What We Ate: Kauai Musubi, Rainbows, and Opakapaka

Hawaii isn’t one of those places where I go for the food. In fact, it’s maybe one of the only places in the world that I’m not fantasizing about the first place I plan to stuff my face once the plane lands. It’s not that there isn’t any good food to be had on Kauai or Maui. It’s just that the beaches are so distractingly marvelous that leaving them to eat seems like a very bad idea.

Still, because we were waiting to pick up out traveling companions who were flying in from a different state, we went to find something to eat in the city of Lihue right after landing. We hit a “no-frills”joint hidden in a strip mall that served the local Kauai food classic saimin. We entered the humid cafe and the owner directed to grab a seat at the low counters that snaked around the interior. Within minutes, a hot bowl of saimin arrived at our table.

The waitress offered us cans of sweaty Coke along side our soups. They featured egg noodles in a rich, meaty broth with slices of egg, Spam, char sui, and kamaboko. We ordered fall-off-the-stick chicken and pork skewers on the side. They knocked any street cart meat I’ve ever tried off the pedestal. No question, I’ll be hitting Hamura Saimin leaving and coming to the airport on my next trip.

My favorite food in Kauai – the one thing I look forward to – is musubi. Until I can master my own version, I’ll keep making sure to nab the ricey, salty happiness bombs every time I’m around. We had them sitting on the beach as the waves crashed near our feet. We ate them while watching the turtles feed in a rocky cove one evening. And we ate them while wandering the streets of Hanalei. The classic Spam version is my favorite, but I’ve yet to find a version I don’t love.

Most other days on the island, we decided to cook instead of eating out. We hit a farmer’s market outside the Costco in Lihue and gorged ourselves on lilikoi, starfruit, winged beans, rambutan, and avocado the size of my head. We also spotted some opakapaka at the fish market and grilled it up at our hotel. The local feral cats dined like kings on the bones.

Of course, we didn’t forgo dining out altogether. Dolphin in Hanalei has excellent reviews so we decided to give it a go one night. The atmosphere is lovely and the drinks were killer, but the sushi was a big bag of “nah.” I had one of the most expensive hand-rolls I’ve ever eaten, but it tasted like an average strip-mall sushi offering.

Exhausted Nate at Sam’s.

Exhausted, on the last day, we went to Sam’s Ocean View Restaurant in Kapaa. The restaurant is situated on the second level of the building with an open wall facing the ocean. Usually, restaurants with a good view end up being a lot like a hot person – they don’t have to try hard to succeed. The food at Sam’s though – so good. It’s not a fancy spot, but the food tastes like something at a higher end restaurant.

We had the daily fish, poke nachos, and the shrimp al Ajillo. The cocktails were mostly the cliche Hawaii offerings (think mai tai, daquari, and the pain killer), but none of them tasted like the sticky sweet crap I usually end up drinking at tourist spots. These are the old-fashioned, original style cocktails. Worth a stop if you’re in the area.

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