Last month, I wrote a Zagat feature on hot, newer restaurants in Hawaii, including a number of standouts during my fantastic 2 weeks in December on Oahu and Kauai to end 2015. Here are some of my favorites this visit in Oahu, while now I dig deeper into coffee, food, restaurants and drink spots in Kauai.
Magical Kauai is still the most stunning of the Hawaiian islands for me and the most relaxed. Though I love spending time on chichi and striking North Shore and the bustling beaches of Hanalei, Poipu is the more laid back, sunny and restful side for me after two visits. Staying on Kauai’s South Shore brings restoration and dramatic ocean waves, leisurely walks and nightly sunset viewing. While the island is the least strongest of the four I’ve been to (Oahu, Maui, Big Island, Kauai) for dining, there are a few gems worth sharing, in addition to my recommends from my last visit (here and here).
Read about the one new restaurant of note since my last visit, Eating House 1849, from famed Hawaiian chef Roy Yamaguchi, here in my Zagat feature (in the same complex, I also dined at the lackluster, suburban-bland Tortilla Republic).
MAKAI SUSHI & ANAKES JUICE BAR
Funky-cool hubs are popping up in unexpected places, like the gathering of hip businesses in and outside Kukuiula Market in Koloa near Kauais South Shore, where delicious food and drink flow from Cortado Coffee (more on that below), Makai Sushi, Da Crack (burritos and tacos), Anakes Juice Bar and The Fresh Shave, a shave ice truck. While the burritos and tacos are serviceable at Da Crack (consider it the non-authentic, flour tortilla and cheddar cheese kind of Mexican food), Anakes Juice Bar gratifies with healthy green juices and house granola and yogurt mixes in a jar, while Makai Sushi (also inside the store), turns out spanking fresh poke bowls laden with raw fish, rice, sweet Maui onions, daikon and various sauces as well as basic but gratifying sushi rolls.
Savage Shrimp transported me back to Oahu’s North Shore shrimp trucks, located in the slick, open air shopping mall of The Shops at Kukuiula, a bit of a lifesaver for dining options in sleepy Poipu. Plump shrimp with rice come in numerous platter options from popular garlic scampi to Aloha scampi, which combines coconut milk, tomato, cilantro, lemongrass, lime and chile in a sauce that recalls Thailand. But don’t miss nearly perfect coconut shrimp done in that true Hawaiian style, juicy and fried in shredded coconut.
Near the entrance of the park to breathtaking Waimea Canyon (“the Grand Canyon of the Pacific”), Shrimp Station, on a sleepy stretch that is the town of Waimea, is as good as it was last visit, a humble window with outdoor picnic tables, reminiscent of shrimp trucks on Oahus North Shore. They still nail coconut shrimp and sweet chili garlic shrimp, sautéed in olive oil, garlic, white wine and glazed in sweet chili sauce.
UNCLE’S SHAVE ICE
Lackluster service from disinterested teenagers, many missing flavors from the menu (in fact, all the ones I wanted most to try) and fake-tasting syrups made JoJo’s Shave Ice in Waimea a spot I’d absolutely avoid.
But Uncle’s Shave Ice in Poipu’s The Shops at Kukuiula does right by classic Hawaiian flavors like li hing mui and lilikoi (passion fruit) or fun ones like root beer float or pina colada in massive, soft shave ice mounds, best when drizzled with sweet cream or haupia (coconut) cream.
I’m pleased to say Marks Place in Lihue remains one of my top recommendations on Kauai.
A hole-in-the-wall frequented by locals and blue collar workers, the humble take-out spot offers plate lunches, fresh daily specials (like pork chops in ginger apple pear sauce), hearty Hawaiian classics like loco moco, Korean chicken and some fantastic spam musubi and butter mochi for dessert.
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Hidden in a sprawling shopping mall in Princeville on the North Shore, Tiki Iniki blessedly commits to the Tiki theme with a shady porch, Tiki mugs and a cocktail menu initially consulted on by none other than Julie Reiner in NYC.
With this, you can expect and attempt a historically accurate Trader Vic’s Mai Tai alongside house creations like a Hanalei Sling (Cherry Heering, Cointreau, Benedictine, Beefeater Gin, El Dorado 3 year rum, house pomegranate syrup, fresh lemon juice and pineapple puree).
These aren’t perfectly executed Tiki cocktails but they’re focused in the right direction: trying not to be too sweet, use better booze and house ingredients. While the drinks would need to be more honed to stand out in a major city, Iniki is a welcome oasis on Kauai.
THE WINE SHOP, Koloa
Despite its nondescript name, The Wine Shop is a gem not just on Kauai but in all of Hawaii. Thoughtful, affordable wine offerings, including many Old World wines (Austrian, German, French, etc.) to please wine geeks, are more than welcome in a place not always sporting the most savvy wine selections.
But it’s a pleasant surprise to find a solid spirits selection as well, including some small batch distillers, bitters and cocktail paraphernalia. The shop is a lifesaver for drink “snobs” (like myself) disheartened by grocery and liquor store collections around the island it’s the ideal place to stock up while on Kauai.
CORTADO COFFEE BAR
While a couple menu offerings miss the mark (an oddly imbalanced chai), Cortado Coffee is a welcome breath of fresh air compared to the Starbucks offerings of the South Shore.
A little stand outside the aforementioned Kukuiula Market in Koloa, Cortado has limited hours so call ahead to make sure they’re open. Coffee, cold brew and espresso do the trick, as does Coco Loco ($4), an iced espresso laced with local honey, coconut milk and cayenne.
HA COFFEE BAR
Ha Coffee Bar is one of the best spots in all of Kauai for third wave coffee with well done pour over, cold brew and espresso drinks from beans roasted at Kauai Roastery in Waimea, served in a spacious cafe in a humble strip mall in the town of Lihue.
THE DOLPHIN FISH MARKET
Though the restaurant is for tourists, head to the back of the Dolphin in Hanalei (thanks to a tip from an SF friend with family in Kauai) to a tiny fish market packed with fresh fish of the day and some damn delicious sushi rolls and poke. This is the best poke I’ve had on Kauai and the friendly staff let you sample before you buy.
Though I found it hard to get excited about the decidedly non-authentic (think flour tacos, mild seasoning and salsas, Americanized) Pat’s Taqueria, the humble taco truck is a local and tourist favorite parked near the beach and Hanalei Pier. Friendly staff patiently turn out carne asada, kalua pork and fish tacos, served in lightly crispy tortillas (in taco and burrito form), to swarms of locals. It’s not even as good as a mediocre taqueria at home in CA but Pat’s hits the spot after walks and surfing on the beach and is best in Hawaiian ingredients, like kalua pork or local fish (check ahead as hours are day time only and limited).