Thanks to its deep waters, green pastures, and fertile fields, the Big Island provides local chefs with a cornucopia of fresh ingredients. The challenge for visitors is finding restaurants to match their budgets. Don’t be afraid to nosh at a roadside stand or create a meal from a farmer's market (see our section on Shopping), as locals do, but indulge at least once on an oceanfront sunset dinner for the best of all the Big Island has to offer. Reservations are advised during holidays and summer; OpenTable.com currently accepts bookings for 36 restaurants across the island.
The Kona Coast
With few exceptions, this is a no-man’s-land for memorable, sensibly priced dining; chains abound, and service is often slow. One bright spot: Honu’s on the Beach (daily 6–10:30am and 5:30–10pm), the indoor/outdoor restaurant at the Courtyard King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel. Fresh sushi 5:30 to 8:30pm Sunday to Thursday attracts both locals and visitors; Chef Roy Basilio’s well-prepared farm-to-table Hawaii Regional Cuisine is available nightly (main courses $15–$28), with a prime rib/seafood buffet ($50 adults, $26 ages 6 to 12) Friday and Saturday nights.
In a less scenic setting, duck into Lemongrass Bistro, 75-5742 Kuakini Hwy. (makai side, at Hualalai Rd), for fragrant curry and noodle dishes ($13–$25). It’s open for lunch ($10 specials) and dinner till 9pm daily (www.lemongrassbistrokona.com; 808/331-2708). Big appetites should head to the Big Island Grill, 75-5702 Kuakini Hwy. (makai side, south of Henry St.), for American fare and local favorites such as loco moco and chicken katsu ($5–$17 breakfast, $8–$20 lunch, $9–$24 dinner) in a strip mall, with parking. It’s open daily 7am to 9pm except Sunday (www.facebook.com/BigIslandGrill; 808/326-1153). Kamana Kitchen, 75-5770 Alii Dr., serves classic South Indian dishes ($13-$21) in a pleasant Waterfront Row dining room (www.kamanakitchen.com; 808/326-7888).
Gluten-free diners will want to go online to check the whereabouts of the Lotus Cafe Fresh Express food truck (www.thelotuscafe.com), which serves pan-Asian fare like Malaysian laksa ($12) in Hawi, Kailua- Waimea, Kailua-Kona and Keauhou on a rotating schedule.
Take Your Pick of Poke
With all the fishing boats plying Kona waters, it’s no wonder places selling ahi poke—the finely diced raw tuna staple of the islands—and similar dishes pride themselves on just-caught ingredients. Fisherman Albert Vasconcelles’ Da Poke Shack (dapokeshack.com; 808/329-POKE ; daily 10am–6pm) built a loyal following for its ahi poke bowls and lunch plates ($14–$22, priced by the pound) in a hole in the wall in the Kona Bali Kai complex, at 76-6246 Alii Dr., Kailua-Kona. Taste the wares of award-winning chef Nakoa Pabre, from poke bombs (cone sushi topped with a variety of diced seafood; $8) to bowls with quinoa or native fiddlehead fern salad as side options ($10–$13), at two sites in Kailua-Kona: the more spacious Umekes Fishmarket Bar and Grill, 74-5563 Kaiwi St. (www.umekesfishmarketbarandgrill.com; 808/238-0571; 11am–9pm Mon–Fri, 11am–5pm Sat), sports a handsome wood and aqua interior with plenty of seating and a full bar, while Umekes in Alii Plaza, 75-143 Hualalai Rd. (www.umekespoke808.com; 808/329-3050), is more of a to-go joint, open 10am–5pm Mon–Sat. The newest location, Umekes Waimea, 64-1055 Mamalahoa Hwy., at Kamamalu St., Waimea, shares the latter’s limited space and ambience, but still delicious poke; it’s open 10am to 7pm Mon–Sat.
Tapping into Kona Brewing Co.
Father and son Cameron Healy and Spoon Khalsa opened microbrewery and pub Kona Brewing Co. (www.konabrewingco.com; 808/334-2739) in an obscure warehouse in Kailua-Kona in 1998; now they also run a restaurant on Oahu and enjoy widespread Mainland distribution of their most popular brews, including Fire Rock Pale Ale and Longboard Lager, and a new brewery is due to open in 2019. The brewpub at 74-5612 Pawai Pl. offers affordable specials at lunch and happy hour (3 to 5pm weekdays), seasonal draft brews, a palm-fringed patio, and short free tours (for ages 15 and older) at 10:30am and 3pm weekdays, with additional tours at 2pm weekends and 4pm Saturday. Open daily 11am to 10pm.
