When I started to plan my trip to Kauai I knew that finding great spots to eat was going to be a challenge. So I researched and compiled a list of places to try. My sister in law and I decided that we were going to throw caution to the wind in regards to expense and just try out the best of the best. We even threw in a couple of luaus!
The staff was perfect, pleasant and helpful but never overbearing. I don't know about you but I feel that wait staff can definitely go too far in the area of trying to service your table. There are nearly 180 degree views of the ocean and the decor is modern and beautiful. Basically everywhere you look is stunning.
When we arrived we were quickly seated and then brought a delightful popcorn bowl along with our drinks. The Rumfire has a full bar and some of the most interesting combinations I've seen. Our drinks were the best we had the entire trip (and we had plenty). The next course was soup, probably the best Maui onion soup I've ever had. For our entree we chose the fillet Mignon and the Hawaiian jerk chicken. Both were delectable. The menu also has loads of fresh seafood all of which looked incredible as we watched it being brought to other tables.
We finished up with a lovely cheesecake that we could barely finish because we were so stuffed. Go with an empty belly because the food here is so incredible you won't want to waste a bite!
Located out on the North shore just outside Hanalei this Middle Eastern restaurant also offers a lovely oceanfront backdrop as well as incredibly delicious food. They are in the middle of remodeling but even with that the views were lovely and the atmosphere in the restaurant was inviting and comfortable.
We popped in for lunch and we were seated quickly. I knew they had a limited menu and we were pleasantly surprised to find it still full of great options, all at really reasonable prices. The waitstaff was friendly and accommodating. We started with the hummus and pita. Almost feels like a prerequisite when dining Mediterranean. It was incredible, perfectly seasoned with soft yet crispy pita bread. My sister in law had the Mediterranean gyro and commented that it was the best one she had ever had. I went with the ultimate grilled cheese and even though I have made and enjoyed many before non compared to this upper crust version. YUM!
Overall this restaurant probably offers the best bang for your buck on this list. If you are in Hanalei take the drive out past town to enjoy this gem. In a few months their menu will be expanded and their famous luau will also return!
Nanea Restaurant and Bar
Nanea is located in Princeville on the North Shore inside the beautiful Westin Princeville resort. The restaurant has a relaxed vibe and offers indoor and outdoor seating. When we arrived there was a man singing and 2 ladies doing a beautiful Hawaiian dance. It definitely added to the great atmosphere.
We were seated outdoors and were a bit worried as it was quite the windy evening. But there was no need to worry they have a great set up for wind protection and we were able to enjoy the outdoors with that protection giving us the best of both worlds.
We enjoyed fresh salads, amazing loaded potato soup and delicious entrees. Just like at Rumfire mentioned above the drinks were amazing and we also enjoyed a filet and chicken. Everything tasted fresh and delicious and although the prices are on the higher side it felt well worth the charge. Even if you are not staying at the Westin, the food and ambiance make this a worthy restaurant to check out.
I would be remiss to not include luaus on any Hawaii places to eat list. They are known for having some of the best and most authentic food on the islands. I rated them at middle of the road because for my personal taste I was not super thrilled although the food was pretty good. The overall experiences just left us feeling a bit flat. Something was missing, perhaps it was authenticity, or the crowds, or the difference between these and the smaller more intimate ones we went to in the past. Many people seemed to enjoy the event though so I think it was just a matter of personal taste.
The grounds at this luau were very beautiful and the staff was pleasant. Lawns and orchards were well manicured and with loads of things to see and do not to mention many photo opportunities. There is a lovely train ride around the grounds (it did break down though forcing everyone to walk back to the luau on foot) as well as a rum factory where you could sample local rums. The staff seemed quite knowledgeable bout the area and happy to share information.
The luau it self was just OK. It was a huge venue which is not something I enjoy. Because of the sheer size it felt as though we were being herded like cattle. The performers were decent and the story was lovely but after attending a few other luaus it just seemed to be lacking something authentic.
The food was good, the pork amazing and the sides pretty standard fare for luau food. Nothing stood out but it certainly was not bad. We did enjoy the ambiance and the grounds but our personal taste was just not excited about it. Smaller luaus are preferred for me but Kilohana plantation (the grounds where the luau takes place) is lovely and well maintained.
Smith family luau
The other luau we attended was Smith family Luau. It is touted as the best luau in Kauai and I love how long its been running and the fact that it is a family owned and run business. We did meet several people there that come back year after year while visiting, but again for us it was just huge, loads of people and in the interest of moving things along smoothly (which I understand) it felt a bit like cattle being herded. I do see how the seating arrangement is conducive to better socialization though and we met some really interesting people that way.
The food was exactly like every other luau, super yummy pork, so so sides, open bar. Nothing special but delicious non the less. Again the grounds were lovely and my sister in law and I enjoyed walking around exploring. We ate the meal at one location and then to my surprise we moved over to another spot, a small stadium really for the actual luau show.
In all honesty I was quite impressed with the stadium and beginning of the show. There is fire, special effects, a huge amount of performers, etc It's really quite impressive but as it went on it just felt less and less authentic. I understand where they were going but I just did not walk away with a very good feeling. Everyone did their job and performed well but it felt forced and the seats to the stadium were cramped and very uncomfortable after just a few minutes. It was extremely theatrical which I do not enjoy but others may love.
I do not usually like to slam a venue. I keep it honest but typically I can find some redeemable qualities in a spot to write about but Duke's in Kauai...not so much. I think the thing that bothered me the most at Duke's (and there is a long list of things) was the fact that it is so popular so it was packed even though it's terrible. It felt as if, because of the notoriety of the name, they gave up on everything and decided they could still charge a ton.
To be fair our server was wonderful but that is where the accolades end! The food was TERRIBLE, I mean not even edible kind of terrible. We ordered some drinks as well to start and even those were just awful. We couldn't drink them and even the server felt they looked disgusting.
The atmosphere is also crap, the restaurant seemed downright dirty and so overcrowded that no one could even enjoy a conversation. On top of that when we brought our concerns to the server he tried to find the manager and after 20 minutes trying he had no luck. That speaks volumes to me!
He did discount some of our meal (he couldn't discount the drinks without the elusive manager) but overall I would avoid this place like the plague. They need to be out of business or at a minimum shocked back to the standards they should be at. We've eaten at Duke's in Oahu and Hula Grill (run by the same corporation) on Maui and those meals were amazing and well worth the price. I have no idea what the problem is at the Kauai location but avoid it at all costs! You can eat at one of the amazing places I listed above for the same price and drastically better quality!
Thank you to all the amazing restaurants in this list that hosting us. My opinions are as always my own!