Kauai Trip Report
Many thanks to all the posters who provided the info we used for our research. We came to Kauai for the first time mid-February and stayed at a VRBO place near Anahola, for reference. I would not do this again, as we don't mind driving around to do things during the day, but for dinner we found we strongly prefer a SHORT drive, or better yet, a walk to and from the restaurant. Therefore, we would stay closer to where the nicer restaurants are and travel more for our day trips, if necessary, rather than the other way around. Lesson learned. We actually moved for part of our trip down to Poipu which made our dining much more pleasurable.
General observations: I believe it is possible to find some fairly good food here and we enjoyed many meals, but it is really difficult to find a good cocktail. Admittedly, we are picky and we live in Portland, OR so we are spoiled, but many of the non-tropical drinks we tried were extremely poorly made. Best to stick with beer/wine if you are particular, or maybe the tropical cocktails. Also, although the island is small and you can drive a lot of it easily for day trips, it can take as much as 40 minutes or more from Kapaa to Poipu because of the traffic. Going north from Kapaa area has much less traffic, but I think the food in general is better in Poipu.
Sat at the bar, which we often prefer to dining at a table (just our preference). Had the miso soup (just fair), the ahi wrap (the best dish with nice flavors), and the burger (also just OK). Tried their Mai Tai, which was just OK and then switched to beer.
Roy's Tavern (Princeville):
Had a nice view overlooking the course at a table in the bar area. Had macadamia flatbread, which we enjoyed, the salmon salad (very good), fried chicken (just an OK version), and ahi poke (very good). As for drinks, I ordered a Tanqueray & Tonic, which suffered from the pitfall of mixers coming from a gun, but was reasonably strong.
Anahola Farmers Market:
We had the combo chicken and pork plate from the farmers market. Expensive for take out, but you get a ton of food. We only got one combo plate and it was enough for dinner and lunch the next day (around $18, I think). The chicken was better than the pork for me.
Ono Family (Kapaa):
Had breakfast here. Both of us had some variation of pork with fried rice and egg. Large portions and reasonably tasty. I had my egg sunny side up and the white needed to be cooked a little more for my taste.
Tiki Tacos (Kapaa):
Loved this place. Lots of choices. We only had one (huge) taco each: a kahuna fish and kahlua pig. Both were excellent. Tacos run about $8 each.
Beach House (Poipu):
We actually ended up having one dinner here (impromptu, in the bar facing the ocean and the sunset) and one lunch (with a friend in the area who wanted to take us there, as it is here favorite restaurant in Poipu). For dinner, if you want to enjoy the sunset, you need to have a reservation or get there early. We arrived probably shortly after 5 pm and easily got a seat in the bar area with an excellent view. Shortly after that it filled up considerably. We shared the crab stuffed ahi appetizer (pretty good, but not special) and a beet salad (this was quite good). Our main dishes were the miso encrusted fish and fish in red curry sauce. Both were very good. I enjoyed my red curry dish, but it could have been a touch less sweet. The miso dish was decidedly more savory. To drink I think we stuck with a beer for appetizers and then some champagne with dinner (it was a special occasion).
The lunch we had there consisted of fish tacos for both of us, which we really enjoyed. I also had some sort of tropical drink (the Majestic Mai Tai) which was good and quite strong.
Red Salt (Poipu):
Sat at the bar on one of the nights they have a sushi chef at the bar. The dining room was VERY busy and the single bartender was slammed, therefore our service when we first sat down was extremely spotty in the beginning, but improved substantially once the dinner service settled in. Opted for gyozo appetizers then a variety of sushi made by the guy at the other end of the counter. Overall we enjoyed the sushi very much. Can not comment on the entrees there as we did not try any. We had a small bottle of sake; they should have a larger selection given that they have a sushi chef there at least 3 nights/week. It would have been more entertaining to sit at the sushi end of the bar as well, to watch the preparation (right hand side as you look at the bar).
We had one lunch at the poolside bar one day. We each had a burger and fries and it was a pretty good burger. Had one of their signature cocktails from their list (The Spiked Tea), which was vile and we only had a couple of sips each, then left the rest.
