Just returned from our first trip to Kauai. From what previous posters have written, I wasn't expecting too much from the food scene there (didn't want to set myself up) but overall, we came away very pleasantly surprised.
Mark's Place, Lihue ~
As soon as we picked up our rental car, we made a beeline for Mark's and a plate lunch. Got a bit turned around, as it's in an industrial area not too far from the airport, plus the building doesn't have a sign. However, what I can tell people is the building is a distinct powder blue color as is Mark's Place II in Lawai. We managed to go here twice for plate lunches and by far my fave is the beef stew. Huge portions and great, friendly service. My husband's fave was the hamburger patty on rice with gravy. If you're not positively starving, order a 1/2 portion. Another thing you might want to try is the Ginger Fried Chicken. Large fingers of house-cut breast meat (not formed fingers) that have been in a zesty ginger marinade and deep fried. They seem to look dried out, but we got generous samples to try and are tender and juicy.
Other offerings I saw were roast chicken with mushroom sauce, grilled mahi-mahi with butter sauce, plus they have Pau Hana specials now, available at Mark's Place in Lawai -- sized for a family for 4, great if you don't want to go out for dinner. The food sounds simplistic, but the quality is great and it's very fresh. Hands down one of our fave places on the island.
Bubba's Burgers, Hanalei ~
Tons of tourists at Bubba's but very good burgers -- my husband is a burger fanatic and was impressed with the freshness and how the burger patties are flavorful and juicy. My fave was the Teriyaki. Make sure to get the cheese AND pineapple, plus add some grilled onions (trust me on this one) Mango shake was good, they seemed to use real fruit puree.
Nanea, Westin Princeville ~
Though pricey, the food impressed us and we had a great dining experience here. The seafood fettucine is wonderful and light with generous chunks of local fish and seafood. Our fave dish here was the sublime sous vide Opakapaka with shitake mushroom, Chinese Lop Chong sausage, and black beans. We also ate at Nanea once for breakfast and the food was very well prepared, though as I said this is a pricey place to eat.
Polynesia Cafe, Hanalei ~
Located in the Ching Young Village in Hanalei. Parking can be very tight and busy-- I suggest parking a block away behind Tropical Taco and walking a block -- it seems absolutely no one parks behind Tropical Taco and you can easily get in and out. We tried a couple of plate lunches. I went for the traditional Hawaiian foods one with the Kalua pig, Poke, and Lomi Lomi Salmon, which came with the two scoop rice and sauteed cabbage. The Kalua pig was beautiful -- tender and smoky and juicy. Poke was fantastic, but the Lomi Lomi salmon was a disappointment. I don't know if it was because we were there pretty late for lunch, but it was watery and with tiny microscopic bits of salmon that were almost non-existent. My husband had the Kalbi rib and teryaki chicken plate. Ribs were flavorful but quite tough, however the chicken was gorgeous, juicy and tender.
We did not try the desserts, but they looked amazing, like little jewels. Apparently they have their own pastry chef and it shows. We would be probably try this place again.
Tropical Taco, Hanalei ~
Pleasant but extremely sloooooooow service, probably waited close to half an hour for our order. We had the fresh fish of the day burrito, which was Marlin. I was skeptical, but it was cooked well, not overdone (Marlin can be tough). Came with a pile of fresh taco chips and ok salsa. Overall, it was an ok dining experience. The fish was very fresh, but the burrito to me was bland. Also the portion of fish was fairly small for $10.00. Probably would not return here.
Kilauea Fish Market ~
The seared Ahi wrap is definitely the way to go here. It was amazing, though they did overcook the ahi a bit ( I like mine seared on the outside and raw on the inside). Fabulous. My husband had the opakapaka with garlic butter lunch plate. Definitely would return, though service was extremely slow, timed at 25 minutes for our order.
Banana Joe's (near Kilauea) ~ We couldn't try this place as it's closed until approx June 10th or 12th. I would phone ahead to see if they're open.
Dondero's -- The Grand Hyatt, Poipu ~
Very uneven and I doubt we will be back. We went here for a special birthday dinner and came away fairly disappointed. I, unfortunately, picked all the wrong things on the menu. Service that evening was slightly sniffy and pretentious. I had the crab fettucini for my primi and it had a watery, soupy consistency. I thought I was having saimin! Part of the problem is they use these serving plates that look like small soup bowls set in a very large plate. My secondi beef filet had a rosemary and pepper rub on it, and the rosemary was really overpowering. Filet was not done medium rare as requested, but was extremely rare. My lime "mousse" parfait with hibiscus syrup was frozen solid.
If I can recommend anything here, it's the pappardelle with bolognese sauce, which my husband had and was done very well, plus his chicen breast with pancettta was passable. All in all, I cannot recommend Dondero's, and your money is best spent elsewhere.
Yum Cha -- The Grand Hyatt, Poipu ~
The food we had here was wonderful. Everything we ordered was very well done, but the highlight was probably the Szechuan Beef -- Slice rib steak stir fried with dried hot peppers and Chinese long beans. Excellent! Not too hot, though a slow burn starts building up as you eat the dish. Other dishes we loved -- the lobster and shrimp, plus the Korean Short Ribs.
Olympic Cafe ~ Kapa'a
Great place to have a long, leisurely meal, as it's located on the second floor and has open-air tables that overlook the street. The hummus here is some of the best I've ever had. I also had the ahi wrap, which wasn't quite as good as the one in Kilauea -- the fish seemed not as fresh. My husband had an excellent burger here. Great prices, with good portions and friendly service. One of our friends had the fish tacos and they looked amazing. Highly recommended.
Over the Moon Bakery ~ Kapa'a
Wonderful treats; we bought the cookies over and over again, they are huge and I thought a pretty good deal at $5.00 for 3 humungous cookies each the size of salad plates. Peanut butter is the way to go, but the choco macadamia nut comes in a close second. Very friendly service. For malasadas, they recommend a lady who sells them outside of K-mart in Lihue in the early afternoon. We didn't get a chance to try, but I'm passing this on to the malasada fans out there.
Hamura Saimin ~ Lihue
I was thinking, hey, they got a James Beard Award! It's gonna be great! But I had built myself up for disappointment. I tried to like my food, but sadly, I do not recommend this place at all. Service was ok though, and actually quite pleasant, unlike some of the other accounts I've read, and the food was very hot and fresh. However, the broth was just salty with no depth of flavor. I think I drank about of litre of water afterwards. I had the saimin bowl with everything (I think it was called the special). BBQ pork was flavorless and tough and the noodles seemed just blah. My husband wasn't hungry at the time and ordered the tempura shrimp. Do not order the tempura shrimp -- the batter was tough and greasy, like you would find on frozen battered fish you heat up at home.
Our favorite places on the island -- Mark's Place, Yum Cha, and Kilauea Fish Market. Now, I'm wondering .... what do one of those free range Kauai chickens taste like? haha