The newly renovated Rays on the Bay (www.raysonthebay.com; 808/930-4900) at the Sheraton Kona is the only waterfront option, but it’s a vibrant one, with nightly live music, great cocktails and slightly pricey but creative island cuisine (dinner mains $19-$39); valet parking is free. Keauhou Shopping Center has several more affordable options than Kenichi (www.kenichipacific.com; 808/322-6400), a stylish Asian fusion/sushi dinner spot, open daily 5 to 9:30pm. The best is Peaberry & Galette (www.peaberryandgalette.com; [tel] 808/322-6020), a small cafe with a wide selection of savory and sweet crepes ($9–$14), plus a few sandwiches, salads, and good, 100 percent Kona coffee; it’s open 7am to 5pm Monday to Saturday, 8am to 5pm Sunday.
For ocean views with your Kona coffee, consider two cafes on the makai side of Hwy. 11. The Coffee Shack, 83-5799 Mamalahoa Hwy. (between mile markers 108 and 109) in Captain Cook, serves egg dishes ($11–$16), plump sandwiches on fresh-baked bread ($13), and 8-inch pizzas ($13–$16); it’s open daily 7:30am to 3pm (www.coffeeshack.com; 808/328-9555). Italian-themed Caffe Florian serves panini ($10–$12) and other light fare; it’s open 6:30am to 4pm weekdays, 7am to 2pm Saturday, and 8am to 1pm Sunday at 81-6637 Mamalahoa Hwy., Kealakekua (at Kee-Kee Rd.; www.caffefloriankona.com; 808/238-0861). Open for dinner only (Tues–Sat 5¬9pm), the family-run Keei Cafe, 79-7511 Mamalahoa Hwy. (mauka side), Kealakekua, includes pasta, fresh fish, steak and rack of lamb ($17–$31) on its compact but diverse menu, in a pleasant dining room featuring locally made art (www.keeicafe.net; 808/322-9992); reservations suggested.
The Kohala Coast
Sorting Out the Resorts
There’s no getting around sticker shock when dining at the South Kohala resort hotels, especially at breakfast and lunch. Dazzling sunsets help soften the blow at dinner, when chefs at least show more ambition. Here’s a quick guide to help you distinguish among the top dinner-only hotel restaurants, all serving excellent (for the most part) yet costly variations on farm-to-table Hawaii Regional Cuisine:
- Mauna Lani: Brown’s Beach House at the Fairmont Orchid, Hawaii offers attentive service at tables on a lawn just a stone’s throw from the water; main courses are $35 to $54. At CanoeHouse in the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel, Chef de Cuisine Allan Nagun presents each dish of his “Captain’s Table” Blind Tasting Menu ($110; $160 with wine pairings), offered Thursday to Saturday by 24-hour reservation (808/881-7911; main courses $36–$52).
- Mauna Kea: Manta & Pavilion Wine Bar at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel offers a sweeping ocean view, artful cuisine, and 48 high-end wines by the glass from the nifty Enomatic dispenser; main courses run $35¬ to $52. At press time, Westin Hapuna Beach Resort was revamping menus and decor at all its dining outlets, but Mediterranean-themed, hillside Meridia was expected to live up to the high standards of its previous incarnation, Coast Grille, supplied in part by Chef Moki Tavares’ nearby garden.
- Waikoloa Beach: KPC–Kamuela Provision Company at the Hilton Waikoloa Village has the oceanfront setting to rival other resorts’ restaurants, although its culinary ambitions are not as high as its prices (main courses $42–$82). Book an outdoor table for at least a half-hour before sunset.
For convenient alternatives to pricey hotel dining, the Waikoloa Beach Resort offers several hidden treasures. The Queens’ MarketPlace food court includes Lemongrass Express ([tel] 808/886-3400), a compact version of Kailua-Kona’s tasty Lemongrass Bistro, with indoor-outdoor seating and seafood specials that rival those of resort chefs, and Ippy’s Hawaiian BBQ ([tel] 808/886-8600), serving well-seasoned plate lunches with ribs, chicken, and fish, under the aegis of Food Network celebrity Philip “Ippy” Aiona. Aloha Wine Bar, inside Island Gourmet Markets, serves burgers, thin-crust pizzas, and sushi with good wine specials (808/886-3500; daily 3–midnight); happy hour runs 3 to 6p and 10 to 11:30pm
Views of Anaehoomalu Bay, especially at sunset, never fail to please at the open-air Lava Lava Beach Club, which serves fresh American and island food from 11am to 9pm daily on the beach, with happy hour appetizer and drink specials 3 to 5pm. At lunch, main courses run $15 to $26; at dinner, they’re $19 to $37. Owned by the team behind Huggo’s, it’s at the end of Kuualii Place in the Waikoloa Beach Resort (www.lavalavabeachclub.com; 808/769-5282).
