13 Fantastic Dining Experiences On Kauai To Enjoy Local Hawaiian Delights

Versie Dortch

Some say there is no food scene on Kauai, but that’s entirely untrue. This volcanic Hawaiian “Garden Isle” — with dramatic natural beauty at every turn — provides the ultimate fresh produce from the land and sea while featuring influences from Japan, China, the Philippines, Spain, Germany, and many other countries.

The best bites don’t necessarily come from the finest restaurants. It’s easy to find local specialties at roadside stands, farmer’s markets, supermarkets, fruit stands, food trucks, and casual cafés. 

Experience Kauai and its rich culture through food. Plan your next culinary journey around the lush northernmost Hawaiian island with these favorite discoveries.

Sheraton Kauai Coconut Beach Resort hosts a very special intimate luau called Luau Ka Hikina.

Photo credit: Melissa Curtin

1. Sheraton Kauai Coconut Beach Resort Luau

A visit to the island isn’t complete without experiencing a traditional luau. The intimate Luau Ka Hikina at Sheraton Kauai Coconut Beach Resort is one of the best, celebrating Hawaiian and Polynesian culture in a gorgeous beachfront setting featuring ancient hula dances performed under the direction of award-winning hula master Leilani Rivera Low. A narrated story tells of the origins of the Hawaiian Islands, incorporating fire dancing and vibrant, gyrating Tahitian, Maori, Tongan, and Samoan dances in colorful grass skirts and headdresses. The show is not only very entertaining, but it feels more authentic than other productions. 

After being greeted with a flower lei and mai tai, enjoy the open bar and traditional Hawaiian buffet feast with communal tables and a bevy of island-style, locally sourced delicacies. It is a great way to sample new foods. 

What To Order Sheraton Kauai Coconut Beach Resort Luau

  • Drink – The welcome mai tai is often made with Don Q rum, orange Curacao, passion fruit, honey, lime, pineapple juice, and an Old Lahaina dark rum floater. 
  • Starters and Sides – Try Hanalei Poi, Hawaiian mac salad, taro and Hawaiian sweet rolls, Moloka‘i sweet potatoes, soy-marinated eggplant, and more.
  • Entreé – Sample lomi lomi salmon, huli huli chicken, and teriyaki beef, but favorites include kālua pig and green coconut curry mahi mahi.
  • Dessert – Try the butter rum cake, papaya mango rice pudding, fresh fruit, and lilikoi cheesecake bites. 

Pro Tip: Book tickets in advance online for the twice-weekly event.

Leong's Meat House poke

Leong’s Meat House serves some of the freshest poke on the island. Try Poke 3 Ways with various sauces.

Photo credit: Melissa Curtin

2. Leong’s Meat House

Don’t let the name fool you because Leong’s Meat House was the best spot we found for fresh ahi poke. The casual roadside takeout window in Kapa‘a with outdoor picnic table seats is the perfect post-hike or post-beach nosh, with reasonable prices and generous amounts of uber-fresh poke. We dream about this place back in California.

What To Order At Leong’s Meat House

  • Poke – Leong’s tantalized us with Poke 3 Ways over sushi rice, drizzled with choices like unagi, wasabi mayo, and sriracha. There is an extensive list of ahi poke flavors prepared with sauces like oyster, shoyu (Hawaiian chili pepper, shoyu sauce, ogo, green onions, sweet onions), and Grandma Grace’s Special Sauce with cilantro and green onions. 
  • Bonus Bites – Leong’s is known for their plate lunches, sushi doughnuts, and custom bento boxes. 

Pro Tip: Specials change daily. Wash the flavors down with a canned Hawaiian lilikoi passion fruit juice. 

Breakfast wrap at Wake Up Delicious

Breakfast wrap at Wake Up Delicious

Photo credit: Melissa Curtin

3. Wake Up Delicious Hanalei Café And Coffee

Wake Up Delicious, a tiny local coffeehouse café, opens at 7 a.m. and will make you want to wake up early every morning to run to its hearty breakfast portions. Wake Up Delicious is 100 percent aloha.

