Food experiences for the first-time Kauai vacation

We’ve “tasted” our way around the island of Kauai to identify all the best foods every Kauai visitor should try.

Today, we’re starting a new series of island-specific guides of the best food experiences. We’re designing them as a sort of “cheat sheet” of local culinary delights to try on your Hawaii vacations. Not only will you get to enjoy new food experiences, you’ll also get to know the culture and support local restaurants, farmers and fisherman, too.

One last thing before we get this food party started. There will be some very island-specific recommendations, but there will be some items Hawaiian food staples that you’ll find on the other Hawaiian Islands, too.

Okay, now let’s get a taste for Kauai!

Local-style, Hawaii foods to try on a Kauai vacation 

Breakfast foods

Loco Moco – The loco moco is traditionally made of a bed of rice, hamburger patty, fried egg and a brown gravy. It’s a hearty breakfast. You might see a loco moco on the breakfast menu at your hotel, if you want to venture out, we recommend the local-style restaurant Kountry Kitchen in Kapaa.

Pancakes – I love pancakes anywhere, but Hawaii distinguishes their style of  pancakes with the tropical flavors and toppings. Coconut, guava, banana and pineapple are some tropical flavors we’ve seen. Our personal favorites are  macadamia nut pancakes with coconut syrup. Most likely your hotel’s restaurant has a great tropical pancake option. If not, once again, Kountry Kitchen in Kapa’a serves big, local-style pancakes.

Portuguese sausage – A breakfast meat that you’ll often see on Hawaii menus is Portuguese sausage. This smoked and cured pork sausage if often a little spicy. I reminds me of chorizo or a thick slice of pepperoni. (Here’s a brief history of Portuguese sausage in Hawaii.)

Bakery Items

Malasadas are another Portuguese influence in Hawaii. They’re a lot like filled doughnuts with a sugared coating. The fillings are often fruit flavored.

Lunch/Snack

Puka Dog is a unique take on the hot dog with tropical relish and condiment options. They are delicious! A Puka Dog is a food item that can only be found in Kauai.

Two puka dogs with lilikoi mustard.

Kalua pork sandwiches are on many lunch menus across the Hawaiian Islands. It’s shredded pork that is traditionally cooked in an imu with a subtle smoky flavor. You’ll also likely see Kalua pork as an entree item on a Kauai luau menu.

SPAM Musubi is a very popular lunch/snack item for local residents. It’s a slice of SPAM served sushi-style. Believe it or not, Hawaii’s 7-Eleven stores are well known for their SPAM Musubi.

Poke is hugely popular in Hawaii. It’s cubed ahi tuna (raw) blended with onion, soy sauce and sesame oil. There are other creative versions of poke. Look for it as an appetizer or lunch menu item. You’ll likely see it sold in grocery stores and we’ve actually found the grocery store versions to be of good quality.

Fresh tropical fruits – Try island-grown papaya, pineapple, guava, passion fruit, mango, bananas (particularly apple bananas.) You will likely see roadside fruit stands. Additionally, check out Kauai’s farmers markets. One of Kauai’s top markets is the Kauai Community Market held on Saturdays.

Dinner

Fresh local fish – The delicious fresh seafood in Hawaii is second to none. Some fish that you’ll often see on Hawaii dinner menus are:

  • Ahi (tuna)
  • Mahi Mahi
  • Ono (wahoo)
  • Opakapaka (pink snapper)
  • Onaga (long-tail red snapper)
  • Monchong
  • Opah (moonfish)
  • Butterfish (black cod) is not a local fish, but you will likely see it on menus in Hawaii. The Hawaii-style preparation of butterfish is with miso.

A side dish that we love is Okinawa sweet potatoes. They have a gorgeous purple color and are very tasty.

Seafood dinner entree with Okinawa mashed potatoes from Tidepools at Grand Hyatt Kauai at Poipu Beach

A luau is a lovely presentation of a dinner and a Polynesian dance show. Most luau companies offer a buffet of local favorite items. Here is a list of Kauai’s top luau options.

Desserts

Lappert’s Ice Cream got its start in Kauai. Since then, it has expanded.

Hula Pie from Duke’s Kauai is a huge, very sharable slice of ice cream pie with hot fudge sauce.

Hula Pie from Duke’s

Shave Ice is another cool treat to try. Shave ice is like a snow cone, but with very soft, finely shaved ice. We don’t have a go-to place for Shave Ice in Kauai, but we’ve heard good things about Ono Ono Shave Ice in Kapaa and Wishing Well Shave Ice in Hanalei. If the shave ice place you visit offers an ice cream base and/or sweetened-condensed milk topping, we recommend those options.

Other items worth mentioning

Saimin is very popular in Hawaii. It’s a broth soup with noodles and various toppings. It is often compared to Japanese ramen. There’s a saimin place in Kauai that’s famous. It’s Hamura Saimin in Lihue. Personally, hot soup is not something I desire when visiting Kauai’s tropical environment, so I can’t speak from experience about saimin.

Poi is a staple food in the Hawaiian culture. It’s steamed taro root that’s pounded down into a pudding consistency. It can be eaten alone as a side dish or added to a meal like a condiment. A good place to try poi it is at a luau.

Kauai Coffee is a nice spot to learn about growing coffee in Kauai and sampling the locally grown coffee.

So, those are some tasty foods to try on your Kauai vacation. Do you have a favorite Kauai food that you’d recommend to fellow vacationers? Let us know in the comments.

If you are headed to Kauai, be sure and check out our Kauai vacation restaurant guide to help you find the best restaurants. In our Kauai restaurant guide we emphasize restaurants that serve Hawaii-style food and Hawaii regional cuisine.

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