We also had breakfast at the Red Salt, which was included if you stayed at the resort. It was a decent buffet of fruit, cheese, salumi, oatmeal, cold cereal, yogurt, some muffins and breads. Also, there was an a la carte menu. We had banana pancakes (good), breakfast burrito (OK).
Living Food Market (Poipu):
This is an upscale market for grocery shopping (the meat and fish appeared to be of good quality) and prepared food (deli food, sandwiches, pizzas). We got a deli sandwich one day which was reasonably good. If you are staying in the area and want good quality proteins, this may be the place to go.
Ahh, Merriman's. We are huge fans of the Merriman's on Maui, so we were excited to try this one out. The location is not nearly as nice as the one on Maui, but it is a solid option for food. Definitely our favorite for food on the island. We only ate in the upstairs restaurant (they have a more casual place downstairs that has a completely different menu). We sat at the bar 2 nights and at a table for a third night. We love the Kahlua Pig Quesadillas at the Maui restaurant and they are still good at the Poipu restaurant, but somehow they were just a tad different and we did not enjoy them as much as we have in Maui. We also tried the poke sampler and I fell in love with the ono poke. There were 3 on the plate for the sampler or you can order them individually; ahi, ono, and keahole lobster with avocado. They were all good, but the ono....! For mains we had a chicken dish and a lamb dish, both of which were very good. On the subsequent nights, we had the full portion of ono poke (skipped the sampler), the crab cakes (sorry, can't remember these), broccoli side dish, sweet corn side (reminiscent of creamed corn but without the guilt of eating something from can), and the wok seared ahi entree, which I liked well enough to get twice. We also had the macadamia nut crusted fish for an entree one night, which my partner enjoyed.
For drinks, same problem as other establishments. They focus on tropical drinks, which is understandable, but we generally find them to be too sweet for our tastes. We do enjoy what we call the "short" Mai Tai at the Merriman's on Maui, nice and strong, not too sweet, but the bar menu is different at Merriman's Poipu and we did not enjoy the Mai Tai as well. I made the mistake of ordering a Manhattan one night and also I specified to the bartender that I wanted it 2 oz bourbon to 1 oz sweet vermouth. She free-poured (ie did not measure to ensure proper proportions) a ginormous version of the drink then proceeded to shake the heck out of it (instead of stirring) for a really long time, which produced a very watered down effect. Sigh. I know I am overly picky.
All in all, there are good things to be found on Kauai. Depends on your tastes, preferences, palate, etc. We would stay in Poipu again for the food choices and travel elsewhere for activities but we tend to emphasize food on trips and this may not suit all travelers.
If you emphasize food on trips, you've got to make a trip to Honolulu! Maui is good but Honolulu/Oahu is king.
Even the cocktails I've had in Oahu and Maui aren't that great; I'd expect the ones on Kauai to not measure up either, as it is...less urban/sophisticated/what have you, correct? Not to say that Kauai doesn't have it's charms. But craft cocktails are really a big city thing.
I have come to not expect a well made cocktail (with jiggering) in most of the USA. Sometimes even in big cities.
When we travel to Hawaii, we check some small quantities of bitters and syrups wrapped in bubble wrap in our luggage and make drinks in our condo.
Never thought to bring bitters...great idea.
I hear you regarding Honolulu and we have been twice, but both times circumstances were such that we could not go to the best restaurants. And since we live in the Pacific Northwest, we go to Hawaii for the island experience, not the food (although we absolutely try to make the best of the food situation). We just enjoy the quieter islands more, although we did learn on this, our first trip to Kauai, that Maui is probably the best compromise of both a quieter setting (we stay in Napili on Maui) and food quality.
Perhaps, though, a 3 day stop in Honolulu on our way to Maui could also work!
By the way, many thanks on your Lantern's Keep recommendation for our trip to NYC last fall (my trip report on that one is still pending). We enjoyed it thoroughly and I am now in the process of trying to make my own clear ice at home...
Hi, cobpdx: "...we go to Hawaii for the island experience, not the food (although we absolutely try to make the best of the food situation)."
