2956 Kress St., Lihue
This old-school ramen shop has been a Kauai stand-by for 70-odd years and counting (they're also known for lilikoi pie). There's typically a long line of locals, and it is completely frill-free, but it's a great post-airport choice after a long ride (or in advance of a red eye back to the states). By Hawaii standards, they're also open quite late.
5-5161 Kuhio Hwy., Hanalei
This relatively new arrival from the group behind Hanalei Bread Company and Bar Acuda is focused on ramen and ceviche-style fish preparations, which weirdly fills a hole on the island.
4-369 Kuhio Hwy., Kapaa
Sea-salt dusted fries served with srirachi aioli and chickpea battered onion rings are just one indication that this isn't your typical burger joint. Using only grass-fed Kauai beef, they do a million complex variations (plus an ahi burger and a veggie version) with the beer selection to match. It's a good choice for a big group post beach, and kids are into it, too.
Eating House 1849
2829 Ala Kalanikaumaka Rd., Poipu
After training in Los Angeles at Le Serene, Chef Roy Yamaguchi opened his first Hawaiian restaurant, Roy's, in the late '80s. Born in Tokyo, the menu was Hawaiian fusion, some of the first of its kind, and Yamaguchi went on to win a James Beard award. There are three Eating Houses 1849's scattered across the islands (the name is an acknowledgement of the first restaurant on Hawaii, which was called Eating House), and the one on Kauai is part of the Shops at Kukuiula (where a lot of the island's great restaurants are nestled). The menu changes frequently, but expect to find classics like potstickers, chicken wings, and an outstanding "Hapa" burger, which is a mix of beef and Kaluna wild boar. There's also an excellent spicy ramen bowl.
5492 Koloa Rd., Koloa
Fancy Italian might seem out-of-place on an island as laid-back as Kauai, but when you've had enough of island food, it's a welcome break—and it's also delicious. The far-ranging menu includes everything from pear and gorgonzola flatbreads, to a decadent lasagna and eggplant parmesan. They also serve an egg-centric breakfast that's the perfect way to fuel up before a big hike or day at the beach.
Beach House Restaurant
5022 Lawai Rd., Poipu
Sure, the views from all sides are stunning—one of the island's best snorkeling beaches is immediately below—but the food here is also reliably fantastic. This is partly due to the fact that it's co-owned by Peter Merriman, who knows exactly how to nail the upscale Hawaiian beach vibe, but a fair share of credit goes to chef Marshall Blanchard who turns out seafood-inflected comfort food that's the perfect amount of fancy. This translates to a really good option for big celebratory family dinners, as well as low-key sunburnt lunches. Don't miss stand-outs like panko-crusted calamari and the fish & chips (with pineapple tartar sauce)—there's a straightforward kid's menu, too.
Merriman’s Fish House
2829 Ala Kalanikaumaka St., Poipu
Peter Merriman was one of the pioneers of the local food scene in Hawaii—he was at the forefront of efforts to grow vegetables in the local volcanic soils, so they could be eaten fresh (rather than after a lengthy journey on a boat). Today, he partners with local farmers to serve his three restaurants, and there’s one each on Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island. The dining room and menu are dressed up without being overly stuffy, so it’s ideal for a nicer family or group outing. Try the upcountry salad (made with kale and butter lettuce from local farms), the fresh-caught mahi mahi, and vegetarian taro cake.
2484 Keneke St., Kilauea
Everything here is gluten-free (even the soy sauces), sourced from local fish, and made with organic vegetables. Get the ahi sushi burrito.
Kilauea Fish Market
4270 Kilauea Rd., Kilauea
This quaint and cozy cottage house is a perfect casual lunch spot with outdoor seating for local fish—seared ahi tuna poké wraps, mahi mahi tacos, as well as some very interesting non-fish items, like sea asparagus. If you’re not in the mood for seafood, they also offer delectable BBQ chicken and a few vegetarian options (including big, hearty burritos). Important to note: It gets busy come dinner, and they’re closed Sundays.
Kalaheo Café & Coffee Co.
2-2560 Kaumualii Hwy., Kalaheo
Found in upcountry Kalaheo—not far from the 4,000-acre coffee farm where they source their specialty Kauai, Kona, and Hawaiian coffees—Kalaheo Café is a great choice for breakfast. We love their creative, locally inspired interpretations of classics, like their popular Bonzo breakfast burrito, house-made sausages (chicken, turkey, or Portuguese-style), as well as Belgian waffles and classic fluffy pancakes. For something lighter, try their Anahola granola or half-papaya with fresh fruit and yogurt. But don’t forget the coffee, a staple of this café-slash-coffee company: You can even buy a bag (or two) of Hawaiian-grown beans to bring home.