Smiley’s Local Grinds (Kauai)

Okay, it’s time to start the Kauai meal reports back up before I forget about them completely. So far I’ve put up brief reports of a couple of Chinese/Thai lunches in Princeville (eaten outdoors at Lotus Garden) and a Hawaiian lunch in Lihue (taken away from Mark’s Place and eaten in a park). This report is also of a Hawaiian lunch in Lihue. We ate it the day following our Mark’s Place meal. The plan had been for us all to spend a part of the morning at the Kauai museum in Lihue, then drop my mother-in-law back at our rental to relax while the rest of us hit a beach. But thanks to some car trouble and Budget Car Rental the morning didn’t go quite according to plan. I know you’re dying to get the details on this—there’s nothing more fascinating than reading about other people’s vacation drama. Don’t worry I’m going to tell you what happened in great detail. Continue reading


Mark’s Place (Kauai, Summer 2022)

Back to Kauai (I wish). We spent the morning of this day doing a lovely hike on the Kuilau Ridge Trail. Some problems with our rental car’s keyless entry system then required a trip to the rental counter at the airport in Lihue. Casting around for places to eat we landed on Mark’s Place, a restaurant that got lots of positive reviews online for their Hawaiian fare. As with many other places on Kauai and the Big Island, they were not open for dine-in in June/July. Unlike Hana Hou, however, they were not even letting people in to order or allowing them to eat at their outdoor tables. We lined up outside the front door to order and once our food was ready we could either eat in our car or take it away. We opted to drive to a park in the vicinity and had a nice lunch on a picnic bench there. Continue reading

Lotus Garden (Kauai, Summer 2022)

A couple of weeks ago I finished up my meal reports from our time on the Big Island of Hawaii. After a week’s break here now is my first report from the week we spent after that on Kauai.

Our time on the Big Island was great; Kauai, if possible, was even better. We spent all our time either in the sea or hiking—with a brief sojourn to a museum. As on the Big Island, we did not have eating as the center of any of our days. Once again we ate at places that were close to hand to wherever we needed to be. Indeed, some of my favourite meals comprised poke and wakame salad picked up from grocery stores and eaten either on a beach or at our rental. Which is not to say that we did not eat out at all. One meal a day was usually out. I begin my reports with our first meal on Kauai, eaten at a Chinese-Thai restaurant in the Princeville shopping center, not too far from where we were staying in the northern part of Kauai. Continue reading

Hawaiian Style Cafe, Hilo (Big Island, Summer 2022)

And so I come to my last formal meal report from our time on the Big Island. We ate lunch at Hawaiian Style Cafe in Hilo after a morning spent visiting the wonderful Tropical Botanical Garden (a stop I very highly recommend if you are ever on the Big Island). Hawaiian Style Cafe has another location in Waimea—I’m not sure which the original is but I believe they both serve more or less the same menu. It’s a large restaurant but we arrived for a late lunch on Sunday and ran into a very long wait for a table. We were told that takeout would be much faster and that there was a park not too far away where we could comfortably eat our lunch. And so we opted for that. Continue reading

Hana Hou (Big Island, Summer 2022)

Back to the Big Island. We spent most of our first full day on the island at Volcanoes National Park. A few days later we went back and hiked the Kilaua Iki trail which is a loop trail that takes you down the hillside to what was once a lake of lava and is now a lake of stone, all the way across it and up the hill again. The total distance is not very impressive—just about 3.3 miles—but it’s a stunning walk as you go through tropical foliage down to the crater and then walk across a barren rocky landscape before ascending once again into tropical green. I recommend it highly. Our plan for after the hike was to grab some lunch and visit the Punalu’u black sand beach before heading back to our rental. As per Google, the closest lunch spot to Punalu’u beach was Hana Hou in Naalehu and rather than eat again at Volcano House it was there we went. Herewith a brief account of the experience. Continue reading

Randy’s Huli Chicken (Big Island, Summer 2022)

My meal reports from the Big Island, where we spent a week towards the end of June, have so far covered both a formal restaurant (Volcano House at Volcanoes National Park) and a more informal affair at Kona Grill House, where a formal kitchen prepares food to be eaten casually at outdoor tables. Today I have a review for you of a more informal setup yet, one that’s not very unusual on the Big Island and probably elsewhere in Hawaii as well. Randy’s Huli Chicken sets up their grilling apparatus by the side of the Mamaloa highway, a little south of Kona, and they grill their namesake chicken—and other things besides—till they run out. Your best bet if you don’t want to be disappointed is to go early. We’d passed them the day before we stopped while on the way to a beach further away and had made a mental note to pick up food for dinner in the evening. By the time we got back there—long before sunset— however, they were long gone. We made no such error the next day, stopping in for an early lunch after a visit to a coffee farm in the vicinity. I am happy to tell you that the food is very good. Continue reading

Volcano House (Big Island, Summer 2022)