Chef Allen Hess, formerly of CanoeHouse, serves well-crafted, farm-to-table comfort food (that is, with plenty of housemade bacon) at Mai Grille (www.maigrille.com; 808/886-7600). Overlooking the Kings’ Golf Course, it’s open for breakfast 7:30-10:45am Mon-Sat, and brunch 8am-1pm Sun, plus lunch and pupu 11am–6pm Mon-Sat. Reservations are recommended for Hess’ innovative, adult-oriented “supper club” menu ($12–$29), 5 to 7pm Thursday through Saturday.
The commercial port of Kawaihae also harbors several inexpensive, homespun eateries, including Kohala Burger and Taco, upstairs in the Kawaihae Shopping Center (www.kohalaburgerandtaco.com; 808/880-1923). Its juicy burgers ($7–$8) are made with local grass-fed beef, while buns and tortillas (used for fresh fish tacos, burritos, and quesadillas) are housemade. Run by former resort chefs, it opens daily at 11am; closing hours vary widely by season. The lunch wagon next to Da Fish House fish market has fresh fish plates ($9–$12) but little seating; it’s open weekdays 10:30am to 2:30pm and takes cash only.
For a light meal or snack, stop at Kohala Coffee Mill, 55-3412 Akoni Pule Hwy. (mauka side, across from Bamboo, discussed below; [tel] 808/889-5577). Known best for scoops of Tropical Dreams ice cream and well-crafted coffee drinks, it’s open weekdays 6am to 6pm, weekends 7am to 6pm. In Kapaau, homey Minnie’s Ohana Lim Style, 54-3854 Akoni Pule Hwy. (mauka side, at Kamehameha Rd.), serves heaping portions of fresh fish, roast pork, Korean fried chicken, and local staples ($9–$15; [tel] 808/889-5288; Mon–Wed 11am–7pm, Thurs–Fri 11am–3pm and Fri 6–8pm). Close to the Pololu Valley Overlook, the solar-powered Fresh Off the Grid food truck, 52-5088 Akoni Pule Hwy., Kapaau, offers refreshing shave ice, smoothies, tropical fruit, picnic tables, and a welcome portable toilet; it’s open 11am¬–5pm Thursday through Tuesday.
Daunted by high-priced Kohala resort menus? Visit the inexpensive Hawaiian Style Café, 65-1290 Kawaihae Rd. (Hwy. 19, 1 block east of Opelo Rd.; http://hawaiianstylecafe.us; 808/885-4925), which serves pancakes bigger than your head (try them with warm haupia, a coconut pudding), kalua pork hash, and other local favorites, along with burgers and sandwiches. It’s cash only, and very crowded on weekends (Mon–Sat 7am–1:30pm; until noon Sun). Funky Big Island Brewhaus, 64-1066 Mamalahoa Hwy. (http://bigislandbrewhaus.com; 808/887-1717), features master brewer Tom Kerns’ wide-ranging taps with an equally diverse, locally sourced menu with burgers, Mexican, and Mediterranean fare. Its covered patio and smaller indoor dining area/bar are open Mon-–Sat 11am¬–8:30pm and noon to 8pm Sun. Locals also flock to Red Water Cafe, 65-1299 Kawaihae Rd., for expert sushi ($14–$28), Waimea-grown salads ($11–$19), seafood and steak ($29–$45), and live jazz (Thurs–Sat night). It’s open 3¬ to 11pm daily, with early-bird specials from 3 to 5pm (www.redwatercafe.com; 808/885-9299).
Tropical Dreams: Ice Cream Reveries
Founded in North Kohala in 1983, ultra-rich Tropical Dreams ★★★ ice cream is sold all over the island now, but you’ll find the most flavors at the retail store next to its Waimea factory, 66-1250 Lalamilo Farm Rd. (off Hwy. 19; www.tropicaldreamsicecream.com; 888/888-8031). Try the Tahitian vanilla, lychee, or poha, or sorbets like dragonfruit, passion-guava, or white pineapple ($3.50 for an 8 oz. cup—the smallest size). It’s open weekdays 9am to 5pm.
The Hamakua Coast
Although dinner options are growing in Honokaa, it still pays to plan ahead, since restaurants often close early. In Honokaa, Italian bistro Café Il Mondo, 45-3880 Mamane St. (www.cafeilmondo.com; 808/775-7711), serves pizza ($13–$19), calzones ($14), and, at dinner, homey entrees such as roast chicken and beef lasagna ($17, including salad). It’s open Monday to Saturday, from 11am to 2pm and 5 to 8pm, with live music Thursday–Saturday. Closer to Hwy. 19, the iconic, counter-service Tex Drive-In & Restaurant, 45-690 Pakalana St. (www.texdriveinhawaii.com; 808/775-0598) is worth braving possible tour-bus crowds for its malasadas, large, chewy Portuguese sweet bread doughnut holes that are fried to order, dusted in sugar, and available with a filling, such as Bavarian cream, tropical jellies, or chocolate. Founded in 1969, Tex also serves breakfast, burgers, and Hawaiian plate lunches ($4–$11), but the malasadas are the real draw; open daily 6am to 8pm.