This is a good approach. When you travel to *the* most remote island archipelago on the planet, it helps to remember the tenuous supply chain, the simple food traditions, and that "higher" cuisine is largely a transplanted function of money and urban population--hardly Hawai'ian values.
Kaleo..spot on! I think the best foods in Hawaii are the simplest. The briny iodine bite of a fresh opihi. The sublime tenderness of ahi fresh ahi sashimi. The juicy sweetness of a tree ripened mango. The buttery taste of an island avocado with a good balsamic vinegar. Kalbi ribs right off the grill. A cold beer with poke and boiled peanuts. The sweetness of a chilled sunrise papaya.
Most really good Hawaiian food is simple food. The recipes are not that complex, with an emphasis on fresh ingredients.
We are blessed here in Hawaii to have great fish, and great tropical fruits, and if you know where to get them...great fresh vegetables. Fresh island pork is wonderful..as is grass fed beef if you can find it.
Thank goodness the farm to table or Locavore movement is becoming popular here in Hawaii.
There is awesome food here, and some awesome creative chefs, but the greatest joy is in the simple fresh foods we have.
<<If you emphasize food on trips, you've got to make a trip to Honolulu! Maui is good but Honolulu/Oahu is king.>>
I agree completely, and on almost every trip, we try for 3-4 days on O`ahu, just to dine. We have been known to do a long weekend, just for O`ahu, and our dining.
Still, with but a little work, one can find great dining on most Islands, and depending on the drive, on most "sides" of every Island.
Aloha and great report!
When not going to HNL, I try to sneak in at least a couple of days to get my food fix in, since it rocks it on the food scene but cocktails not so much..
I have found going to Costco and making my own is the best way and its always a sixer for my fave Hinano beer at the ABC store..love the bitters in bubble wrap idea!
Love love Kauai for the Aloha but probably the best compromise is Maui.
Mahalo for that report.
As you observed, we also do not like driving more than a very short distance, between our dining, and our hotel. We have been known to pass of free, super accommodations, to cut the drive to zero - like 30 feet. When wines are included, and they are for most of our meals, that is about our limit.
Still, you posted some very useful comments.
As we are winos, and not "cocktail people," I will completely defer to your observations.
Other than on the flight from the Mainland, I cannot recall the last cocktail that either of us have had in Hawai`i.
Kaua`i is one of our favorite Islands, though we have only stayed "up country" from Kapa`a, and in Poipu, over the decades. Still, we have been blessed with our dining, and always look forward to dining, when there.
We did enjoy Merriman's, though, like you, felt that the Kaua`i location was not up to the Kapalua, Maui restaurant. Still quite good.
Others will benefit greatly from your taking the time to post.
Mahalo, and aloha,
re: Bill Hunt
Thanks, Hunt. I have gained much from your posts in the past.
Our focus on cocktails is, in part, because a strange thing happens to us when we land in Hawaii...we seem to completely lose our taste for most wines (!!???!!!). I know, this is very much a first world problem ;-). It happens to both of us. We can sometimes enjoy some whites, but the reds don't appeal as much. So when the cocktails are not really an option that leaves us with beer, which we enjoy, but we long for some variety after a while.
The funny thing is this does not seem to happen to us when we go to other warm weather destinations. In fact, we just recently came back from Vegas where it was unseasonably warm (high 80s) at the time and we were able to enjoy a nice chef's tasting menu with wine pairing at Sage without difficulty (it was tough, but we persevered!). Maybe the difference is more open-air dining in Hawaii vs. air conditioning in other warm places?
Wow, I have never encountered such a malady. I am glad, and so are the sommeliers, who know they are going to sell some of that stuff down in the cellar. Now, we do fewer "big reds," and explore more crisp whites (though there ARE some full-bodied whites too). Same for trips to New Orleans, in the late Spring, Summer or early Autumn - lighter wines for us. More Chablis, Sancerres and even some Albariños.
A bazillion years ago, I was into cocktails, but just sort of lost my taste for them. Once, I was heavily into Margaritas, and even bought a semi-industrial Margarita machine. It sits idle, except for a few days in Summer. Such is life.
Still, great post, and mahalo for the details. They WILL be appreciated.