PHOTO: Fish dish at Keoki’s Paradise in Kauai. (photo by Paul Heney)
Mention the lush island of Kauai to some, and they’ll think: green mountain ridges, beautiful beaches or helicopter rides.
Me? I think food.
Sure, I think of those other things, too. But after a handful of visits to the oldest of the major Hawaiian Islands, I’ve discovered there are a lot of good meals to be had in this little corner of paradise. My family recently ate our way across Kauai’s sunny southern strip, anchored by the Poipu area:
Eating House 1849 by the award-winning Chef Roy Yamaguchi is in the catbird’s seat at the upscale Shops at Kukuiula. With a lovely view out toward the ocean from the second floor, this restaurant specializes in plantation-style cuisine, with a focus on fresh, local ingredients from the island.
You’ll start out with a complimentary bowl of edamame while you peruse the drink menu. The Hawaiian Martini and Clark’s Poipu Sunset shine while the crispy fried calamari is an excellent choice for an appetizer.
We had a little of everything here, from the burger (fantastic) to the marlin special, which was firm and steak-like. Our teenaged son ordered the whole snapper and didn’t realize he’d get the WHOLE snapper—head, tail, bones and all. (I wish the wait staff had warned him about that, but they were otherwise flawless.)
Josh managed to pick it apart nicely, and it was tasty. The restaurant’s specialty dessert is a chocolate soufflé, which takes 20 minutes to prepare—so your waiter will ask you ahead of time if you’d like to order it. Take it from our family, it’s worthwhile, as were the Deconstructed Smores and the Warm Apple Volcano.
I’ve long felt that The Beach House is one of the best restaurants anywhere. Situated right on the water, the view of the waves, ocean and sunsets is without equal. And while the prices are very high, the food has always been top notch.
So, we were a little disappointed that a couple of our dishes didn’t hold up to some past experiences.
That said, there was a lot to be happy about: The wine list is excellent, and the warm ciabatta bread was so good, I think we could have subsisted entirely on that. The crab cake appetizer was nice, with virtually no filler and a tasty mini salad accompanying it.
While we waited for our entrees, we witnessed a beautiful sunset, followed by warm twilight colors while kids frolicked in the waves in the distance. People took turns stepping out of the restaurant to take photos. Tiki torches were lit around sunset; The atmosphere here is absolutely romantic, but it’s a great experience for families, too.
The Beach House has several standard variations on the daily catch—from crab-crusted to wasabi-buttered to grilled. Your server will explain what the day’s featured catches are, and which ones will be served which way.
We all had different fish and, while they were good, they lacked a bit of flavor. On the other end of the spectrum, our youngest, Matthew, said his pasta was “probably the best I’ve ever had.” (I sampled it after that comment, and he was right on the mark.)
Dessert was mixed as well; the sweetness of the banana cream pie was slightly off, although the chocolate cream pie was delightful.
Located in Poipu Shopping Village, Keoki’s Paradise features steaks, ribs and seafood in a unique setting with streams, plants and waterfalls inside the restaurant. Combined with the huge open windows on one side, it almost feels like eating in a south seas pavilion.
Live music and a hula dancer were performing the night we stopped by, making for a lovely evening even before the food came.
Everything here met or exceeded our expectations. Carrot muffins with a delightful cinnamon honey vanilla butter disappeared quickly. Our youngest son’s Volcano mocktail was a hit, too.
There are four fresh fish catches of the day, and you can mix and match any with several standard preparations. Our favorite? The Panko & Mac Nut Crusted red snapper was light but tasty and prepared perfectly. Our only complaint was that we’d stuffed ourselves so much that we didn’t have room for dessert.
We all agreed that all in all, this was the best and most memorable meal of our vacation.
Our other favorites include:
La Spezia is a charming little restaurant and wine bar in Koloa town that offers some twists on Italian fare. It’s only open for breakfast and dinner. Or try their weekly brunch on Sundays, which features a build-your-own Bloody Mary bar and an incredible French toast dish stuffed with bacon, brie and strawberry jam.
Stop by the simple Puka Dog stand, also in the Poipu Shopping Village. While I admit I’m not particularly a huge fan of hot dogs, the toppings at Puka Dog and the unique bread they use (instead of a traditional bun) won all of us over. Definitely get the Auntie Lilikoi’s Hawaiian Mustard; We even bought a jar to take home from a nearby shop.
And if you’re in the mood for shave ice, venture west to Waimea, where JoJo’s Shave Ice has to be the best on the planet. Make sure to order yours with macadamia nut ice cream on the bottom. If you’re heading to Waimea Canyon, this is a great stop on the way back to Poipu.
Courtesy of Paul Heney