Cruising around Kauai Hawaii, you will no doubt come across some unusual restaurants that are known locally as Hawaiian lunch wagons. Mini eateries that serve delicious meals from hot and savory Thai food creations to Mexican burritos. The food is as varied as the locales their cuisine originate from, but one thing remains constant. These restaurants are on wheels, and at the end of the day they pack up and head home.
These uniquely Hawaiian restaurants date back to the sugar era when the kitchen came to the worker. Plantation factory workers would line up at the start of their 30 minute lunch break and purchase traditional Japanese cuisine of grilled teriyaki and two scoops of white rice, with a bit of nori, seaweed for flavor, served in reusable bento tin containers. Today the food is usually served in a paper or styrofoam container, bento box that is closely akin to the Japanese tin box of yesteryear. But the philosophy has not wavered, offer great food at reasonable prices.
The origins of the lunch wagon are still disputed, some historians say that it is a transplant that hailed from Japan, and was brought to the islands by contract sugar workers. Others say that it was created in Hawaii by an enterprising woman. She recognized that bachelor farm workers did not have the time or inclination to prepare food prior to heading off to work.
Horse drawn carts carrying food around the job site were replaced when vehicles became more affordable in the 1940′s. Presently, on Kauai, and the other islands the Chevy 3 ton step van is the vehicle of choice for their headroom and easy conversion to a kitchen on wheels.
Lunch wagons are certified by the State of Hawaii’s, Department of Health, who inspect the operation and insure that it meets the same health requirements as a traditional brick and mortar restaurant. Because they have a limited water source, the operator must serve the food in take away containers. Ten years ago it was rare to see a seating area beside the lunch wagon, however the modern day lunch wagon is more akin to an outdoor cafe with one or two folding tables that are easily transportable.
The cuisine has varied greatly in the last ten years as the American palate has changed. The traditional Japanese dishes have been replaced with varied menus that reflect the culinary skills of the operator. These entrepreneurs are receptive to the wishes of their clientele and some tofu burgers and other dishes that are more health conscious. Serving Hawaiian fish with brown rice and a salad, to rack of lamb in an au jus sauce. Whatever your preference it is an opportunity to try local cuisine, local style, that is a good value with lots of food.
Here are our favorites:
Their taco truck is located directly behind Island Soap and Candles in Koloa Town. Directly off Waikomo Rd. Try the chicken burrito with the house salsa. They offer seating under a large mango tree.
Koloa Mill Diner:
Directly across from Sueoka’s Supermarket in Koloa Town. Chris Murray serves up great wholesome sandwiches. Look for the bright blue van that is currently void of artwork, Chris says that will come a bit later. Try the turkey pesto with provolone and enjoy it under the large monkey pod tree near the lunch wagon.
This popular eatery located for years within steps of our Kauai rentals along Lawai Road, aka Spouting Horn Road has recently relocated to the Kukuiula Village where Sue will continue to make her garlic shrimp and her famous Thai coconut shrimp. The walk from the Suites to her establishment is only 3 short minutes away.
Tell us your favorite Kauai restaurants on wheels, there are at least 20 on the island to choose from.