Take a stroll through any of the local farmers markets and you’ll see why Kauai is called “the Garden Isle.” The fourth-largest and geologically oldest of the Hawaiian islands is a bounty of year-round fresh produce (look for softball-sized Kahalu`u avocados) and locally caught seafood.
From mom-and-pop dives to award-winning fine-dining rooms, we searched for memorable meals that make the most of the island’s pristine ingredients. Whether it’s a swoon-worthy sunset view or an incredible poke bowl, we’ve got you covered.
Quick tip: Although you can travel the entire island in a day on the only main road, plan accordingly when it comes to hitting all the best local eats during your next vacation. If you’re slated to be on one end of the island for dinner but are staying on the opposite side, schedule an activity beforehand nearby to maximize the long drive.
Perched over a koi pond and illuminated by tiki torches, this dreamy dining room at Forbes Travel Guide Recommended Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa is a date-night must.
In addition to serving some of the island’s most succulent steaks and seafood, the restaurant provides some tasty ways to get your greens in — menu items marked with a leaf icon (like the Grand Hyatt Kauai Garden Greens salad) were sourced from the hotel’s own tennis-court-turned-organic-garden.
The service is equally enchanting — staff’s aloha nature all but ensures you’ll leave with a smile on your face.
Monkeypod Jam, Lawai
This earthy spot may look like a simple coffee shop at first glance. But look beyond the chickens on the lawn and shelves stocked with canned jams and curds and you’ll find so much more than espresso at this epicurean event space.
Once a month, Monkeypod owner and canning maven Althea Thomas hosts a multi-course culinary extravaganza with one of Kauai’s latest and greatest chefs. Next on tap is an autumn-themed feast on October 29 from local toque Noah Blair.
But don’t worry if you miss it. Stopping in for a cappuccino and unique souvenirs like white pineapple salsa, coconut curd or strawberry-guava butter is well worth your time.
The Beach House, Koloa
Kauai is known for its sun-streaked skies, and this popular gathering place boasts some of the best twilight views on the island.
The kitchen is almost as colorful as the sunsets. Plates come packed with daily fresh catch, beef from neighboring ranches and more local produce than you can shake a coconut at.
But what’s a sunset without a sundowner? The Beach House’s cocktail menu is a parade of creative twists on traditional vacation libations like the Monkeypod Mai Tai, a blend of Hawaiian-made rums, housemade macadamia nut orgeat syrup, orange curacao and honey-lilikoi (passionfruit) foam. It’s aloha in a glass.
Japanese Grandma’s Cafe, Hanapepe
Named for owner Keiko Napier’s mother, this tiny, trend-setting café specializes in inventive sushi rolls — try Grandma’s Futomaki Roll, made with egg, cucumber, yamagobo (a pickled root), kanpyo (dried calabash gourd shavings), shiitake mushrooms, eel and shrimp — and poke bowls made with just-caught seafood and organic produce.
The sake menu is noteworthy, too — try the yuku variety for something new.
While you wait for your lunch or dinner, make sure to peruse the adjoining Blu Umi gift shop for cool finds. The former USO building houses a collection of local and international home goods and fashion.
Eating House 1849, Koloa
This plantation-style restaurant from celebrity chef Roy Yamaguchi is inspired by the original farm-to-table cuisine of ancestral Hawaii. The menu is an interesting amalgamation of Southeast Asian, American and Hawaiian favorites — think kampachi sashimi, corned beef Ruebens and huli huli (Hawaiian barbecue)-style pork belly — prepared with a touch of haute cuisine finesse. Located in Koloa, it’s a fantastic destination for a romantic dinner or special occasion.
Helmed by respected French chef Jean-Marie Josselin, this gourmet gem is a treasure tucked away in a nondescript neighborhood. Despite its lackluster surroundings, the dining room serves up divine dishes portraying bold colors, multi-layered textures and unorthodox flavor pairings that surprise and delight.
Utilizing the freshest produce possible — even down to funding inventive tomato farming practices and buying dairy from monks — Josselin is committed to local first, and you can taste it.
In addition to delicious seafood and hearty meat plates, the menu sprinkles a healthy dose of plant-based options, including curried spaghetti squash and a crispy tofu spring roll. And for oenophiles, JO2 carries one of the best wine collections on the island.
Bar Acuda, Hanalei
For tapas-style dining, look no further than this lively Hanalei bar. Inspired by European comfort food, the sleek place has a wonderful assortment of small plates like albondigas (meatballs), lamb riblettes and papas ajo (fried potatoes) made with Kauai-sourced ingredients.
The wine list follows suit with an excellent selection of old- and new-world labels, and the cocktail menu presents classics with a local twist. Try the Hanalei Spritz for a refreshing blend of gin, lilikoi puree, Aperol and cava rosé.
This is a popular venue with locals, so be sure to make a reservation in advance or ask your hotel concierge to pull some strings.
If you’re only in town for a brief window, check out this food tour company for a flavorful overview of Kauai’s best spots to experience local island flavors. Owner Addison Bulosan offers a plethora of themed treks, ranging from tours of the North or South Shore, farms, happy hours and even VIP private options.