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 9th 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.

Hanalei Dolphin Restaurant
5-5016 Kuhio Hwy • 826–6113
2829 Ala Kalanikaumaka, Po‘ipu • 742–1414
Hanalei—This is a north shore tradition that over the years, rocks back and forth between really good and really bad. At press time they were mostly back in the groove, hence the ono. They have some outdoor tables on a lawn next to the Hanalei River—very nice at lunch or while waiting for your indoor table at dinner. They are often busy and don’t take reservations—so if waiting bothers you, arrive early or you’re out of luck. Their seafood selection is excellent. Pick a fish and pick a side item. The teriyaki ahi is awesome, and best ordered med-rare, even if you’re a medium kind of diner. Love it with the asparagus wraps. They have a seafood market, a good place to pick up fish for cooking back at the condo. And the western-style sushi is high quality. Bartending skills tend to be lacking—avoid the Blue Dolphin. This place (also called Dolphin Hanalei) pleases most of the time. But, perhaps because of the price, when they tank, they really tank. $15–$20 for lunch, $30–$60 for dinner. On the highway in Hanalei; can’t miss it. Their other location at the Shops at Kukui‘ula is called Dolphin Po‘ipu. Same menu, smaller space and no view.

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–$40 for dinner. On mauka side of the highway. Reservations required for parties of 6 or more.

JJ’s Broiler
3416 Rice St. • 246–4422
Nawiliwili—A longtime steak and seafood landmark. With their good location adjacent to Kalapaki Beach, they should be able to eke out an ono from us, but don’t seem to put in the effort. Perhaps being near where cruise ships dock creates complacency. They have a varied menu at dinner of steak, seafood, pasta, and carryovers from lunch with burgers, sandwiches and salads ($16 and up), which creates lots of choices. But prices are high, and extras such as appetizers and beverages (it’s hard to get a glass of wine for under $10) are pretty overpriced. The atmosphere inside is more sports bar, with the outdoor tables overlooking Kalapaki Bay. (You won’t hear the surf, only the sports announcers.) Their signature dish—Slavonic steak—seems to be an attempt to bury poor cuts of steak with sauces. $15–$30 for lunch, $15–$50 for dinner. In Anchor Cove.

9th Island Sports Bar & Grill
4-831 Kuhio Hwy • 822–7773
Kapa‘a—They call themselves a Las Vegas-style pub, and items are named after Vegas stars and gangsters. (Vegas is sometimes called Hawai‘i’s 9th island due to its popularity as a vacation destination for residents.) It’s more of a small sports bar atmosphere. Half-pound burgers and sandwiches dominate the menu. The Butterfinger (teriyaki) burger is tasty as is the jalapeno burger. Patties are hand-formed with bread crumbs inside. In all, a slightly above average eatery. Biggest complaint is they can be slow. $13–$18 for lunch and dinner. In the Kauai Village Shopping Center.

Olympic Café
4-1354 Kuhio Hwy • 822–5825
Kapa‘a—The menu here is vast and most portions are bulky. Breakfast scrambles are tasty, and the burritos and burgers work well at lunch. Dinner adds some more expensive items like steak, pasta and fajitas. For dessert, the tasty Kaua‘i Pie has nearly a half-gallon of ice cream and can easily satisfy a table of four. Fridays they have a free taco bar during happy hour (3–7 p.m.), which can get really busy. It’s a weird night, and you should stay away from the fish. If you order waffle fries, it’s a buck if you want someting to dip them into. $10–$19 for breakfast, $13–$20 for lunch, $16–$30 for dinner. Service can be spotty. Window seats overlook the highway. Across from ABC Store in downtown Kapa‘a.

Garden Island Barbecue
4252 Rice St. • 245–8868
Lihu‘e—Despite the name, it’s a Chinese restaurant with a local twist, not a bbq. The selection is dizzying—over 150 items! (And no, we haven’t tried every one.) Portions are good, and the price is reasonable. There will almost certainly be something that interests you. Service is lightning fast. Although the food’s not the greatest, you ain’t paying for the greatest. You’re paying for a large selection, large portions, and you want to get in and out fast. So you’re getting what you pay for. $10–$14 for lunch and dinner, plus a cheaper special. At Rice and Hardy. Closed Sunday.

R & J Bakery
4303 Rice St. • 245–7520
Lihu‘e—This small Filipino bakery and lunch counter is one of those places that’s easy to overlook. Quaint or rustic comes to mind when describing the place. It really feels like stepping into a small lunch shop in a foreign country. The family that owns and operates the restaurant has a great passion for their food and can be very helpful in explaining dishes and giving recommendations. Just know that they specialize in Filipino comfort food, and everything we tried, we liked. Plates are priced by size with the smallest being only $4 and the largest $7. The baked goods selection is mostly sweet offerings such as danishes, muffins and mochi. A variety of sodas, juices and water is available from the coolers as well as some local produce. Good, cheap, local grub. $5–$10 for breakfast and lunch. In the Rice Shopping Center.

Kalaheo Steak & Ribs
4444 Papalina Rd • 332–4444
Kalaheo—A woody, western/paniolo atmosphere that sets a beefy tone. They have a typical steakhouse menu with a token fish. Their namesake ribs are a bit underwhelming, but they do steaks fairly well, though they start at $28. If you’re there during happy hour, they include their tasty Moloka‘i sweetbread pudding dessert. Avoid the bland steakhouse mushrooms. Super friendly service. They are just shy of an ono but we certainly wouldn’t steer you away from them. $20–$55 for dinner. On the biggest cross street in town. Can’t miss it.

La Spezia
5492 Koloa Rd. • 742–8824
Koloa—This place has lots of potential, but they need to polish a few things to get an ono. A hip, contemporary Italian wine bar atmosphere, the 2-person tables are pretty small. This somehow creates the weird condition that when they are slow and empty, it feels claustrophobic. But as they get busier, it’s less so. (I know that sounds odd, but trust me on this.) Appetizer are pretty good. The chicken with 40 cloves somehow makes the chicken light and fluffy. And the flatbread pizza appetizer is tasty if a bit filling. Dinner has offerings such as winter squash risotto, pork tenderloin over capellini and a slightly disappointing lasagna. Spaghetti with arancini (crispy mozzarella risotto balls) on zucchini noodles is bold and unusual. This, like other dishes, has flavors that can best be described as divisive—you’ll either love ’em or hate ’em. What they really need to rethink is their service. Friendly, but the tiny kitchen creates such terrible bottlenecks that we’ve waited as much as an hour and a half for entrées, even when we were early-comers. They don’t take reservations. $17–$30 for dinner. Across from the Post Office in Old Koloa Town.

Find hundreds more reviews in The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook.

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