Best Bites: Kauai, Hawaii

A recent trip to the Aloha State included a non-stop exploration of the local food scene. In this second of three posts, I look back at our favorite gastro memories from “The Garden Isle,” where we enjoyed a porky burger, primo poke, and, of course, shaved ice.

The Feral Pig

Hawaii’s heritage hogs are showcased at this easy-to-miss roadside restaurant inside an unassuming mini mall. Though it’s not on the menu, the namesake burger – made with half Kauaian beef and half local pork ground together – is the top choice here. A close second is the Kauai-Cubano, which bookends Kalua pork, ham, house-made pickles, Swiss cheese, and onion-mustard between a soft, yet hearty, roll. Both go down well with a refreshing glass of the homemade ginger-lemonade. 

Hanalei Dolphin

This Hanalei institution deserves the considerable attention heaped upon it. For a more casual happy hour or a relaxed lunch, sit out on the lanai; grab a seat at the sushi bar if you’re super serious about your sashimi; dine inside the restaurant if you want to be in the shade. The beer battered fish tacos (made with the catch of the day) and the spicy tuna ahi poke (it’s not on the menu, but it’s available) are your two best bets, though you can’t go wrong with the sushi. 

Shave Ice Paradise

Good shave ice is impossible to beat on a hot Hawaiian day and this stand makes a superlative version. Get a “root beer float” by asking for a scoop of vanilla at the bottom, root beer syrup, and a snowcap of condensed milk on top. My favorite featured a hidden globe of coconut ice cream at the core with lilikoi and mango syrups drenching the finely razored ice (seen above).

Salt Pond Country Store

You could drive by this shop a thousand times without looking at it twice, but you’d be making a mistake. This mini-mart stocks a wide variety of simple, freshly made Asian foods packaged to go. The rice-packed yuba and the fried chicken were both standouts and only cost $5 total, making it the meal deal of the trip.

Hanalei Pizza

The stereo at this slapdash pizzeria bangs out the requisite reggae tunes non-stop, while the half-stoned hippie hipsters behind the counter turn out surprisingly quality pies. The crust here is made with coconut water and comes topped with everything from locally sourced Kalua pork and Maui onions to more unexpected items, such as sauerkraut and beets. Friendly warning: your pizza will probably take at least 30 minutes to make, so bring along your vacation reading or take the time to walk around the nearby shops.

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Best Bites: Oahu, Hawaii

A recent trip to the Aloha State included a non-stop exploration of the local food scene. In this first of three posts, I look back at our favorite gastro memories from “Hawaii’s Gathering Place,” which pleasantly surprised us at almost every turn.

Opal Thai Food

This food truck turned bustling strip mall gem may have been the best food we had our entire trip. As we were sucking down sweet ‘n’ strong Thai iced coffees, owner Opel Sirichandhra asked us what our preferences were, then proceeded to bring out a slew of winning Northern Thai dishes (consider it the North Shore’s budget-friendly version of Little Serow), including a particularly memorable pork larb that was equally sweet, spicy, and vinegary.

Nobu

It’s no surprise that when Nobu lists “Shaved Ice” on its dessert menu, it’s not going to be a straightforward take on the classic Hawaiian dessert. Instead, this picturesquely presented version is made with finely razored strawberry ice drizzled with mango syrup and condensed milk, then paired with blueberries and raspberries, and a scoop of dulce de leche ice cream.

Dat Cajun Guy

The idea of traveling ten hours to the land of mango shave ice, ahi poke, and just-harvested papaya only to dine on deep fried favorites from New Orleans seems a little ridiculous. But this freshly minted food truck with a near impeccable Yelp rating was a welcome discovery. Sweet potato fries with a tingly green onion aioli (seen above) and the crispy, crunchy catfish po boy were both spot on.

Prima

Most zas made on the islands are artless and disappointing, a cheap and easy way to fill the bellies of unadventurous mainlanders. Thankfully, this forward thinking Neapolitan pizzeria is upping the game. Hands down the best pizza I’ve ever had on any of the Hawaiian isles. Go for the Di Bologna, which stars an orangey, soft yolked egg at the center surrounded by pepperoncini, mortadella, and guanciale.

Waialua Sugar Mill

Most shave ice stands use commercially manufactured syrups (which I have no guff with, for the most part), but this boutique operation makes all of theirs from scratch. One particularly winning option uses locally grown chocolate and coffee and a dash of coconut syrup. For a lighter option, get the sweetly tangy lilikoi (passion fruit) with a creamy snowcap of condensed milk (seen above).

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