Our 2013 Top Picks For Ono Eats

When people learn that I write about food for Kauai Midweek, they usually say, “You have such a great job!”

It’s true. I get to eat at a new place every week and share the experience with our readers. I’m especially lucky because my husband, Dan, a freelance photographer, joins me. We have our favorites, places to which we return when we eat out for fun or necessity. Other eateries have surprised us with creative atmospheres and tasty food.

As 2013 comes to a close, I thought I’d share our top five places to eat. There is no official format from which we base our decisions. The only considerations are that the restaurant was featured within these pages in 2013 and it serves delicious food with friendly service. Extra bonus points go to restaurants that source local ingredients whenever possible.

In the March 27 issue, we featured Da Crack, a small Mexican restaurant located in Koloa. We’re always pleasantly surprised when an unassuming storefront turns out exceptional food. After eating there several times, I asked owner Danny Hurtado if I could do a story. For me, the best part of my job is learning about the passion behind the food. Hurtado, a former semipro surfer and mixed martial artist, runs the restaurant with his brother Sergio, who is a competitive mixed martial artist. Wholesome food is the foundation of their healthy lifestyle, and the restaurant’s menu reflects that.

On May 15, we covered Hanalei Taro & Juice Co. Besides its food truck in Hanalei, it can be found at the Kapaa and Kauai Community farmers markets. The Haraguchi family has been farming on Kauai for six generations. Lyndsey Haraguchi-Nakayama manages the family’s taro farm in Hanalei Valley, and her husband, Brad Nakayama, takes care of the cooking. Using recipes from Lyndsey’s mother, Karol, Brad turns out succulent laulau wrapped in a thick layer of taro leaves as well as juicy kalua pork. He adds a contemporary twist and puts taro into smoothies, hummus, burgers and specials that have included kalua turkey with taro stuffing and lomi pineapple; Okinawan pork belly sliders with Asian slaw on taro buns; and Portuguese taro soup and local lamb curry with taro.

In the Sept. 11 issue, we introduced you to Kauai Beer Company (KBC). Owner Jim Guerber and son Justin are craft brewers who are passionate about their art. They have assembled an equally passionate team and offer fresh (unpasteurized) beer that will chill any steamy afternoon. KBC’s inaugural beers, Black Limousine and Lihue Lager, now join three beers on tap, including an oak-aged chocolate porter. Tastings and brewery tours are offered Wednesdays and Saturdays from noon to 6 p.m. Truck Stop Thursday, beginning at 5 p.m. Jan. 2, will feature three of Kauai’s best food trucks parked in front of brewery. “We will open a restaurant early in the new year,” says Larry Feinstein of KBC, “along with a full-service bar and signature cocktails that mirror the quality of our beer.”

In the Sept. 25 issue, we were delighted to reveal a new restaurant that lends a big city feel to our charming little island. After running Casablanca in Poipu for 10 years, owners Elizabeth Foley and Dan Seltzer closed their resort restaurant to set up in Old Koloa Town. La Spezia serves hearty portions of rustic Italian food at reasonable prices. Cinnamon-colored walls, soft lighting and light jazz add sophisticated ambiance. Despite this, the bistro has a casual feel as diners imbibe handcrafted cocktails, or wine from a cellar containing more than 100 bottles. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I especially like the house-made gnocchi with wilted arugula and cherry tomato halves. Since I live in Kapaa, I haven’t made it to Koloa in the morning, but I’m told that La Spezia serves a fantastic breakfast.

I had a lot of fun when we covered The Green Pig for the Oct. 23 issue. Owners Jake and Erron DePew are quick to laugh and creative in the kitchen. After installing a smoker to the food truck, Jake smokes pulled pork for 10 hours, makes pork loin pastrami, and “Jacon” – bacon that’s cured for one week and cold-smoked for two hours. We also like the Disco Fries: Hand-cut curly fries topped with smoked pulled pork and drizzled pandrippings gravy. The Green Pig will be one of three trucks Thursday for Kauai Beer Company’s Truck Stop, and New Year’s Eve it will host a Food Truck Festival across the Street from Kealia Beach.

To those who read this column each week, we send you a hearty, heartfelt mahalo. We also thank those who have shared their stories and welcomed us into their kitchens. From our ohana to yours, we wish you an exceptional 2014.