Food in Kauai: Puka Dog, Yumi’s, and Jo-Jo’s

A bit over two weeks after we left Kauai, I’m still trying to wrap up blog entries on the trip.  To make some progress, I’ll combine three eateries into a single entry: Puka Dog, home of the “Hawaiian style” hot dog; Yumi’s, a small cafe in Waimea; and Jo-Jo’s Anuenue, the “original” (kind of) Waimea shave ice shop.


First up was Puka Dog, the Kauai branch of this “Hawaiian style” hot dog shop featured in Anthony Bourdain’s show “No Reservations”.  (He visited the branch in Waikiki, on Oahu.)  The concept is staight-forward: polish sausages (or veggie dogs) served in a bun with secret sauce (mild, spicy, hot, or hot hot, none of which are particularly spicy) and topped with various tropical relishes (papaya, mango, coconut, banana, etc.).


“Puka” means “hole” in Hawaiian and so the buns, instead of being split along the side, are instead impaled on this medieval looking contraption above.  What is it?  A European style hot-dog bun roaster, of course.  That’s why it looks medieval!  The point (no pun intended) is that the interior of the bun is toasted.  Sauce and relish are pumped into the hole, serving as lubricant to help slide the sausage in.  Sorry, this blog entry may not be appropriate for all age groups. 


The puka dog is a bit hard to eat as when you bite it, the juices have nowhere to go but towards you.  As for the flavor, the relishes are all a bit sweet and so you get the salty, meaty sausage with very sweet relish, but there needs to be something to cut the flavor.  Maybe the spicy sauce is meant to do that but we ordered “hot hot” and it wasn’t spicy enough.  Maybe something like pickled hot peppers, fresh Maui onions, or else sauerkraut would have been enough?


After our puka dog we went next door to the ice cream parlor for some locally made Papalani gelato, available in all manner of tropical flavors.  This was pretty tasty.  I had a lichee sorbet and Tawn had a macadamia nut gelato.

. . .


Our final day in Kauai, the four of us drove to the extreme west of the island, going down several miles of an unpaved and badly rutted dirt road until we reached the beach at Polihale State Park.  Looking at the Google Map now, it appears there may have been a paved option that would have led us there, but the signage was not clear.  We bumped along for thirty minutes, driving v-e-r-y slowly, until we reached the beach.  It was clear that Tawn was not having a good time.


When we did reach the end of the road, though, we were rewarded with these spectacular views of the Na’Pali coast, the one section of Kauai’s coast that cannot be accessed by road.  The beach is very long, very wide, and almost completely deserted.  The cliffs loom over the water, the layers of lava laid down by subsequent eruptions clearly visible.


The face of a husband who was trying his best to maintain a sunny disposition after being bounced down the road like a rock tumbled in a clothes dryer.  He gets bonus points for patience.


On the way back to Poipu, we stopped at Yumi’s Restaurant, a small family run place located in the storefront of the art deco Waimea Theatre.


The place was deserted, thanks in part to the street construction that was going on directly in front of the shop.


This menu board gives you an idea of the range of local “grinds” – breakfast all day, plate lunches, and various sandwiches.


On special was futomaki, a catch-all term used to describe sushi rolled with seaweed wrappers on the outside, filled with various ingredients with complementary colors and flavors.  These had tuna, egg, green beans, and carrots – very basic.


Tawn ordered the chicken cutlet, which is basically katsu-style chicken (breaded with panko and fried) but instead of serving with a tonkatsu sauce, it was served with generic brown gravy.  This caused a bit of a disconnect between taste buds that were expecting the sweet flavors of tonkatsu sauce and the reality of a salty, savory gravy.


Longing for some breakfast, I had simple fried eggs, bacon (which was supposed to be Portuguese sausage, an oversight that was quickly corrected), and the ubiquitous rice.


My mother had a small portion of the “loco moco”, a typical Hawaiian breakfast dish with rice topped with hamburger patty, egg (scrambled in this case, usually fried, though), and gravy.  Definitely a heavy start to the day!


My father had a teriyaki beef burger that was pretty flat, both in terms of flavor as well as size.


One of Yumi’s specialties is apple turnover, so we ordered one of them to share.  The crust, made with lard, was flaky and flavorful.

All in all, given the prices, Yumi’s was a fair value.  The food, though, wasn’t very exciting and I don’t know that I would make it my highest priority to return.  There are some other places on the west side of the island, including Da Imu Hut Cafe in Hanapepe, which I’d like to try next time, based on positive recommendations from my cousins.