What To Order At Wake Up Delicious 

  • Breakfast – Order the mega kalua burrito, stuffed with juicy shredded pork, eggs, tater tots, caramelized onions, and chipotle aioli; or the Fisherman’s Breakfast with smoked ono (white fish) on an everything bagel with sprouts and tomato.
  • Breakfast or Dessert Shareable – Indulge in the light, fluffy churro french toast with homemade icing as dessert. 
  • Lunch Plate – Make it before 1 p.m. (closing time) for stellar Lunch Plate options, like chicken katsu and coconut shrimp, served with a side of rice and a choice of macaroni salad, kimchee, or seaweed salad. 
  • Coffee – The coffee is the best in Hanalei — with fancy options, too, like the Dirty Coconut Chai and the iced Caramel Dream with whipped caramel cream and caramel drizzle. 

Pro Tip: Sit on the front patio to enjoy awe-inspiring green mountain views. Pick up a funny souvenir in the café’s gift shop.

Hawaiian-style Puka Dog hot dog stand

Find out why the Hawaiian style Puka Dog is considered one of the best hot dog stands in America.

Photo credit: Melissa Curtin

4. Puka Dog Hawaiian Style Hot Dog

Nominated by the Travel Channel as one of the top 10 hot dog stands in America, Puka Dog has also been celebrated by Anthony Bourdain’s TV show No Reservations Hawaii.

Sample the Polish sausage dog or veggie dog along with ample choices of Hawaiian mustard and relish — star fruit, mango, or pineapple. A hole is already poked through the bread, sauces are generously pumped into the bread hole, then stuffed with the dog. 

What To Order At Puka Dog

  • Hot Dog – Try the fan favorite Kauai Special Puka Dog, with spicy garlic lemon secret sauce, mango relish, and Aunty Lilikoi’s passion fruit mustard.

Pro Tip: Bring your Puka Dogs across the street to eat on a picnic bench along Poipu Beach Park in Koloa. Surf-pumping waves will be in view. 

AMA in Hanalei outdoor seating

Come for ramen noodles at AMA in Hanalei, but the setting is one you won’t forget.

Photo credit: Melissa Curtin

5. AMA Restaurant 

In the heart of Hanalei, find wooden-clad AMA serving elevated, Asian-inspired cuisine with lush mountain views and cozy fire pits. 

What To Order At AMA

  • Drink – Pair your meal with one of AMA’s craft cocktails, mocktails, or sakes. Mezcal lovers will want to order The Francisco, blended with tequila, lime juice, ginger syrup, orgeat, and egg white. The original mai tai is a must, with Martinique white rum and Bacardi 8-year rum.
  • Share – Split the Burmese salad or bao buns with braised pork belly in order to save room for your own bowl of AMA’s famous ramen noodles.
  • Ramen – Try bone broth ramen with seared sesame-crusted ahi tuna or braised pork belly. 

Pro Tip: Try to book a reservation exactly 30 days in advance. Score a seat on the front-facing table ledge to admire the view before the sun goes down.

6. The Hanalei Dolphin Restaurant, Fish Market, And Sushi Lounge

Since the 1970s, locals and visitors have flocked to Hanalei Dolphin, an outdoor restaurant offering a large selection of local Hawaiian fish cut daily by master fishmongers. The fish is not drowned in sauces, but prepared simply. Dine at an umbrella-shaded table on the banks of the Hanalei River. There are no reservations. A second location with an ocean view is found in the Shops of Kukui’ula on Kauai’s south shore. 

What To Order At Hanalei Dolphin

  • Fish – Try the fish of the day beer battered, charbroiled, or rolled in Cajun seasonings and blackened. It is served with drawn butter. Teriyaki ahi is the house specialty, where ahi steak is marinated in homemade teriyaki and charbroiled medium-rare.
  • Sushi – While crab legs, lobster, calamari, chicken, and steak are available, we suggest ordering from the extensive sushi menu. Devour top-grade sashimi, sushi hand rolls, cut rolls, and “Over the Top” rolls like the Hanalei: shrimp tempura, avocado, and spicy aioli topped with local tuna and served with tempura flake and unagi sauce.
  • Poke – Order fresh poke, like the spiky ahi poke bowl, to go from Hanalei’s Dolphin’s Fish Market

Pro Tip: Do like the locals and pick up your meal at the fish market counter to go. Opt for the rich thick creamy seafood chowder, a fresh cut of fish, various poke medleys, or one of many takeaway menu items.