About 19 miles south, the Papaaloa Country Store & Cafe, 35-2032 Old Mamalahoa Hwy. (www.papaaloacountrystore.com; 808/339-7614), offers wonderful browsing in the 1910 plantation-era store while you wait for a home-style breakfast, burger, or plate lunch; delicious tropical pastries await in the bakery. Restaurant and bar hours are 1 to 7pm Monday through Thursday, till 8pm Friday and Saturday (store opens at 7am). It’s a short detour off Hwy. 11.
The second largest city in Hawaii hosts a raft of unpretentious eateries that reflect East Hawaii’s plantation heritage. A prime example of the former is Ken’s House of Pancakes, 1730 Kamehameha Ave., at the corner of Hwys. 19 and 11 (www.kenshouseofpancakes.com; 808/935-8711), which serves heaping helpings of local dishes, amazingly fluffy omelets, and American fare 24/7. The Hawaiian Style Café, 681 Manono St. (www.hawaiianstylecafe.com; 808/969-9265), is an outpost of the Waimea favorite that also has dinner hours; it’s open 7am to 2pm Tuesday through Sunday, 5 to 8:30pm Tuesday to Thursday, and 5 to 9pm Friday and Saturday. Food comes on paper plates at the venerable Café 100 (www.cafe100.com; 808/935-8683), 969 Kilauea Ave., but the price is right for more than 30 varieties of “loco moco” (meat, eggs, rice, and gravy), starting at $4, and other hearty fare. It’s open weekdays 6:45am to 8:30pm, and Saturday till 7:30pm. Miyo’s, 564 Hinano St. (www.miyosrestaurant.com; 808/935-8825), prides itself on “home-style” Japanese cooking, with locally sourced ingredients. It’s open Monday through Saturday for lunch (11am–2pm) and dinner (5:30–8:30pm), with main courses under $20.
Make reservations for tiny Moon and Turtle, 51 Kalakaua St. (808/961-0599), where the fusion farm-to-table, shared-plate menu changes daily, 5:30 to 9pm Tues–Sat. At press time, the oceanfront, all-day restaurant in the Grand Naniloa Hotel, Hula Hulas (http://hulahulashilo.com; 808/932-4545) was still in its infancy, but hopefully the kitchen will live up to its spectacular setting.
Options are limited here, so plan meals carefully and stock up on supplies in Kailua-Kona or Hilo.
In addition to the listings below, look for the Tuk-Tuk Thai Food truck at the Cooper Center, 19-4030 Old Volcano Rd. (www.tuk-tukthaifood.com; 808/747-3041), from 11am to 6pm Tuesday to Saturday. You can even call ahead for its hearty curries and noodle dishes ($11–$14), a better value than the Thai restaurant down the road. Tiny Ohelo Café, 19-4005 Haunani Rd. (www.ohelocafe.com; 808/339-7865; daily 11:30am–3pm and 5:30–9pm), may have a casual ambiance but it aims high with wood-fired pizzas ($12–$14), fresh catch ($25), pastas, and salads; reservations are recommended.
A Taste of Volcano Wines
Volcano Winery (www.volcanowinery.com; 808/967-7772) has been a unique pit stop for visitors since 1993, when it began selling traditional grape wines, honey wines, and grape wines blended with tropical fruits in a location near Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Del and Marie Bothof have owned the winery since 1999, planting Pinot Noir and Cayuga White grapes in 2000 and expanding into tea—a much better option, as recent awards show—in 2006. Wine tastings, for ages 21 and up, are $7 to $10; there’s also a picnic area under cork and koa trees. The tasting room and store, 35 Pii Mauna Dr. in Volcano (just off Hwy. 11 near the 30-mile marker), are open 10am to 5:30pm daily.
Driving from Kailua-Kona to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, it’s good to know about two places in Naalehu for a quick pick-me-up. The Punaluu Bake Shop (www.bakeshophawaii.com; 866/366-3501 or 808/929-7343) is the busier tourist attraction, famed for its multihued varieties of sweet Portuguese bread now seen in stores across the islands; clean restrooms, a deli counter, and gift shop are also part of the appeal. It’s open daily from 9am¬to 5pm. Across the highway, off a small lane, lies Hana Hou Restaurant (www.hanahourestaurant.com; 808/929-9717), which boasts a bakery counter with equally tempting sweets (try the macnut pie or passionfruit bar) and a retro dining room serving simple but fresh and filling plate lunches ($13–$17), burgers, sandwiches, and quesadillas; it’s open Sunday through Thurs 8am to 7pm, Friday and Saturday until 8pm.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.