Kauai's eastern shore is bustling with an expanding collection of affordable, inventive restaurants and stands that have opened in the last three years and are making a point of collaborating with island producers.
The strip of Kuhio Highway from Wailua to Old Kapaa Town on Kauai's eastern side offers walkable town centers with shops and a plethora of dining options. As the island's main highway does not circumnavigate the island, all trips from the north to the south side and vice versa go through this stretch.
It's a great place to stop for lunch during any cross-island treks, or when visiting eastern shore sights like Wailua River State Park. Two trends are evident in the recent slate of buzz-worthy eateries. Many either started as a food truck or still cook on four wheels, and the head chefs are making a point of establishing local partnerships and crafting menus loaded with Hawaiian products.
Kauai's eastern shore is an especially nice area for lunch, with numerous casual, moderately priced options and a range of cuisines. Here are some spots to check out in the area eastern to fuel up for the next adventure on your itinerary.
Kenji Burger: This restaurant that opened in 2016 specializes in local grass-fed beef burgers with a Japanese influence. Start with the eponymous burger, topped with teriyaki sauce, ponzu, caramelized onions, cheddar cheese, tomato and arugula. The menu from owner Erik Tanigawa also features bowls, and each burger or bowl has a Japanese twist such as katsu sauce, pickled ginger or shimeji mushrooms. They also serve up sushi-rito, or burrito-sized sushi rolls. The highlights are the flavorful, juicy burger made on taro brioche buns, and don't miss the furikake fries.
Kenji Burger on Kuhio Highway in east Kauai makes local grass-fed beef burgers with a Japanese twist.
Scorpacciata: This Neapolitan-style pizza truck, typically parked in a sandy lot on Kuhio Highway in Kapaa, uses an 800-degree oven to serve up crispy-crusted pizzas smothered with local ingredients in rapid order. Try one of their special creations, like the one with mushrooms, locally grown kale, caramelized onions, Kauai Kunana Dairy goat cheese, balsamic reduction and truffle oil, or keep it traditional with a simple margherita. On the fourth Thursday of every month the Scorpacciata truck parks outside the Kauai Beer Company where customers can wash down their pie with a cold IPA or Pilsner.
Wailua Shave Ice: Scorpacciata's neighbor at its regular Kuhio Highway location, Wailua Shave Ice specializes in a select range of natural, fresh fruit flavors (no preservatives, cane sugar in place of high fructose corn syrup) and signature combinations. The "coconut x coconut x coconut" is made with coconut milk, haupia foam and roasted coconut flakes, and the "lava flow" comes with pineapple juice, coconut foam and strawberry puree, topped off with chopped pineapple and strawberry fruit topping. The original Kauai location earned glowing reviews, and now co-owners Josh Tamaoka and Brandon Baptiste have opened outposts in San Diego and Portland, Ore.
The Local: True to its name, The Local works diligently to feature local ingredients throughout its menu, not just in the food but their signature cocktails as well. Executive chef Erin Keller and general manager Jose Cortez are also the co-owners. Keller grew up on a Northern California farm and has worked with James Beard Award winner Andy Ricker, at Portland's PokPok. She also ran her own mobile woodfire pizza catering company and a creme brulee wholesaler before moving to Kauai to run The Local's kitchen. The Beach Fire, with Santo Mezquila, Kauai Juice Co. fruit juice, local cucumber, kale, cilantro, pineapple and jalapeno, is sweet with a spicy kick. Try the fish and chips made with local tuna belly dipped in a crispy, golden batter served with a house-made tartar sauce or the vegetarian sweet corn and queso fresco empanadas.
NOM Kauai: This restaurant serving up Southern cooking with a Hawaiian twist started off in a bright red food truck but moved to a brick and mortar location in Kapaa in January after Chef Thomas Fuquay won $10,000 on Cooks vs. Cons, a Food Network show. Most items, including fluffy buttermilk biscuits, are made from scratch daily. There are comforting Southern staples like buttermilk fried chicken, and creative twists on American favorites like the Notorious P.I.G., a jalapeno cornbread waffle with a maple-braised pork belly on top. The juicy, thick burgers with toppings like pork belly, butter-braised onions, chili pepper jam and applewood smoked bacon, are extremely popular.