Ancient Kauai royalty (alii) dined on freshly caught ahi and taro. Today, most dining establishments want you to think that regal dining in Kauai means forking over 40 dollars for a toenail-sized serving of fish more reminiscent of a Kandinsky painting than a meal. However, if you know where to look, you can enjoy some of the freshest seafood and most delicious fare in the state without having to take out a second mortgage.
Kapaa and Lihue:
Often when people imagine breakfast on the island, their reveries feature melting ice sculptures surrounded by crab, heaps of pineapple and plates of banana pancakes, accompanied by a $30 per person tab. Instead, follow the locals! In Kapaa, you won’t find a better banana pancake -- smothered in piping-hot homemade coconut syrup -- than at Ono Family Restaurant (808-822-1710; 4-1292 Kuhio Highway).
For lunch, it’s hard to avoid a trip (or three) to Hamura’s Saimin Stand (808-245-3271; 2956 Kress St, Lihue) for huge bowls of noodle soup, lilikoi pie and grilled meat for well under 10 bucks. If you look a little farther, you'll find a local favorite inside a little shack on the ocean side of Highway 56 in Anahola. Here, locals line up at Duane’s Ono Charburgers (808-822-9181) for tetherball-sized burgers, addictive fries and marionberry milkshakes.
Stay nearby at the Aston Islander on the Beach.
You’ll find the best traditional breakfast on the island at Joe’s on the Green (808-742-9696; 2545 Kiahuna Place) in South Shore. On Sundays, locals crowd the patio along the golf course to eat the most authentic loco moco around.
For lunch and pupus, don’t miss the hole-in-the-wall Koloa Fish Market (808-742-6199; 5482 Koloa Road). They serve up the best poke on the island, fantastic seaweed and macaroni salads, and massive plate lunches to go.
Stay nearby at the Sheraton Kauai Resort.
A trip to Kauai is not complete without a visit to Kilauea Fish Market (808-828-6244; 4270 Kilauea Lighthouse Road, Kilauea), where locals line up out the door for lunch or an early dinner. With the freshest sustainable fish on the island, you can’t go wrong with an ahi or tofu wrap. Enjoy it on nearby picnic tables that overlook a meadow.
Locals and surfers testify that pizza is one of the best ways to fill a hungry belly after a long day at the beach. North Shore locals favor the fresh (and huge) slices at Kilauea Bakery and Pau Hana Pizza (808-828-2020, Kong Lung Center, Kilauea).
Stay nearby at the Hanalei Colony Resort.
Dining like alii shouldn’t break the bank and with a little know-how, you’ll find that food at inexpensive restaurants often outshines the pricy offerings of traditional sit-down places. This leaves you with plenty of cash to take that helicopter tour and return to Kauai in the future.
--Michele Bigley of Michele Bigley's Kauai Musings
[Photo credit: Dapper Lad Cycles]