. . .


After lunch we walked across the street for some shave ice.  Waimea is famous for its rival shave ice shops: Jo-Jo’s Original Shave Ice and Jo-Jo’s Anuenue Shave Ice.  The story is a bit confusing, but my understanding of the story goes something like this:

In the ’90s, Aunty Jo-Jo sold her popular, seven-year old shave-ice shop on Kaumuali’i Highway in Waimea, called “Jo-Jo’s Clubhouse,” to another family, in order to finance her return to school.  The new owners didn’t do a very good job keeping up the reputation of the shop, possibly because Aunty Jo-Jo hadn’t given them all the recipes.  In 2007, Aunty Jo-Jo opened a new shop at a new location just around the corner under the name “Jo-Jo’s Anuenue Shave Ice.”  The owners of her original location were unable to produce the contract they claim contains a noncompete clause, so Aunty Jo-Jo has continued her business in the new location and the owners of the “original” Jo-Jo’s continue their business, too, under the name “Jo-Jo’s Original.”

Confused yet?


In all fairness, we didn’t take the time to go to both locations and do a proper comparison.  Instead, we just patronized Jo-Jo’s Anuenue Shave Ice, figuring that Aunty Jo-Jo is probably worth the visit.  The place is mighty modest inside and there’s no place to sit other than a bench and a few plastic chairs out front.  The young lady who was working (I told her she must be the single most photographed person on the island, to which she laughed) pulled together our orders with a practiced hand, mounding the ice high and pouring the neon syrups generously.

P1110895 P1110901

My parents, setting their inner children free as they get a chance to sample Jo-Jo’s Shave Ice.  After three shave ices during the trip, I have to say that this is a treat that can get overwhelming very quickly.  Something about half the size would be enough.  Maybe two people just need to share one, right?

. . .

We drove back to the condo and Tawn and I had an hour to pack before we headed to the airport and our flight to Honolulu, where we would spend one evening and have dinner with Xangan Michael.  Unfortunately, Tawn and I both managed to have a serious lapse in attention and missed our flight.  We left the condo about 4:00 for our 5:40 flight, arriving at the airport around 4:40 or so.  There was almost nobody at ticketing or security, so proceeded through those quickly. 


Once inside the terminal, I glanced up at a wall of clocks that showed all the time zones in the world.  Unable to find Hawaii, I noticed the minute hand showing ten minutes after the hour so in my mind I thought it must be 4:10.   Of course it was 5:10, not 4:10.  We went to Starbucks and sat down with some coffee to write post cards.  The shop is air conditioned and enclosed from the open air portion of the terminal, so we didn’t hear the “final call” announcements.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a Hawaiian Airlines jet rolling down the runway and I thought, “That’s odd – the plane should be arriving about now, not taking off.”  And then I looked at my phone and realized that we had missed our flight.

Credit to Hawaiian Airlines for running a tight ship – that plane actually took off about two minutes before scheduled departure according to the time on my phone.   But we were late, missed the “be there ten minutes before departure” warning, and there’s no disputing that.  They were accommodating and put us on stand-by for the next flight, which left two hours later.  Unfortunately, that meant we had to miss dinner with Michael.

By about 9:00 we had finally made it to Waikiki and checked into our hotel for our final night in Hawai’i.  More about that in the next entry.


0 thoughts on “Food in Kauai: Puka Dog, Yumi’s, and Jo-Jo’s

  1. Haha, that description of the Puka Dog was quite dirty. 😛 I really wonder how good the shaved ice tastes in your post cause my only recollection of them from my childhood was just some ice splashed with not so delicious flavouring.

  2. Oh my goodness, the foods of Hawaii are wonderful.  I’ve never been to Barking Sands — it was kapu when I was there, but it looks beautiful.

  3. I laughed out loud at your “lube” with the “hole” in the bun illustration… I must just have a dirty mind I guess (that or a newly-married-mind.) Oh, and that gelato… looked *great*! Looks like y’all had a very good trip!

  4. The shaved ice looked so good. I too laughed at the ‘lube in the hole of the hot dog bun’. That was really funny Chris.But funnier is the fact that you missed your flight!! With your experience of traveling around the world?? tch tch tch!

  5. uh… wow. i must say you had some interesting culinary experiences there! never heard of puka dogs. i really like loco moco, but tend to get it more as a lunch thing than a breakfast food because, as you noted, it can be quite heavy. it is usually served with a sunny side up egg (but i like mine over easy), so that you can break the yolk and mix it all in with the rice and brown gravy. as easy as it is to make, though, it’s funny that i’ve never actually made a loco moco myself! shame on me, when i complain all time time about there being no local food around hahaha.yikes, i can’t believe you missed your flight! good thing they got you on the next flight out!

