It might be safe to say that I looked forward to eating in Hawaii more than I dreamed about the beach, crystal clear water and cocktails. I am an avid seafood lover, and the thought of eating fresh out of the ocean catches for a week straight pretty much thrilled me. I asked around for suggestions, scoured the internet for guides, and read lots of reviews, in hopes of finding the best of the best in Maui and Kauai. Below were some of our favorites.
If you’re looking to grab a cup of local Jo, go to Island Press Coffee in Lahaina. Decked out in vintage Hawaiian tchotchke, this little coffee shop might look plain-Jane from the outside, but is fantastic within. Doubling as a liquor store, stop in for local fresh brewed coffee and a slice of coconut cake for breakfast. And grab a bottle of wine for later, too.
Packing a picnic for a trip to Upcountry? You must stop at Leoda’s. We loved it so much we went twice, and would have gone again if we had not run out of time. Top Chef fans: Leoda’s (along with Star Noodle, see pork buns above right) is the product of finalist Sheldon, and we ate some of the best food we’ve had anywhere lately there (see brussel sprout salad below). This spicy tuna sandwich below was the perfect companion to our lunch at Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm. And the butter white bread – do not even get me started.
Cooking dinner at your condo, or seeking fresh, affordable produce? Stop at any farm stand on the windy road to Upcountry. Pick your own strawberries, buy an avocado as big as your head, support local farmers.
Speaking of Sheldon and Top Chef, if you have time, visit Star Noodle for the pork buns alone. Expect to wait – awhile – if you go at lunchtime. You’ll be surrounded by foodie groupies taking snap shots of their dishes, with a smattering of locals sprinkled in (one kind man leaned in at our family-style table and made suggestions of his favorites). Travis raved over the pad thai.
For delicious seafood and a killer view, dine at Merriman’s. Save this for a special night, as it’s pricey, but go right before sunset, order a tropical cocktail, and sit back and watch the sun set on paradise. (Don’t make our mistake and go at 8 pm – oops).
For a touristy/fun/entertaining night, the buzz on the island is that the Old Lahaina Luau is the best. Luckily, we made reservations 3 months prior. And, seriously, you’ll need to do that. This puppy sells out. The food doesn’t dazzle, but the atmosphere and show is super fun.
Ah, Kauai. We ate well on this island.
Kauai has countless food stands, food trucks, and small family-owned restaurants along its highways. Stop at one of them. Get a fresh smoothie, crack open a coconut, or dine on al pastor tacos. What I loved about Kauai is its rural landscape, which made it feel much less touristy and significantly more authentic.
For a quick bite that’s pretty reasonable on the wallet, visit Tropical Taco in Hanalei (my favorite town on the whole trip). For $13 you can get a fresh grilled fish taco as big as your head packed with fixin’s and a side of chips and salsa (see far above).
Dare I say – the best fish dish I had was at Postcards Cafe, an all vegetarian/seafood establishment that I found incredibly charming. I’m still thinking about the Mahi Mahi I had there. Oh, wait, then there was dessert: a coconut-crusted macadamia ice cream scoop with salted caramel sauce. We practically licked the plate.
For more special evenings, visit Bar Acuda and Kauai Grill at the St. Regis. As for atmosphere, Bar Acuda doesn’t have much to offer – no spectacular view with a small outdoor porch. But the restaurant that has been hailed as the best in Hawaii is pretty darn great. For a romantic evening, dine at Kauai Grill because the view is one of the best we experienced on our trip.
Whatever you do, be sure to experience local culture and cuisine, sample fresh mahi mahi, and never, ever pass up a piña colada.