It’s no secret that my family loves to eat. Though my 3-year-old recently had trended more towards the “chicken nuggets and French Fry” diet (i.e. ketchup), she is still fairly adventurous when she’s hungry. So when we recently visited Hawaii, I knew we needed to spend some time exploring the ‘ono foods on Kauai.
Full disclosure: many of these foods can be found on other Hawaiian islands, but I’ve included places on Kauai suitable for foodie families. There is also a bias towards places on the South Shore, as that’s where we have stayed for the past two trips. Next time we are heading to the North Shore, so I’d love if you leave recommendations in the comments. I also wanted to make special mention of some “adults only” libations. Just in case, you know, you like that for a tropical vacation. I know I do.
Foods on Kauai: If You’re in the Mood for Breakfast
A malasada is to a donut what a lava cake is to boxed pudding. Never really confuse the two. These pillows of sugary goodness stuffed with cream or chocolate deliciousness. I think my daughter described them best when she literally stuffed one entirely into her mouth. Her tiny 3-year-old mouth. Chocolate pastry cream oozed all over her chin and she quite delightedly spent the next five minutes licking it all off her face. Try the ones from Kauai Bakery (conveniently located by the Kmart), or the Hanalima Bakery, which also serves a nice plate lunch.
Again, this is not necessarily limited to Kauai, but if you find a loaf of this violaceous bread, make sure to get it. Made from taro, the ubiquitous root that also makes poi, this loaf tastes slightly sweet, but toasts up crunchy on the outside and creamy in the middle. Makes a delicious avocado toast, too.
Vegan Breakfast Burritos
OK, maybe you don’t really want a vegan breakfast burrito, but even if you’re not vegan, you will love the burritos at Trilogy Coffee in Kilauea. Kale, sweet potatoes, and more deliciousness but get there early as they sell out. If you also happen to be missing Los Angeles a little bit, they do serve Intelligentsia Coffee. As a steadfast lifelong tea lover, I appreciated their extensive loose leaf tea selection. My chocaholic daughter had a truffle. Hey, it’s vacation.
Foods on Kauai: For the Savory Side of Life
Artisanal Goat Cheese
At the risk of sounding like a cheese snob, I really have to recommend the goat cheese from Kauai Kunana Dairy. They sell it at local farmer’s markets, and their chevre is simply delicious. My favorites are the hard-to-find passionfruit and marinated herbs, but you really can’t go wrong with any of them. They also offer a SUPER kid-friendly tour of the dairy once a week (more to come on that soon) that I definitely recommend for those of you with infants/toddlers or a serious goat fetish.
For a local and sustainable catch, look for Monchong, a fish that tastes slightly of a sweet halibut or firmer tilapia, on several menus around town. We had a delicious one crusted with panko and macadamia nuts at Keoki’s Paradise, an upscale family-friendly restaurant with the next must-try food on Kauai.
My dear spouse loves poke, sort of a Hawaiian version of ceviche, made with seasoned raw fish in a yummy sauce. You can find it all over the island, even in several grocery markets. Koloa Fish Market has one that is pretty close to perfect.
By this, I mean both real BBQ-style food and also my personal favorite, kalua pork. The former you can buy all over town, but check out D-Green’s BBQ food truck in Koloa for some delicious sides, especially the perennial kid-fave mac and cheese (I won’t tell if you steal your kid’s food; it’s so good). The latter you can find almost everywhere, in a plate lunch, on a taco or nachos, by itself with a pile of slaw. My favorite way to eat it though is on a bun with sweet tangy BBQ sauce, just like the version at Brennecke’s Beach Broiler. Trust me, this is the most unexpectedly expensive version of a kalua pork sandwich, and I definitely did not think I would mention it here. But oh well, it’s the version I keep going back to in my mind, wishing I had one now.
The One and Only Puka Dog
You may have heard of Puka Dog before. It’s been featured on Anthony Bourdain and a few other travel shows. If you love hot dogs or sausages, you really need to try this (oh, and don’t forget a hand-shaken lemonade). They offer polish sausages or veggie dogs in a one-of-a-kind bun, filled with tropical relish, lilikoi mustard, and a crave-able garlic sauce in various degrees of heat. You may have to come back for more. If you try the lava habanero sauce, you may want to stop by Papalani Gelato to cool off your tastebuds. Just a small tip.
Foods on Kauai: For Those with a Sweet Tooth (a.k.a. Me)
A massive tower of ice cream slathered in chocolate sauce, macadamia nuts, with an extra hit of crunch from the cookie base. Ask for extra spoons because one slice could likely feed a small country. Keoki’s Paradise had three different options including a traditional one with chocolate and vanilla, a mint chocolate one, and a rotating specialty (ours was strawberry shortcake). The original is said to have been created at Duke’s. Duke’s is right on the beach in Lihue at the Kauai Marriott, and besides the pie, they also make a delicious mai tai(see below under the “adults only” section).
You cannot come to Hawaii and not have shave ice. On Kauai, you really do get almost spoiled for choice. If you are on the north side of the island around Hanalei, Wishing Well or Jojo’s are excellent options. If you head to the south side of the island, stop by Loco Coco Shave Ice in Koloa. This little stand makes all of their own fresh fruit syrups from organic sugar and/or Kauai “Blessed Bees” honey. They also top each shave ice with coconut cream, fresh passionfruit, and fresh pineapple.
In Hawaii, you would miss a lot if you did not try anything with lilikoi or passionfruit. At The Right Slice, you can also pick up a lilikoi cheesecake pie. Picture a sweeter and more tropical version of key lime pie, and that’s the taste you get. They also sell their pies at the Kukui’ula Farmer’s Market on Wednesday afternoons, but definitely, try to stop by their shop.
Kauai Pie Ice Cream
Coffee ice cream, mac nuts, coconut, chocolate ribbon…mmm. What’s not to love? Try Lappert’s Ice Cream for a scrumptious version. Or try the Kauai Crunch at Papalani Gelato. Same idea, similar level of ‘ono.
Kauai Chocolate Company
The Kauai Chocolate Company, an unassuming storefront in Eleele next door to adventure tour companies advertising the Na’Pali coast, offers some truly amazing hand-made chocolates. Try the opihis, little bells of chocolate surrounding nuts and cookie filling, or the dark chocolate and caramel pretzels.
Adults Only Section
We all know what I mean here. When Hawaii stopped growing sugar cane for sugar, they started turning what they did produce into rum. Delicious rum. Not typically my vacation drink of choice as I’m a total lightweight, but when in Hawaii…
If you’re traveling Hawaiian Airlines, you may get a free taste of rum punch. If you stop at Duke’s for Hula Pie, make sure to try the Kalapaki Mai Tai. It’s an award-winning mix of rum, fresh passion and pineapple juice. Delicious. Or head to a free (yes, I did say “free”) tasting of 5 different rums at Koloa Rum Company, whose store is at the tourist and kid-friendly Kilohana Plantation. They offer the tasting every half hour or so, but it is 21 and over only, so you either need to head there child-less or bring a babysitter who can take them on the train for 40 minutes while you indulge.
Visiting Hawaii, and Kauai in particular is a special trip. So much of Kauai is super keiki-friendly, and the food is no exception. Though they pretty much offer your standard kid-fare at most places, try to help your little ones expand their palates and try something new. I think they would definitely like saimin, but even trying a new fruit can be useful. Who knew my three-year-old would like a rambutan?