Though limited by having toddlers and seniors in tow, we made the most of the eating opportunities we had during our brief stay on Kauai. Here's the summary from southeast to northwest:
KCL CHINESE BBQ - This was my favorite quick meal. Dumpy, dive-y, humble take-out spot serving up ono Hawaiian mixed BBQ and the best mac salad I've ever had. Rice & chicken were forgettable. You'll have to get drinks elsewhere. We noticed they have another drive-thru location in Kapa'a.
DUKES AT THE MARRIOT - Went for lunch. The fancier upstairs was closed but had a nice casual meal downstairs beachside. Very friendly - the indoor waterfalls & fish were a hit with the toddlers - sort of a Gilligan's island atmosphere. Tasty cocktails, attentive service and hearty portions of well-prepared local fish - apparently the exact same dish you can get upstairs for double the price at night.
HAMURA SAIMIN - Much to my chagrin, were unable to eat here. We did attempt to grab a quick shave ice but they stopped serving at 3pm. It was packed with locals intent on the steaming bowls in front of them and smelled delicious... Not very friendly but I gather they don't need to be.
ONO FAMILY RESTAURANT - Went for breakfast. Reminded me of places you find in the deep south - very homey diner/cafe type place: screen door, floor fans and vintage Hawaiiana scattered around. The beautiful indigenous floral arrangements remind you of where you are. Efficient service and vast menu with something for everyone. Had sweet bread french toast with their proprietary coconut syrup (for sale) that was good. Hubby liked their kalua pork scramble. Big portions, cheap and filled with both tourists and locals.
HEE FAT GENERAL STORE - Outstanding shave ice in the back - one was enough for four of us. They sweat it before shaving so it has that ideal powdery consistency and a more-gourmet-than-usual variety of flavor combos. We got the lava flow which came with a scoop of ice cream that we could've done without.
DUANES ONO CHAR BURGERS - Tried to go for dinner to go but found them closed at 6pm. Had better luck another day for lunch. Popular = crowded and they are short-staffed so takes awhile. Had heard complaints about their small industrial patties but less meat was fine with us - we liked the teriyaki and mushroom versions. Fries were solid and marionberry shakes yummy. Reasonably priced.
MOLOA'A SUNRISE FRUIT STAND - Stopped here twice: once to stock up on fruit for our stay and again for lunch. The fruit selection was limited and expensive but high quality - were able to get non-acidic sugarloaf pineapple which isn't available much and fantastic mangos. Lunch on the pricey side but hit the spot: ahi wraps and various sammies made with their delicious avocados, washed down with freshly-made watermelon and pineapple juices. Nice beachy vibe with a few outdoor tables although often interrupted by road traffic right next to stand. Crowded with surfers , hippies and tourists alike. Their breakfast menu looked appealing as well.
THE LIGHTHOUSE - This was a pleasant lunch surprise. Non-descript entrance leads to a breezy bistro with a wine bar + a regular bar, next to the bakery with a pretty courtyard. Friendly and fast service, solid soups and fish and though we tended to veer away from chicken while there, they had the ubiquitous macadamia-nut-crusted version that was really tender. Drinks were weak.
NORTH SHORE GENERAL STORE (inside gas station) - Went here several times because it was conveniently located to us. Once for breakfast at 8am, were informed that kitchen not open yet so only able to do sausage/egg breakfast burritos which were ok, rather than the breakfast sandwiches and hash browns that are supposed to be their best offering. Another attempt for the hash browns at a later hour also unsuccessful as their fryer had gone out. Breakfast sandwiches were a good value and tasty. Another night time visit we found a few slices of expired pizza on offer and decided to go with the onion rings instead - but they were so greasy that we weren't able to eat more than a few. Stick to breakfast.
MAKANA TERRACE ST. REGIS - Overpriced and predictable breakfast buffet with the worst service encountered of the entire trip. Avoid their kalua pork - dry and tasteless here. Never got our coffee or drinks. Had to ask multiple times for salt, pepper, sugar, silverware, sides etc. Though we requested a seat at one of the mostly empty tables outside for the view, we were sat as far away from that view as possible - maybe those views reserved for diners without toddlers? It was nice that buffet free for the little ones and on the plus side, this restaurant had one of the best views of anyplace we ate on the island.
