Pono Market is one of my favorite places on Kauai. The family-owned and run market is a small storefront on the main street in Kapa’a on the west side of the island, just a few minutes north of Lihue. Inside, you’ll find a big deli counter, an espresso bar and some of the friendliest people on the island. It’s not a big restaurant, although they do have an extensive menu. This is a local’s spot that definitely caters to local palates. It is a must-stop spot if you’re interested in trying a Hawaiian plate lunch. They serve real Hawaiian food – and all of it is exceptional.
When you walk in, there will probably be a line of people (especially if you come between 10:30 and 12, when most of the locals are off of work for lunch). Jump in and check out what is in the deli case while you wait. Someone will definitely pipe up to tell you the specials. Everything is made fresh every day and most of it sells out by the early afternoon. You can choose a couple of entrees to make a plate lunch, served with a side of rice. Bear in mind that they might be sold out of their homemade lau lau and other signature items if you’re not early, but you’ll definitely find plenty of tempting things to choose from regardless. Don’t miss the ahi poke, which is not only flavorful, but is made with some of the most tender, freshest ahi you can find anywhere. My three-item plate below consists of sesame ahi poke, fried chicken (all dark meat and soaked in a flavorful marinade), kalua pork and white rice, with a side of macaroni salad.
This is Rob, who is not only one of the grandson’s of the founder of Pono Market, but is definitely one of the best tour guides you’ll find. He gave out some great tips on beaches to visit, how to build a bonfire out of driftwood and other places to eat (Pono Market topping the list, of course), as well as some great history on the recipes used at the market and the locals who come in to eat there. Plus, he’s a great guy in general. If you catch him working at the espresso bar, have him make you a caramel mocha if you’re in the mood for something sweet instead of a straight cup of strong, locally roasted coffee.
Rob wasn’t about to let me leave without trying some of Pono’s manju, even though I was stuffed from my plate lunch. Manju are small pastries, with sweet filling encased in a pie crust-like dough. His sister handmakes them every morning in flavors like apple, coconut, sweet potato (using purple Okinawan potatoes) and red bean. The crust is light, as are the fillings, so these are easy to eat no matter how full you are. The fillings aren’t too sweet and there seems to be just the right ratio of filling to crust. My favorites were the coconut and red bean, but they were all good. They’re a bit fragile, so pack them on the top of your beach bag if you pick up a package to much on after you leave the market.
Definitely a must-spot to visit and try some local flavor while you’re in Kauai!