Our first afternoon and evening on the Big Island saw us eat lunch at Kona Grill House, do some grocery shopping and settle into our rental. The next morning we woke up bright and early (being on Los Angeles time) and headed out to Volcanoes National Park. It was about an hour and a half drive and we arrived shortly after the park opened. I wasn’t really sure what to expect but the park is utterly amazing. We spent the morning and afternoon walking along several trails and in between we got lunch at the Volcano House. The Volcano House is a historic hotel situated not too far from the Kilauea crater—the crater rim trail passes the restaurant in the rear—and has a restaurant that is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner (closing in between—check hours before going). It’s located very close to the Visitor Center. Reservations are required for dinner but lunch—at least going by our experience—is far less busy. The view can’t be beat and the food is quite creditable too. Continue reading

Kona Grill House (Big Island, Summer 2022)

We left for Los Angeles in early-mid June and after a week or so there headed off to Hawaii for about two weeks. We spent most of a week on the Big Island and another on Kauai. I will spare you the rest of our vacation stories—we hiked, snorkeled, lounged on beaches and visited museums and botanical gardens—and tell you only about the food we ate. This was a very different vacation for us as none of it revolved around food. There were no specific restaurants we were aiming to eat at and none of our days were constructed with eating in mind: on all days we ate where we happened to be or picked up food on the way back from where we’d spent the day to where we were spending our nights. Nonetheless, we ate quite well. And it turned out that Hawaii is a very easy place to eat with our kids, as grilled or stewed meat with rice is almost universally available. There were two constants across our holiday: we consumed a lot of shave ice and god, did I eat a lot of poke. I may as well get these reports started with our very first meal on the Big Island, eaten just an hour or so after we picked up our bags at the airport. Continue reading

Red (Madison, Wisconsin)

And so I finally come to the end of my meal reports from our trip to Madison in August. I know it will be hard for you all to face the coming weekends without the succour of these brief reviews but somehow you will have to manage.

As I’ve noted in my other reports, we experienced variable weather in our three days in Madison, ranging from the sunny and extremely hot to the extremely rainy. Somehow, this only impacted one of our meals (we ate breakfasts in our hotel room). We managed outdoor dinner on the first night (at Strings Ramen), outdoor lunch and dinner on the second day (at Bandung and Ian’s Pizza) and lunch on the third day (at Settle Down) but there was no hope of eating out on the third evening. The rain was torrential and it was unrelenting. As we were unwilling to eat in with an unvaccinated child in tow it had to be takeout then. How did it end up being sushi and what was it like? Read on. Continue reading

Settle Down (Madison, Wisconsin)

Alright, we’re almost at the end of the meal reports from our Madison trip in August. This was lunch on our second and last full day in the city. We’d spent the morning on a lake and once it got nice and hot—like really hot—we ventured forth in search of another restaurant with outdoor seating. Settle Down had been on the list—thanks to another recommendation in the comments from Todd who’d also recommended Ian’s Pizza—but after the non-appearance of the advertised outdoor seating at the Old Fashioned the previous evening we were taking nothing for granted, Thankfully, a phone call to Settle Down confirmed the existence of a lot of outdoor seating and on arrival we saw that it was indeed so. The entire street in front of the restaurant was closed to traffic and strewn with tables and chairs. We picked one and then another and then another before finally finding one that was completely out of the blazing sun. And then we ordered some food and got down to the eating of a pleasurable lunch. Herewith the details. Continue reading

Ian’s Pizza (Madison, Wisconsin)

And so now I am at the midpoint of my meal reports from our trip to Madison in early August and this is a report on our first non-Asian meal in the city (see my earlier reviews of Strings Ramen and Bandung). Ian’s Pizza—recommended by a commenter, Todd—was not originally on our itinerary but it was our fallback option when one of the places that had been recommended from multiple directions didn’t work out: The Old Fashioned. We’d planned to eat dinner there on this Monday evening but when we pulled up alongside we couldn’t see any sign of the outdoor seating that they were supposed to have. We called them from the car and were told they were not doing outdoor seating on account of the storm about to roll in. Now, while weather on our trip was not great, this evening actually was completely rain-free. The sky was blue, the sun was out. Indeed, after dinner we repaired to the Memorial Union Terrace at the University of Wisconsin for ice cream and sunset by the water. Far more likely is that they didn’t want to deal with staffing outdoor seating with enough people willing to eat indoors. So we ate dinner instead at Ian’s Pizza instead. And a very good dinner it was too. Continue reading

Bandung (Madison, Wisconsin)

Our first meal in Madison on our brief trip there in August was centered on ramen. Our next stop also deviated from the stereotypical Wisconsin food itinerary. As you might guess from the name of the restaurant in the title of this post, it featured Indonesian food. I should say here that our restaurant selections in Madison were driven entirely by two factors: 1) Were they in fact open (for lunch) or answering their phones? 2.) Did they have outdoor seating that they were actually using. A few of the restaurants recommended to us were not open for lunch; others had no outdoor seating. Bandung was open for lunch and had outdoor seating and so they were right in our sweet spot. But it’s not as though we weren’t interested in it for its own sake. As far as I know we don’t have an Indonesian restaurant in the Twin Cities metro and so we were very glad to give Bandung a go. Continue reading

Gates Bar-B-Q (Kansas City)

