After the crazy biblical floods that happened in April on Kauai, especially impacting the gorgeous and famously unspoiled North Shore, it wasn’t surprising to see a road sign proclaiming “HANALEI IS OPEN FOR BUSINESS” as we were leaving the Lihue airport last week.
We have been fortunate to visit Kauai a number of times, and I was eager to check that my beloved spots weren’t too damaged. I had heard stories of people’s homes being washed away, water buffalo getting swept down river into Hanalei Bay, and roads literally disappearing overnight—all true. The famous pier off the beach in Hanalei Bay is still standing, but the road and closest parking lot has been claimed by the river as a new tributary into the ocean. It was pretty shocking to see this, even weeks later, when a certain amount of clean-up had happened.
The road immediately north of Hanalei town is closed, and will remain that way for the foreseeable future. If you’re familiar with this area, it’s the road to Tunnels, the “end of the road”, the delightful one-way bridges and the Na’pali coast hikes to the waterfall and beyond. It’s intriguing to think about these highly-trafficked areas—which really weren’t built for the big crowds of recent years—laying silent while nature slowly reclaims its dominance on the trails and beaches.
Familiar with the aftermath of a huge disaster after our experience with the fires across wine country last fall, I knew that it was our civic duty to support local businesses (some of which are still closed: The Hanalei Dolphin and Postcards Cafe are the two notable ones). I was happy to oblige by spending my dollars, and want to share my latest list of favorite places to eat at in town.
Top places to eat for dinner:
BarAcuda is still the top spot for dinner in my book. It serves lovely fresh local dishes—served tapas-style—including ahi carpaccio with olives, oven roasted tomato in olive oil and balsamic and yummy pan-friend ono. There is a great cocktail list to-boot. The only complaint on this visit was the alacrity at which plates appeared on the table and then being swept away again while we were still mopping up the juices and crumbs. Reservations are strongly advised and can be made by calling: 808 826 7081.
AMA is a cousin of BarAcuda and located directly behind it with a gorgeous view of the breathtaking mountains and waterfalls. There are some pretty outdoor tables and a fun fire pit. Taking an altogether different tack, the menu comprises raw fish (ceviche, etc) and ramen bowls with broth, and noodle dishes without. There is a fair bit of spice in the dishes, but you can ask to take it down a notch or two if you so desire. Another decent cocktail list, and coffee and beignets are on to wrap-up your meal. Gluten-free noodles available on request. Dinner is walk-ins only – get there before 6.30pm if you don’t want to wait. Closed on Mondays.
Top places to eat for lunch:
A perennial favorite of Monkey’s has been Pat’s Taqueria Truck which used to be parked at the pier-end of Hanalei Bay. Not a bad place to work every day. We were worried we wouldn’t find Pat’s new location, given the fact that his parking spot had literally turned into a river, but soon came across him in the parking lot next to the Big Save parking lot in town. Definitely not quite as picturesque. The food remains as good as ever, although prices are higher with a single carne asada taco costing $5/piece and a burrito priced at $10.
I was dying to get back to the Fish Market, next door to the Dolphin, and was decidedly sad to pull into the parking lot only to find the interior gutted down to the studs. No fish here thanks to being washed out in the flood. Locals pointed us to another food truck, right next door Pat’s is the Fresh Fish – Kealia Poke truck which apparently serves poke bowls to die-for. Sadly, each time we showed up it was closed, so if you try it, let me know what you think.
There is now a little food truck parking lot with three to four different options, just along from the QuikSilver store. Kauai Burgers, Fresh Bite (which I heard great things about) and Tumeric which serves Indian food, to name a few. They all looked popular but we ran out of lunchtimes to try them.
Top places to eat for breakfast:
The Hanalei Bread Company (another cousin of BarAcuda) opened up about 18 months and has taken on the mantle of being the place to go for coffee, smoothies, breakfast sandwiches, bread and pastries. Nothing in Kauai is cheap, and this no exception at $12 for a breakfast sandwich with avocado, bacon, cheese and tomato. But Monkey assures me it was delicious. I grabbed a few of their smoothies during the week, along with my non-coffee morning coffee (decaf almond latte – embarrassing, I know).
If you’re there over the weekend, be sure to seek out the pop-up taro donut spot—The Holey Grail—which appears in the Kauai Burger truck and does a brisk business from 7am until the donuts are gone. We first tried early on Saturday morning, only to find that some kind of food truck “emergency” had closed operations for the day, so returned on Sunday. Vegan and healthy-sounding, they do contain wheat and sugar so don’t expect to feel saintly afterwards. With flavors that included rice and seaweed, spirulina and coconut ‘bacon’, this gang certain wins prizes for inventiveness.
If you’re looking for a greasy spoon after your morning surf session, then the Hanalei Wake-Up Cafe will be right up your alley. Bacon and eggs, diner coffee, white toast. It’s all there as you’d expect. Nothing fancy or glam. It’s easy to find on the main road.
Sometimes a picnic is called for, in which case Harvest Grocery store is right in the center of town and has a little salad bar, and hot food station in the back, along with making smoothies, etc. They now also serve the Kauai Juice Co.’s effervescent and flavorful kombuchas on tap.
The Hanalei Farmers’ Market has recently gotten back in action, and should be found near the soccer field on Saturday mornings- there are usually great food vendors with both fresh and cooked delights on offer.
All-in-all we had a lovely relaxing time, and on the surface, Hanalei itself appears to have emerged relatively unscathed, although I know many lost earnings for the weeks around the floods and many of the local workers are having a hard time getting in and out of town for their work. Anyone living north of Hanalei has to wait for the official convoys a handful of times a day to drive to and from town.
If you’re visiting anytime soon, do want you can to help this wonderful community get back on its feet by spending your hard-earned dollars.