Food at Tahiti Nui

Tahiti Nui provides a casual relaxed setting known for its location in the film The Descendants with George Clooney.

Photo credit: Melissa Curtin

7. Tahiti Nui 

If you have seen the film The Descendants, with George Clooney, then you may recognize Tahiti Nui, a tropical low-key restaurant and dive bar that has been around since 1963. Order a la carte or enjoy a full Family Luau, featured on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. 

What To Order At Tahiti Nui

  • Drink – The most important thing to try at Tahiti Nui is their famous mai tai, thanks to Aunty Louise Marston’s secret recipe. Tahitian friends would sip this cocktail and exclaim, “Mai Tai Roa Ae,” meaning “Out of this world, the best!”
  • Shareable – Coconut shrimp or huli huli chicken pizza
  • Entrée – Order the beautifully plated, fresh-caught fish dish (angled atop purple sweet potato mash) or the unique ribeye beef poke.

Pro Tip: There are no reservations, and the prime-time wait can be long, but take a walk around the nearby shops to kill time until they text you your table is ready. Live music is offered every night.

kalua pork grilled cheese sandwich at Pink's Creamery

People return daily for the ice cream at Pink’s Creamery, but they also line up for the kalua pork grilled cheese sandwiches with pineapple sauce.

Photo credit: Melissa Curtin

8. Pink’s Creamery 

There is a reason for the line outside this gourmet ice cream shop in a Hanalei shopping plaza behind Tahiti Nui. Made from scratch and slow churned since 1932, fill your waffle cone at Pink’s Creamery with one of 18 ice cream flavors, sorbet, or dairy-free varieties. 

What To Order At Pink’s Creamery

  • Ice Cream – Try a waffle cone with a special flavor, such as Kona coffee, Hanalei sunrise, mango and cream, chocolate macadamia, haupia (coconut custard), and more.
  • Milkshake – Sip on a custom milkshake with Kona Mud Pie ice cream or a mango smoothie. 
  • Energy Boost – Get your coffee fix with a pinkaccino, a choice of ice cream blended with cold-brew Kauai coffee.

Pro Tip: Try the kalua pork grilled cheese sandwiches with pineapple sauce. They often sell out. 

Holey Grail's food truck donuts

Find Holey Grail’s food truck selling fresh, made-to-order taro donuts with a rotating selection of seasonal local flavors.

Photo credit: Melissa Curtin

9. Holey Grail Donuts

Savor made-to-order donuts at this unassuming Hanalei food truck. Taro is used as the starch, which is pounded and fermented to create a dough, fried in coconut oil, and coated with a rotating selection of glazes and toppings sourced seasonally and locally. Find Holey Grail not only on Kauai (the original) and Oahu, but now in the Los Angeles enclaves of Culver City, Mar Vista, Larchmont, and Santa Monica. 

What To Order At Holey Grail Donuts

  • Donuts – Try one dipped in chocolate and sprinkled with bacon bits or flavored with miso honey or chaga chai. 
  • Coffee – There is an ever-changing menu where draft coffees and special lattes can be paired with your donut incarnations.

Pro Tip: Grab a four-pack tasting box. Be patient, as they may take 10 minutes to prepare.

Wishing Well Shave Ice in Kauai

Wishing Well Shave Ice is the ultimate Aloha. Do as the locals do and order macadamia nut ice cream on the bottom with a Snow Cap and local toppings.

Photo credit: Melissa Curtin

10. Wishing Well Shave Ice

No trip to Kauai is complete without one or more stops for shave ice. Unlike the typical American snow cone, Hawaiian shave ice is especially light and refreshing and often comes with local flavors atop ice cream. Nineteenth-century Japanese immigrants in Hawaii would cool off by using tools to shave flakes off large blocks of ice, then coat them with sugar or fruit juice. 

Since 1983, Wishing Well has been operating out of an old bus at the entrance of Hanalei town, serving Hawaiian shave ice in unique flavors, acai bowls, and organic coffees. Enjoy their organic, housemade flavors, like ginger, coffee, passion fruit, hibiscus lime, and more.

