The Hawaiian island of Kauai serves up cuisine that is both hot and cool. Hot as in haute and cool as in food truck. Any stay on the Garden Isle offers a cornucopia of dining choices and so, on a recent visit, I went exploring for both haute and cool. My first priority was to find that special food truck, that secret find, where very fine island food could be had for a fair price As it turned out, I lucked into two that spoke of authenticity and distinct island flavor.The quest began with a food tour run by food writer and Kauai cuisine specialist Marta Lane, who reviews local eateries and conducts food tours throughout the island. Here’s my take on the food truck, mom and pop eatery scene, on Kauai’s North Shore.
Trucking Delicious: At the first stop near Hanalei Bay, our group gathered around a brilliant turquoise blue food truck set amidst a circle of picnic tables. “I’d rather sell cupcakes on the side of the road,” chirped Chef Chloe Sorey, the 23-year-old owner of the wildly popular “Trucking Delicious” food truck where Kauai locals and newcomers line up for plates of spicy coconut shrimp and frosty glasses of dragon fruit lemonade. Sorey was referring to her love of creating original dishes from the bounty of her homeland, Kauai. I knew I was in for a treat.
A few years after graduating from culinary school, Chef Chloe founded her business by buying her truck on Craig’s list. She calls her ownership of the food truck an on-line dating story and after moving “him” from the Big Island, she gave “him” a face lift with a fresh coat of island blue paint accented with red lettering. In January of 2017, competing on TV’s Food Network, “Cooks vs. Cons,” Chloe won the first round with her signature stuffed won tons. Her greatest inspiration is her boyfriend who is also her on board sushi chef. “He’s devoted to food that’s cleaner, fresher and wholly natural,” she said.”
Listed on Chloe’s black board that day were four specials.I found myself torn between the Sweet and Spicy Coconut Shrimp tossed in reduction coconut sauce or the Sweet Soy Wasabi Chicken Watsu with crispy chicken breast, sweet soy ginger sauce, soy wasabi and aioli with rice.The enticing garlic shrimp dish was sold out. As aromatic plates crossed the counter to waiting diners, I couldn’t help but notice the generous servings, especially since they were all so reasonably priced between $12 and $14. As a special fun treat to our tour group, Chloe presented us with freshly baked and wildly colored sweet potato haupia cupcakes, fresh from the oven Very haute.Very cool. www.truckingdeliciouskauai.com
A stop at Trucking Delicious in Hanalei, at the gateway to heavenly Hanalei Bay, brings you very close to beautiful Hanalei Beach Park and Lumahai Beach where you can surf, swim, fish and bring along picnic fare. Lumahai Beach, snuggled in a quiet cove, sheltered by lush green hills, was known as Nurse’s Beach in the film, South Pacific. With Chef Chloe’s delicious array of island fare and an escape to the blue, blue waters of the bay, this, to me, was the perfect recipe for my very own South Pacific Kauai adventure.
Hanalei Taro and Juice Company was next up on our food truck foray and the beautiful Lyndsey Haraguchi greeted us with creamy taro smoothies.Her menu is rich in foods that are authentically Hawaiian such as lau lau, lomi salad, and lots of Poi dishes. From a sixth generation family farm, the menu is literally “farm to table.” We filled our plates with sweet and tender Kalua pork wrapped in taro leaves and lomi lomi salmon, sat in the shade at comfortable picnic tables and topped the feast off with bites of “melt in your mouth” mochi cake. Lots of vegetarian options in this truly authentic local find. With its emphasis on traditional Hawaiian food embellished by a modern twist, this is your best bet to enjoy taro, the root crop that sustained Hawaiians for generations. Once again, very haute, very cool.
Not all the venues on our tour were food trucks; some were small family owned places. Musician Todd Rundgren –who fell in love with Kauai and made it his home–owns the very colorful Tiki Iniki Bar in the Princeville Shopping Center.
Rundgren’s winsomely theatrical wife, Michele, was on hand to oversee me devour “fall off the bone” ribs accompanied by Mai Tais all around.Tiki Iniki is yet one more side of Kauai that serves up Hawaiian cuisine with island flair. http://www.tikiiniki.com/
Another favorite was our final stop at Tom Pickett’s Kilauea Bakery. Consider the Nuttin’ Muffin. When I asked Owner/Chef Tom Pickett about this muffin’s moniker, he said, “there’s nuttin’ wrong with it.” Besides his sense of humor, Chef Tom’s creativity is evident in a menu that features goodies made with Hawaiian sourdough whose main ingredient is the highly healthy guava. Breadfruit (a tree potato) is another local tree fruit used liberally..Tom tells me he likes to incorporate what are known as “canoe crops” into his menu items and baked goods. Canoe crops are named for the food stuffs brought to Hawaii by the Polynesian colonists when they traveled across the Pacific Ocean carrying guava, breadfruit, various seeds, chickens and pigs in their canoes.
Another fun feature is the unusual pizza toppings made fresh with semolina crusts and topped with slowly simmered pizza sauce. I was especially taken with the Billie Holiday Pizza named for its smoky flavor..It’s garnished with smoked ono, spinach, roasted onions, gorgonzola rosemary sauce and mozzarella cheese. Very haute, very cool.
Tom is originally from the San Francisco Bay Area and a bit of an intellectual. On the bakery’s shaded outside patio, a large bookshelf holds a generous selection of used books. At $2.00 each, they are a bargain for the buyer and a boon for the local schools.Tom contributes all proceeds from the sales to community education. I wished I’d brought a few from home to donate and surely will the next time I visit.
The lushest of the Hawaiian Islands, Kauai is home to more than 50 food trucks. Be sure and let me know your favorites next time you visit. I’d love to hear about a few more gems like these. Enjoy the exquisite beauty of this treasured place. As Tom Pickett says, “Kauai has the most Aloha.” Very haute. Very cool.
Trucking Delicious: 5100 Kuhio Hwy, Hanalei, Kauai www.truckingdeliciouskauai.com: (808) 482-4101
Hanalei Taro and Juice Company 5-5070 Kuhio Hwy # B, Hanalei, Kauai www.hanaleitaro.com/
Kilauea Bakery & Pau Hana Pizza, 2484 Keneke St, Kilauea, Tel: (808) 828-2020. www.kilaueabakery.com
Before traveling to Kauai, visit the Kauai Visitors Bureau which offers a wealth of information and helpful tips. Tel: (808) 245-3971 Website: www.kauaidiscovery.com.\