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Far and away the best food value on Kaua’i was the stuff we got from roadside carts and stands. We had a couple nice dinners at higher end restaurants but they really weren’t that memorable. Really we had the most fun during the day, hitting beaches, sightseeing and building up our appetites. Our on-the-road meals simply became enmeshed with the rest of the amazing experiences we accumulated, and trying every roadside stand we came across became another “must do” before being exiled to the mainland.

In Hanalei Bay on the North Shore you’ll find Pat’s Taqueria. Their tacos and burritos are good enough to make the pages of Food & Wine and Time magazines.


Along the South Shore, we stumbled upon this tent on our last day. Burritos to the left and sausages to the right. I’d just eaten a big plate of tacos but i still grabbed a spinach and garlic dog with mango salsa.



The parking lot near Tunnels Beach gets a lot of traffic so it’s a good spot to set up a stand. Grabbed an organic banana bread with macadamia nuts from this friendly woman. The round gentleman behind us was selling coconuts (with straws inserted for drinking) out of the back of his pickup truck.



We didn’t get all of our food out of strangers’ cars though. Tropical Taco in Hanalei was a favorite (and we aways knew where it was parked). We hit it right after a 7-hour hike on the Na Pali coast. Glorious.



And one of the few bright spots on the South Shore were the shrimp tacos at the Shrimp Station. Seriously, the South Shore is a desert. Spicy shrimp weren’t exactly at the top of my wishlist in that climate, but they were damn tasty.




“Are you gonna have poi?”

Probably the question we heard most before our trip. I honestly think that if it weren’t for The Food Network, very few people would know about this purple mush of ill repute. But really it’s not that bad.


Most people have either eaten or at least heard of taro in the form of chips. This source of chips and poi is actually a really interesting plant with an important culinary role in most tropical cultures. It’s toxic until processed and consuming the starchy stem in its raw form is apparently like eating fiberglass.

The box lunch below includes a serving of poi as well as a dish called laulau using the nutritious taro leaves. The poi is simply a neutral-flavored starch mainly intended to stretch out a meal – like white rice with Chinese food or West African fufu. The only negative i found was that the texture is a bit viscous. (Think puréed bananas without the flavor.) The laulau consisted of slow-cooked pork wrapped in taro leaves. I got to have a taste and i loved it. Not sure why i didn’t seek it out during the remainder of our week – probably cuz we were too focused on finding taco trucks.


One of the most anticipated treats was the Hawaiian shave (not shaved) ice. It’s a much more pleasurable eating experience than a typical mainland sno-cone with its huge gritty crystals that fail to hang onto any of the flavored syrup. They literally shave a spinning ice block with a blade creating a snow-like texture. The flavors we found tended to range from the more exotic (lychee, guava, salted plum, honeydew melon) to the standard (cherry, vanilla, coconut, blueberry). Every location we visited offered a combo of shave ice and ice cream. We’d heard that rainbow ice with macadamia nut ice cream was the best combination but I took issue with that reco after our first stop at Paradise Shave Ice in Hanalei. To achieve the rainbow effect, they used four syrups, overlapping them substantially, whch meant there was a lot of syrup at the bottom of my dish. They also gave me very little ice cream, though i thought that might be the custom until i tried a couple more vendors.


We’d been trying to stop by Wishing Well, also in Hanalei, but they’re only open from noon to 5 each day and only if the weather is good. Since it rains daily on the north shore, we didn’t catch them open for business until maybe our fourth day there. The line was long but so was the menu. They had a good variety of flavors, ice creams, and special combinations. Wishing Well also had a special ingredient i’d been hoping to try – azuki beans. As you can see in the pic below, they were basically like mini red kidney beans in a sugar syrup. They added a great textural component to the experience, though my compadres weren’t keen on the bean. On top of the beans, i had pineapple ice and good amount of macadamia nut ice cream.



Toward the end of the week, as we stuffed ourselves with some amazing tacos at Pat’s Taqueria near the pier in Hanalei Bay, we noticed a small shave ice cart just across the road and figured we’d be even more gluttonous and give it a try. Sips of Paradise was manned by a super nice guy who we found out used to run tugboats on the Schuylkill River. I went with a combo of lychee and li hing mui (salted plum – sounds strange but it’s fantastic) on top of vanilla ice cream (his only flavor). It was a good combo.



I inquired about the beans but he felt that if he offered extras he’d have to offer a few, not just one, and he didn’t have the space in his little red cart. He seemed like a dude who likes to keep things simple – the most endearing trait of Kaua’i culture in my opinion.

We just returned from the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i and have a lot of food pics to share – from fish tacos to shave ice to hot dogs. I made the mistake of thinking i’d actually lose a little weight on the trip.

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  • bourbon peach smash
    Most conversations about shrubs go like this. “Wait, like the green bushy things that grow in the ground?” “No, it’s a drink.” “A leafy drink?” “No, it’s actually just three ingredients — fruit, sugar, and vinegar…” “Wait, you drink vinegar? Why would you drink vinegar?” “Well, we love sour things like lemon and lime in drinks, they complement sweet flavors… […]

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