Here now is my last meal report from our brief visit to Kansas City in July and quite appropriately it is of a meal eaten at one of the city’s most sanctified barbecue institutions, perhaps second only to Arthur Bryant’s in that sense. I am referring, of course, to Gates Bar-B-Q. It too traces its history back to Henry Perry—the father of Kansas City barbecue and the man whose restaurant evolved into Arthur Bryant’s. The original location of Gates was founded in 1946, with the Gates family partnering with another of Perry’s employees/students, Arthur Pinkard. Unlike Arthur Bryant’s, Gates is still black-owned and indeed still in the Gates family. That original location, at 18th and Vine, does not appear to still be extant. Gates does have six locations in the Kansas City metro now. Of those, we dined at the large restaurant on Emanuel Cleaver Blvd., selecting it for its proximity both to the Nelson-Atkins Museum, which was our previous port of call and to access to the highway back to Minnesota, which would be our next. It was a fine meal and a fine farewell to Kansas City. Continue reading

Strings Ramen (Madison, Wisconsin)

Here begins my series of reports on our meals in Madison a few weeks ago.

As I said last week, our trip to Madison was in many ways an inverse of our trip to Kansas City in July. The earlier trip was centered on the eating of barbecue and we didn’t find Kansas City to be so very compelling as a family destination beyond that. Madison on the other hand didn’t hold very particular food significance for us but there was a lot of outdoor stuff for us to do or there would have been (even more) if not for the weather. However, armed with recommendations from friends who know the city very well and some people who’ve lived there a while, we ate quite well anyway. That said, the list of places we ate at might possibly strike some people as surprising and perhaps not in line with what comes to mind when you think of food in Wisconsin. For example, our first meal there—a few hours after arrival—comprised ramen, at Strings Ramen, a hop, skip and a jump from our hotel. Continue reading

Voltaire (Kansas City)

My reports on our meals in Kansas City in the second half of July are almost at an end. Here is an account of our penultimate meal in the city, at Voltaire. This was one of two meals we ate on this trip that were not centered on barbecue and both were positioned to break up the consumption of barbecue so we wouldn’t get stuck in a (smoky) rut or die (at this point we had already eaten smoked meats at Joe’s Kansas City, Arthur Bryant’s and Pigwich). The first of those meals was our dinner the previous night at Waldo Thai Place. Like that restaurant, Voltaire had been recommended by the same friend of a friend on Twitter. And given how much we’d enjoyed our dinner at Waldo Thai we had high hopes of our meal at Voltaire as well. These high hopes were mostly met. Read on for details. Continue reading

Three Days in Madison, Wisconsin

A couple of weeks after our short vacation in Kansas City—the last couple of meal reports from which are still to come—we hit the road again for a brief getaway. Not on Highway 35 this time. Instead we went southeast to Madison, a shorter drive of just about four hours from our house to the hotel we were staying in in downtown Madison. We decided to go with a hotel as we couldn’t really find any viable AirBnB options—and as it turns out it was a lucky break given the weather we experienced on more than one day (more on this below). This trip was in many ways an inverse of our Kansas City trip. Those days were organized largely around the eating of barbecue. Madison has no equivalent local cuisine to tempt us—which is not to say that we ate badly. For us, however, there was a lot more to do in Madison as a family. A quick sketch of the trip follows below and then over the next several weeks I’ll have reports on the meals we did eat. Continue reading

The City Market and Lunch at Pigwich (Kansas City)

I do very much enjoy walking around urban markets in cities I visit. Accordingly, a stop at Kansas City’s City Market was on our itinerary. Originally, this was supposed to be our last stop on the Thursday of our trip. It’s located in the north of the city, right by Highway 35 and the plan had been to go for a walk by the river, browse the market, eat a quick lunch at Pigwich and hit the road. All of this got thrown for a loop by my lame trip planning. I’d put a visit to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art on the agenda for Wednesday (preceded by lunch at Gates-Bar-B-Q). Of course, since I only bothered to look at the museum’s website closely on Wednesday morning I discovered rather late in the game that the Nelson-Atkins is closed on Tuesday and Wednesdays. (Isn’t all this detail fascinating?!) So we went to the Nelson-Atkins and Gates on our last day and on Wednesday started out with a walk by the river, a stroll through the City Market and lunch at Pigwich. Here’s how it went. Continue reading

Waldo Thai Place (Kansas City)

Our trip to Kansas City, in case I haven’t mentioned it before and in case it hasn’t already become obvious, revolved largely around the eating of barbecue. Gluttons for smoked meat though we are, we knew we needed to punctuate these barbecue blowouts with at least a couple of other kinds of meals or risk the very real possibility of untimely death. And so in doing my internet research I looked for interesting sounding restaurants that were some distance from barbecue. One of the names that came up a few times was a place with the unlikely sounding name of Waldo Thai. I put it on the long list but when a friend of a friend recommended it on Twitter I looked closer at its menu and we decided to give it a go. And a very good thing too that we did so. Not only was this a nice changeup from barbecue (our two previous meals had been at Arthur Bryant’s and Joe’s Kansas City), it was an excellent Thai meal, one of the best we’ve had in the US outside Los Angeles. Herewith the details. Continue reading