Another favorite — JOJO’s Shave Ice — has been around since 1992 and has locations in almost every town on the island. 

What To Order At Wishing Well Shave Ice

  • Traditional – Try the traditional combo of pineapple, vanilla, strawberry, and grape syrups with a snow cap (a sweetened condensed milk mixture that is poured over the top and immediately freezes and soaks into the ice) atop macadamia nut ice cream. 
  • Organic – Seek out the Caffiene Monkey. This organic combo comes with coffee and banana syrups and a snow cap over vanilla ice cream. 

Pro Tip: Create your own shave ice with three flavors, a topping, and ice cream — like mango, coconut, and POG (passionfruit, orange, guava) atop macadamia nut ice cream, topped with something special like mango or coconut flakes.

Aina Kauai meat kabob serving

For a memorable multi-course meal, book a tasting menu at Aina Kauai.

Photo credit: Melissa Curtin

11. Aina Kauai 

For a special night out, book Aina’s exciting prix fixe multicourse Japanese-inspired tasting menu, curated with the freshest Hawaiian ingredients by two chefs, one who is also the owner and moved to the island 3 years ago from San Francisco. Known as Kauaian Kaiseki, this food journey of over 9 courses exposed us to many new flavors: wasabini (wasabi greens), winter melon, and dishes like soursop mint sorbet, breadfruit, and taro tempura. 

The staff explained each course. The menu shared the multitude of items grown and used from their Ai Farm in Kapahi. Standouts include tempura shrimp, sous vide fish, yakitori with grilled veggies, and the ahi sashimi. After a dessert medley of cream-filled chocolate matcha cake, sorbet, and a jelly-like umeshu fruit kanten, we left full. Located in Kapaa in a sophisticated venue, you can amp up your experience with the chef’s paired cocktails or sake suggestions.

Pro Tips: The set menu often changes due to local ingredients. Sit at the chef’s table to watch the chefs in action. 

Beach House Kauai fresh fish

The Beach House’s fresh catch of the day

Photo credit: Melissa Curtin

12. The Beach House 

This popular spot on the south shore of Koloa is known for its sensational sunset views that splash around the oceanfront Beach House restaurant. Watch surfers glide along the waves as you dine on well-prepared cuts of local fish. 

What To Order At The Beach House

  • Drink – Monkeypod mai tai 
  • Shareable – Poke tacos in wonton shells, or lobster deviled eggs 
  • Entrée – Moist wasabi-buttered catch of the day or macadamia nut butter–sauteed Hawaiian catch atop a citrus miso beurre blanc

Pro Tip: Reserve a table a month in advance for 30 minutes before sunset. Arrive early to take in the scenery.

outdoor seating at Tidepools, Kauai

For a fancier dinner in the ultimate Hawaiian setting, book reservations at Tidepools.

Photo credit: Melissa Curtin

13. Tidepools At Grand Hyatt Kauai

For quintessential upscale dining, look no further than the luxurious beachfront Grand Hyatt in Koloa. Tidepools is set over a koi-filled lagoon in an open-air thatch hut garden setting. It features modern Hawaiian cuisine inspired by local ingredients and the culinary traditions of Hawaii. Order the freshest seafood prepared with island flair. 

What To Order At Tidepools 

  • Drink – Tai chi cocktail concocted with locally made Koloa rum. It may inspire you to visit Koloa Rum Company’s tasting room in Lihui to sample their amazing artisanal rums.
  • Rolls – The complimentary salted taro rolls are deliciously addictive, so try not to eat too many before your entrée arrives.
  • Fish – Try the grilled Hawaiian ahi catch with a soy ginger glaze, enhanced with cold water lobster, shrimp, and scallop, atop lemongrass beurre blanc and a Molokai sweet potato. The macadamia-crusted ono with a roasted banana macadamia nut sauce is another winner; it is accompanied with forbidden rice and papaya avocado relish. 
  • Dessert – Molten chocolate lava cake or macadamia nut crème brûlée

Pro Tip: Book reservations a month in advance and allow extra time to stroll the fabulous property.

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