Sample Restaurant Reviews
Dining in Hawaii…
The image forms in your mind. Delicious, healthy island foods such as fresh fish, sweet pineapple and papaya, macadamia nut pie and a tropical drink. Well…maybe. Unlike other guidebooks which lead you to believe that every meal in Hawaii will be a feast, we are here to tell you that you will have ample opportunity to have hideous food served by uncaring oafs, as well as great meals served in the ambiance of a lifetime.
We probably receive more letters of appreciation from readers about our brutally honest restaurant reviews than any other subject. Here are just a few of the reviews from the 8th edition of The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook.
Please note: The sample reviews here are in no particular order here, but are categorized in the book. Recommended restaurants are highlighted by an symbol.
Garden Café at Common Ground
4900 Kuawa Rd. • 828–1041
Kilauea—A tiny menu of incredibly compelling and healthy items that knocks our socks off. Maybe just three or four items, such as fish tacos or veggie wraps or a fish sandwich. But ingredients are so fresh and combined so thoughtfully, we love eating here. And their salads taste like they just went out into the garden and picked them for your meal. (Love the dark green leaves salad with non-dressing dressing.) The ginger mint tea has a wonderful burn if you take a big gulp. Ambiance is just as the name says, in an outdoor pavilion next to their calming garden, which is a wonderful place to be during a passing shower. No table service, and flies are sometimes a problem. Just north of the 23 mile marker up Kuawa Rd. $9–$12 for similarly small but compelling breakfast, $11–$14 for lunch.
5-5075A Kuhio Hwy • 826–1191
Hanalei—A vegetarian restaurant that also serves fish. The food is distinctive and can be fairly well prepared. They use organic ingredients and have creative selections. Taro fritters make a good pupu, and the fresh fish is recommended. Ambiance is homey. The two areas that need work are the service (often slow), and the wine list is poorly chosen. $20–$33 for dinner. On mauka side of the highway. Reservations required for parties of 6 or more.
4-796 Kuhio Hwy • 822-3791
Kapa‘a—Dinner only, quite popular with both locals and tourists, known for hearty beef and seafood and moderate portions. They really rely on their location to keep you happy. (That’s code for bad food.) They seem to strive for mediocrity but rarely climb that high. The window seats are particularly close to the water (we’ve been there when the waves actually splashed against the glass), but arrive 10–15 minutes before they open (they start serving dinner at 5:30 p.m.) to get one. All entrées come with a choice of salad or…salad. Sorry, no soup. (With a dependably pathetic salad bar, too.) The service can be slow and decidedly unenthusiastic. And if I may rant, you only get rice with entrées. If you pay extra and get a baked potato, they take the rice away. Hey, I’m paying for it. Leave it alone! (Whew, I feel better already.) $15–$30. Limited desserts such as mud pie and a pretty good and reasonably priced wine list. On the ocean side of highway across from Kaua‘i Village. Reservations only for 6 or more.
3501 Rice St. • 245–6266
Nawiliwili—A broad selection of sandwiches, burgers, steak and a number of seafood items such as fish tacos, salads and pasta. The appetizer list is long and varied—from nachos to ahi poke to steamed clams to their tasty garlic fries. Lots of salads. The atmosphere can be loud with lots of tvs often playing sports, plus you’re upstairs across from a busy road with a sliver of a view of Kalapaki Bay. The food is reasonably priced and usually fairly good. Service is hit or miss. Good beer selection. Overall, a reliable place for grinds and a brew. $10–$20 for lunch and dinner.
Small Town Coffee
24-1613 Kuhio Hwy • 821–1604
Kapa‘a—An artsy, hodge-podge café with personality. Their coffee is consistently good and organically grown. Powerful espressos, homemade hot chocolates and lattes. Their breakfast bagels are fantastic with amusing names like the Italian Scallion, the Pig in the Apple Tree and the We Found Nemo (bagel and lox). Diehard regulars usually occupy the outside tables where they solve the world’s problems among themselves. It tends to take awhile to get your breakfast. Open 5:30 a.m. (food starts at 7 a.m.). Free Wi-Fi. $7–$10. On mauka side of Hwy 56 in north Kapa‘a inside the Kaua‘i Products Fair next to the Red Dirt Shirt store.
House of Noodles
4-1330 Kuhio Hwy • 822–2708
Kapa‘a—Diverse menu of saimin, sandwiches, battered lobster and burgers. Items are hit or miss. In general, stick with noodle items like the saimin and won ton soup or a smoothie from the cart. The sandwiches are small and unimpressive, the ambiance is a bit third world, and outdoor tables are besieged with traffic noise. It’s fairly overpriced for what you get. Kuhio Hwy south of Hwy 581. $12–$20 for lunch and dinner with a few cheaper items.
4469 Waialo Rd. • 335–9989
‘Ele‘ele—With a name like Ichiban (Japanese for #1) and a location next to a boat harbor, you’d expect great sushi. But the sushi smells as fishy as the harbor, and portions are inexcusably small for the price. Avoid the 2-piece nigiri items starting at $5, because they…well, only come with two bites. The makimono rolls ($5–$9) are bigger, but still overpriced. Stick with the small selection of entrées, like chicken katsu, if you are looking for an actual meal. Otherwise, consider this a decent air-conditioned place to have a $3 beer, maybe sample some sushi, and perhaps even sing karaoke. Popular with local fishermen. $11–$30 or more. In the ‘Ele‘ele Shopping Center.
2251 Poipu Rd. • 828–8888
Po‘ipu—The name derives from the strong red Hawaiian sea salt that accompanies most items (and the bread with the unsalted butter). Ambiance is modern with splashes of Asian and tropical. The food is very good and very expensive. Entrées range from red salt-spiced seared ahi, pan-seared opah with king crab fries, wagu New York steak and lamb to their Big Island vanilla bean mahi mahi. They lean toward seared, so if you want it cooked through, let ’em know. They have uncommonly good mixed drinks. Though the Red Coral is their signature martini, consider the Po‘ipu Surf, which is more refreshing. Our biggest ding is that their ads show a cleverly photographed oceanfront location, when, in fact, ocean views are poor and fairly distant. Also, appetizers are expensive and tasty, but incredibly small. The kalua pork lu‘au is absolutely tiny. Take it home and starve your hamster. $30–$55 for dinner. In the Ko‘a Kea Hotel. Reservations recommended.
Find hundreds more reviews in The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook.