LIHUE — Duke’s Barefoot Bar, downstairs from Duke’s Kauai at Kalapaki Beach, is never short on ambiance or delicious food.
I have been on Kauai for a year and a half, even lived across the street, but I never went there until last week when my parents were visiting from San Antonio.
Friendly, smiling staff in aloha shirts and Hawaiian music greeted us. With gentle breezes, ocean views and expansive menu, it was a treat.
It’s important to get to Duke’s Barefoot Bar early for a couple reasons: One, you can beat the dinner rush with relative ease, like we did, and second, you have a pretty decent shot at getting a table next to the koi pond.
Being that we arrived before a crowd of hungry customers did, there was no wait and we were seated by the koi pond, which probably made my father even hungrier as he’s the lone fish eater of the family.
There aren’t many places where you can enjoy a meal with your family, overlooking the beach mixed with tourists and locals, all while enjoying a pickup sand volleyball game just a matter of yards away from the restaurant. But that’s what makes Duke’s Barefoot Bar stand out.
We started with the Duke’s Nachos as an appetizer. The $12 nachos were topped with black beans, cheddar, guacamole, sour cream, pico de gallo, jalapenos and olives and could have been a meal on its own.
For some reason, my go-to at a restaurant is a cheeseburger of some kind. I’ve tried to deviate from that as I’ve gotten older, but the cheddar burger sounded so good that I had to give in to that vice. I was not disappointed.
The burger is made with local beef and topped with iceberg lettuce, vine tomatoes, red onion and Maui island dressing.
What made the burger so good was that the toppings didn’t make the bread soggy. It’s a hassle when all of the sauces make the bread fall lose its shape, but that doesn’t happen at Duke’s.
Served with fries, the cheddar burger rings in at $15, and was worth every penny.
My dad, predictably, ordered the fish and chips. The $18.50 dish, which is made with beer-battered island fish and comes with homemade tartar sauce, was gone before I could blink an eye. So I think he liked it.
My mom went out of her comfort zone a little bit and ordered the Korean street tacos. For $16, they came with Korean marinated steak, salsa verde, cilantro and cabbage, served on three tortillas. She said it was the perfect Mexican-Korean fusion.
Music is a pleasant addition during happy hour, but what really set the mood for the evening was the sound of the waves at Kalapaki Beach crashing into the shore. Family, food, the beach — what more could you ask for?
And let’s not forget about the most important aspect of a bar: beer selection.
Whether you’re the type of person who likes an IPA or a regular ale, there are plenty of beers to pick from. And the menu, while not as extensive as Duke’s upstairs restaurant, has all you need with a variety of salads, steaks and fresh fish.
With its calm, quiet atmosphere, Duke’s Barefoot Bar is definitely a place for the whole family. It’s easy to see why it continues to be popular with the locals and an attraction for visitors. My only regret is that it took me this long to give this place a try.