The ocean surrounding Kauai is a natural playground for sea creatures big and small. It’s not uncommon to find a monk seal sunbathing on the sand, spinner dolphins twirling offshore, or green sea turtles peeping their heads above water. Underwater, Kauai’s reef system is a labyrinth of coral reefs, sea anemones, sea urchins and a rainbow of reef fish swimming about.
Out in the deep blue Pacific Ocean lives some of the tastiest fish around. Here are some of the most delicious fish that must be tried while visiting Kauai:
Commonly known as moonfish, Opah was once thought to bring good luck by fishermen and was not sold, but given away. Opah is one of the most popular fish in restaurants for its lightly flavored white flesh that is rich with healthy fish oils and can be prepared a variety of ways.
The name speaks for itself, Ono is the Hawaiian word for good to eat. The Ono, or wahoo, is a close relative of the king mackerel. Ono is a lean fish that’s juicy and mild in flavor. You can’t go wrong with having ono served as a tempura style fish sandwich. Now that’s ono!
Onaga, or long tail red snapper, has a soft, flakey flesh that makes it one of the most decadent Hawaiian fishes to enjoy. One of the best ways to enjoy onaga is steamed Chinese style with sizzling peanut oil poured over it.
This fish is melt in your mouth delicious. Opakapaka or pink snapper is a soft, moist, delicate fish that can be prepared many ways, but is best served steamed.
In Hawaii, ahi is the ambiguous name for both the yellowfin tuna and the bigeye tuna. Hawaiians use ahi to make poke – raw fish chunks marinated in salt, soy sauce, inamona, sesame oil, seaweed and chopped chili pepper. Many variations of ahi poke are available in local fish markets and grocery stores. It’s hearty steak like texture is perfect for fish tacos, seared on top of salad, or crusted in furikake (seaweed seasoning).
The Hawaiian Mahimahi, or dolphin fish, is one of the highest quality local fishes. Mahimahi has a firm, white flesh with mild flavor that tastes fantastic prepared just about every way.
Local Kauai fishermen deliver their fresh catches to Kauai’s fish markets, grocery stores and restaurants daily. When dining in Poipu, we recommend the following restaurants to experience the freshest fish Kauai has to offer:
The Beach House – No seat is a bad seat to watch the sunset and enjoy a romantic dinner at The Beach House restaurant. Their menu features the island catch of the day prepared different ways, such as the crab crusted fish with a Molokai purple sweet mashed potatoes, sautéed kale and mandarin orange Thai chili glaze; Wasabi crusted with lilikoi lemongrass beurre blance, or Macadamia nut butter sautéed fresh Hawaiian catch with citrus aka miso beurre blanc. The hardest decision to make is how you want your fish prepared.
Brennecke’s – Located right on Poipu Beach, Brennecke’s open-air dining and casual atmosphere makes it a great spot for cold mai tais and margaritas after a day at the beach. They offer a wide fresh fish selection daily. Try the ahi steak on porcini ravioli, charbroiled opah with grilled vegetables and a mango beurre blanc, the ono with wasabi jumbo shrimp, macadamia nut crusted mahi mahi.
Keoki’s Paradise – Set in a garden-like setting, Keoki’s Paradise is like the Garden of Eden for fish. Fish selection changes daily as they pride themselves on protecting Hawaiian tradition to respect the sea by only selling specific fish during certain seasons. Whether you have the option of ahi, opah, or opakapaka as the fish of the day, you won’t be disappointed with any of the various stylings. Their waiters are well-informed of the best way to have it prepared and are always willing to give a recommendation of whether to choose “Keoki’s Style” baked in garlic, lemon and sweet basil glaze with a roasted Kilauea tomato gastrique; ginger cilantro steamed in a bamboo basket with sizzling peanut oil and citrus ponzu; or panko & mac nut crusted with lemon caper beurre blanc
Red Salt at Koa Kea Resort– Ambiance, scenic views and exceptional service make dining at Red Salt an unforgettable experience. The ahi sashimi “Pizza” made of housemade flatbread, kalamata olives, tomato and wasabi aioli is not to be missed. Feeling adventurous? Try the Red Salt Poke, which combines ahi and ono sashimi, wakame seaweed, tobiko, cucumber ribbon and a ginger soy reduction. For your entrée, the Red Salt 7 Spiced Seared Ahi with Serrano ham, edamame-cilantro risotto, and a coconut cloud; Madagascar Vanilla Bean Seared Mahi with forbidden black rice, avocado ginger salsa, and mango vinaigrette, or the Caramelized ono with a vanilla-carrot puree, baby bok-choy and shiitake mushrooms are enough of a reason to dine here more then once.
Tidepools Restaurant at the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa – Thatched roof bungalows that float above Koi filled lagoons and a cascading waterfall are reason enough to fall in love with Tidepools Restaurant at the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa. Start out dinner with the mahi and prawn satay, ahi-hamachi poke duo or tempura stuffed ahi. For dinner, try the Opah prepared in a volcano candy spice with jumbo lump crabmeat and roasted fingerling potatoes or the local snapper served over stir fry vegetables and buckwheat soba noodles with a chili garlic sauce. Save room for dessert if you can, the chef’s coconut crème brulee with poached pineapple, crystallized ginger and toasted coconut is the ultimate finishing touch to what is sure to be a memorable evening.
The fish caught in Hawaiian waters are among the highest quality in the world. The many variations and preparation styles for eating local fish in Kauai’s restaurants will have you yearning to try every style possible while on vacation. The only way to decide which fish is your favorite is to try them all!