main service really let us down. Like I said, the busboy was much better.
Thanks for the info,
Just went to the BH our first night on Kauai. No reserv, so we were seated next to the kitchen w/ no sunset view. That would have been okay if the food had been (even) good, but it was AWFUL! My seafood chowder was a bowl of pink paste. The thai beef appetizer had barely any flavor and the ahi roll continued the mediocrity. Husband's entree was slightly better but dessert (choc/haupia cake) tasted like their refrigerator. Horrible meal! And, yes, the solicitation was annoying as was all the jumping up to go see the view. The people at the next table said they come here all the time for the perfect food. Apparently not Chowhounds.
Second night dinner was really good, thank goodness! Lihue Barbecue Inn. Had the kalua pork and cabbage and husband had the special Mahi Mahi. Both really delicious! Service was even more attentive than at BH. The ambience was the other end of the spectrum from BH. This is a little family diner in a commercial district. But i'd pick this over BH any day! It's all about the food.
BTW: we thought Puka Dog was really good. Both our dogs were delicious and the lemonade, wonderful!
I really like Keoki's, but only ever eat at the bar. I don't particularly care for Duke's either. The portions are small and overly priced...and they don't serve fries with most of their food, which is a pet peeve of mine. Sometimes, you just need a serving of fries on the side.
The drinks are good at both places, and since I know quite a few people who work at Keoki's, I always get GREAT service!!