Foodie Field Trip: Everything I Ate (and Drank) in One Day on Kaua‘i
A day trip reassures that the Garden Isle’s evolving dining scene still has room for the classics.
Continuing a parade of coverage across the pae ‘āina, I head to the oldest of the main Hawaiian Islands for a look and dinner at a regenerative agroforest in Kīlauea, which gives me most of the day to putt around. What better to do than to check out Kaua‘i’s food scene? It’s been five years since my last visit, so it’s a wonderful surprise to find new-to-me spots that exceed my expectations. I cover a lot of ground before dinner, cruising from Līhu‘e to Kōloa and up to Princeville. Here’s where I stopped along the way.
11:06 a.m., Aloha Roastery
Wheels down and I’m in dire need of coffee. Saving room for the foodie day ahead, I’ve skipped breakfast, which also means I didn’t get my cuppa joe. Just outside of the airport in the Līhu‘e Civic Center, Aloha Roastery is a minimalist coffee shop with a focus on good espresso and lovely pastries. I peer at the remaining tray of house-baked croissants but go straight for an Iced Beige ($6.50). Think of it as a coffee lover’s blended coffee: a mix of espresso, milk and ice with just a touch of sugar. Icy, creamy and almost chocolately, it’s the perfect drink to get me going. I’ll return for croissants early tomorrow morning.
3100 Kūhiō Hwy, Līhu‘e, (808) 353-1525, @aloharoastery
11:26 a.m., Paradise Grinds & Catering
Kaua‘i okazuya do things a bit differently from the rest of the state. Instead of building your own plate, everyone gets the same local delicacies all wrapped up in a white pie box. Of the three spots in Līhu‘e that offer box lunches, a follower has recommended Paradise Grinds & Catering. On a residential street behind Kaua‘i High School, I find a house whose garage serves as a lānai with a walk-up window. The menu has two items: a regular box lunch ($9.75) and a deluxe box lunch ($11.75). From the steady stream of blue-collar workers pulling up in work trucks, I know this is a winner. I order the regular box and upgrade my fried chicken to the day’s special ginger fried chicken for $2 more. Other items include two Goteborg musubi (UFOs), a corned beef hash patty, teriyaki beef, hot dog, brownie, spaghetti salad, Grandma Ida’s pickled onions, and a rotating noodle side which today is chicken long rice. The deluxe box adds two shrimp tempura and one more piece of fried chicken. If you don’t know what a steal looks like, let me point you toward Paradise Grinds. Call ahead if you plan to order multiple boxes.
3630 Lala Road, Līhu‘e, (808) 241-7870, @paradisegrinds
12:21 p.m., Dark Horse Coffee Roasters
After an emergency Target run for a USB cable, I make my way through the picturesque tree tunnel to Kōloa town on the south side. Looking for a spot to eat my bento, I’m also craving a second cup of coffee and find both at Dark Horse Coffee Roasters. Kaua‘i-raised brothers Bryan and Daniel Charlson opened this outpost of their Southern California-based roastery inside the historic Kōloa Hongwanji Mission in 2021. I order a cup of the location-exclusive haupia foam cold brew ($4.50 for a small) and find a spot at a table under the big tree outside. In my crazy world, a relaxing lunch helps set the tone for the rest of the day, and today’s settles any anxiety. From the slightly sweet, coconutty cold brew to every bite-size morsel in my box, I am completely smitten by the Garden Isle.
5521 Kōloa Road, Kōloa, @darkhorsekauai
2:05 p.m., Kaua‘i Juice Co. (Kīlauea)
After a long drive up and around the island, I finally make it to Kīlauea and am in need of something to bridge the gap until pau hana. Cold-pressed juices from Kaua‘i Juice Co. do the trick. In the stone building across from Kīlauea Bakery, this is one of three locations on island. The story of Kaua‘i Juice is a bit too long for my post, but it is worthy of knowing so I encourage you to check it out when you have the time. In short, this company with its multitude of flavors and offerings including grab-and-go foods has grown to support dozens of local farmers. I settle on a sweeter Blue Hawai‘i ($8.50) juice made with coconut, pineapple, Blue Majik spirulina, coconut nectar and Tahitian vanilla to enjoy now. For later, I pick up the Selfie green juice that skews savory with notes of garlic, fermented Hawaiian chile pepper, horseradish and more ($12).
Multiple locations, @kauaijuiceco
5:43 p.m., Common Ground
My final stop is the 78-acre Common Ground farm on what was the Kīlauea Sugar Plantation. I’ve been invited to check out the twice-a-week farm tour and tasting as well as the lounge night pop-up dinner series. After a guided tour of the model agroforest planted earlier this year, we sample roast chicken and vegetables prepared by Adam Watten, Common Ground’s director of food systems and culinary manager. Ingredients in the meal were raised or grown and harvested right on the property to demonstrate how practical closed food systems work and why they should be a model for sustainable farms. The experience is enlightening and filling, a story I promise I’ll tell you about later.
4900 Kuawa Road, Kīlauea, @kauaicommonground