  6. You missed your flight?! Sorry you missed dinner with Michael… I think I’ll pass on moco loco. We visited the Mars Cheese Castle picking up some fresh cheese curd – Poutine is on the menu for tomorrow…

  7. Heh. Puka dog. Looks good!We’ve missed our flight in San Diego before. Took our time getting out of the B&B (gorgeous little retreat in La Jolla), got to the airport and were dumbfounded when told that our gate had already closed. D’oh! It was worth it though, cuz we got to eat shrimp burritos one more time and enjoy some relaxation at Balboa Park.

  8. total food porn post… literally food porn.. ahahahthat sounds so cool though, the interior of the bun being toastedand who doesnt like the juices coming towards you when u bite into it LOLanyway, ive been craving hawaiian food, and now i REALLY WANT IT!!!!!

  9. @NVPhotography – That’s really nice of you to say. Thank you.@iskrak – Glad I could get your juices flowing. Ha ha ha!@moolgishin – An extra shrimp taco in San Diego seems like a small price to pay for missing your flight!@murisopsis – Please write about the poutine!@kunhuo42 – I would think that making the gravy would be enough to keep you from making loco moco at home. Not like it is convenient to whip up gravy for just one or two people.@ZSA_MD – I know, right? You would think that I would be paying more attention. The lesson learned is that I need to set the alarm clock on my phone for boarding time.@Passionflwr86 – Oh, horny newlyweds… =O@Fatcat723 – Well, I don’t think I would recommend making a journey to Hawaii just for a puka dog.@The_Eyes_Of_A_Painter – Definitely easy to take it in stride. After all, there are such frequent flights between the islands and what’s wrong with another hour or two in paradise?@slmret – As near as I can tell, Barking Sands may still sometimes be kapu. That’s why I didn’t see the main, paved road that headed to the beach, perhaps.@ElusiveWords – Well, the state of Hawai’i has that description down. Now if they could just pave the road…@brooklyn2028 – The homemade syrups are really quite good, although super sweet.@CurryPuffy – Nah, it was my focus on writing a postcard in Thai that caused me to lose situational awareness.@Randy7777 – @amygwen – Yes, the trip was a good one, thanks.

  10. Honestly, we did not find great food in Hawaii (on the Big Island).  I’m sure we could have used a local person to point us in the right direction, but most of the restaurants we found either had standard American fare or were too-heavy loco-moco plate lunch places.  I didn’t hate the chicken & over-easy egg over rice plate I had at one place, but I didn’t think the gravy was necessary & I couldn’t eat it every day.  Also, overly-mayonnaised macaroni salad as a side with everything.   

  11. @DrTiff – Oh, I’d agree that the food isn’t great.  It was certainly interesting to try local dishes and I found many things that I enjoyed, but unlike, say, Japan, I wouldn’t say that Hawaiian food is “great”.

  12. Aloha, I’d just like to say that it’s a shame you did not visit the REAL Jo-jo’s shave ice. I live on the westside of Kauai and I happen to know the family that’s owned jo-jos for the past 14 years. They only thing that’s true that “aunty Jo-Jo” tells people is that she went back to school. If Jo-jos business went a little down for a while it’s because the family was grieving the loss of their 12 year old daughter to leukemia. That was in 2003. Then in 2005 the the wife of the couple that owns it became extremely I’ll and was in and out if the hospital for two years. (It was around this time that “aunty Jo-Jo” decided to open another shop). Till this day she still struggles with her health. Oh also when Joanne “owned” Jo-jos it was called Jo-jos clubhouse and shave ice was a side thing. The owners of Jo-jo’s Shave Ice are the ones who made it popular. Contrary to what Jo-jo’s Anueanue tell people. I’m sorry if this came off a little angry. It’s only because this family has worked so hard and they’re always so giving. It’s a shame that people have to be so dishonest. Maybe one day you’ll try the real thing. =) Aloha!

  13. @Kauaigirl3227 – Thank you for your comment.  I based my blog entry on information in the Lonely Plant guide for Kaua’i, which was authored by two ladies who actually live on the island, so I took it to be reasonably authoritative.  Of course, there are usually two or more sides to every story and if in order to get to the truth of the matter I have to eat more shave ice, well that would be okay with me.

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