FOODLAND GROCERY STORE DELI - Decent reasonably-priced sandwich selection to go - sushi looked good too if like us, you find yourself desperately seeking something to eat after all the local restaurant kitchens have closed.
THE TAVERN - Went for an early dinner and had the place pretty much to ourselves. Every dish we tried, though not especially creative, was expertly prepared and generously portioned and fresh. Good prices considering the quality. Very friendly folks there and set up well for toddlers with coloring menus and crayons. Service was speedy and cheese quesadillas were complimentary to keep little ones occupied while adults waited for their meals. Atmosphere is more clubby than tropical, likely due to it's location on a golf course, which makes for a nice green view from their ample windows all around. Definitely our favorite spot in Princeville - would highly recommend.
KAUAI GRILL ST REGIS - This was one of the biggest disappointments of the trip. We were seated as far from the view as possible though the restaurant was mostly empty (again due to the toddlers perhaps?). Pork & steak offerings were adequate but uninspiring, the mahi mahi was undercooked, wine pairing was inappropriate and side dishes were too small to share. Though we had notified the staff that we were celebrating a wedding anniversary there that evening, there was nothing extra or special during the meal to recognize the event, not even a 'happy anniversary'. Servers were friendly enough and it was a pretty room, a few celebrities here and there, but I never stopped feeling like I was in a hotel. I imagine there was a nice view from the other tables, though not as nice as Makana Terrace. Our most expensive meal on the island - definitely not worth it.
INFIGOS - This place was quite a mystery and unfortunately remains so. Phone calls would go unanswered and messages unreturned. The hotel staff informed us that they had made multiple attempts to see their menus or set up reservations for their guests there but that Infigos had been uncooperative. Still I had heard such good things about it that we persisted. We tracked down the condo complex where it was located but none of the residents knew where it was (or wanted to tell us??). We finally found it on our own (it looks like a rec center from the outside) but were greeted with a note stating that the chef had a medical emergency and was flown off island for treatment and therefore it would be closed indefinitely! Hopefully that all turns out well. Bottom line, it seems like maybe it's a one-man show. Regardless, I would try again simply because I've heard such good things about their food. And no, after two years, they still don't have a liquor license - BYOB.
CJ's STEAK & SEAFOOD - We had an unplanned dinner here one night when we couldn't find anyplace else open. This is an old-school blast from the past. From the decor to the salad bar. But the aloha spirit was alive and well - they have the nicest folks working there and the whole operation is run like a well-oiled machine. Surf & turf was not remarkable but certainly adequate and though it may have seen better days, there was something charming about the whole affair.
PRINCEVILLE WINE MARKET - I need to put in an honorable mention for this spot. A tiny but well-curated selection covering all price points from a really helpful owner operator.
VILLAGE SNACK & BAKERY - Went for breakfast pastries, and got a sampling of each - nothing special except these round donut-type things with no hole - those were out of this world. Most of the other customers seemed to be skipping the pastries and lining up for breakfast sandwiches so that may be the way to go.
HANALEI PIZZA - Tried to grab a few slices to go one night but they said that slices were only available in the daytime and a whole pie would take 45 min to make so we passed.
TAHITI NUI - Popped in at an inconvenient time between lunch & dinner so didn't eat. Seems more of a bar than restaurant and staff not particularly friendly. Looked like a good spot for getting your drink on - some shady-looking characters were already deep in their cups - and they had a pretty big stage area. They have a cute little incongruous wine bar in the middle and a pizza restaurant that was being ignored while I was there. We would've come back for after-dinner adventures if not so jet-lagged.
BAR ACUDA - Our best meal hands down. Sophisticated indoor seating (can get warm in there close to the kitchen), airy tiki torch outdoor seating, prompt super nice & professional service. Very kid-friendly despite reviews to the contrary. Small but varied tapas menu - everything on offer
was strong. Duck was the table's favorite, but osso buco & ahi carpaccio were contenders. Smoked tomato bruschetta was yummy. Their menu changes frequently so I won't bother going on about all the things we had - I think we tried almost everything. But it's rare to find a place operating on all cylinders like this where every dish is a hit. And reasonably priced. If we had more time I would have returned over and over. Note that unlike the arbitrary hours policy evidenced on most of the island, Bar Acuda's kitchen oddly closes exactly at 9:20.
We didn't come to Kauai to eat. It was so visually stunning there that I could've been happy eating spam out of a can. But on the whole, the dining options were better than expected.