Top 10 Places to Eat on the Big Island
One of our absolute favorite parts of traveling is trying new food. We were more than pleasantly surprised by the level of “I could eat nothing else and die happy” that we experienced in Hawaii. We didn’t ever eat anything that made us cringe, but we certainly had our favorites. Check ‘em out.
Um, yes please. Times five billion. We happened to be driving through Kona on our way back from a beach on a Sunday afternoon, and randomly decided to drive through Ali’I Drive rather than the main highway through town. Ali’I Drive ended up being closed, which is remarkable, as it is the main road trough Kona, giving access to all of the shops, beaches, restaurants, resorts, etc. Turns out there was a Farmer’s Market going on, and we figured if it was a big enough deal to shut down Ali’I Drive, we’d better stop. The little stand we stopped at was Kona Dogs. I had the grilled avocado, and Nate had the fish taco. It was a little pricey – $14 for the grilled avocado (it did have fresh crab on it, so…#worthit), and $7 for the taco. Would we pay that again? In a heartbeat.
We actually stopped here on accident because the restaurant we were hoping to eat at was closed. So glad we ended up eating here! The service here is the most friendly service we got on the island, and you know the food is good if the restaurant is packed with locals, which it was. The way this restaurant works, is you look at a hand-held menu while you stand in line, order at the counter, and they bring you your food when it’s ready. If you order a drink they give you a special magical piece of laminated paper that you give to the bartender after you’ve paid, and suddenly you have an ice cold Longboard in your hand. They have a self-serve salsa station, where you can help yourself to several different kinds of salsa, all of which were amazing. Water is self-serve as well. And when you’re done eating? There is a bussing station for your dishes. Clean up your own mess. The food was fantastic, and I wish Lucy’s would open up a taqueria on the mainland. Also, it’s pretty cheap for eating out in Hawaii. You could get three tacos, rice and beans for under $10.
Pineapple’s – Fresh Island Cuisine
Everything on the menu here looked amazing. We only had an appetizer and drinks, but I’ve got to say these were the best nachos I’ve ever had in a restaurant. I wish I could tell you I tried anything else on the menu…who just orders nachos? But the chips were homemade, the guacamole and sour cream were generously piled on, the pineapple salsa was a nice touch, and it was big enough that both of us couldn’t polish them off. But seriously, they had a great menu featuring many “I’m in Hawaii, the fish and fruit will be fresh, there is no way that could not be heavenly” options. Also, it was the strongest long island ice tea I’ve ever had, which I appreciated. Their bartender knows what he/she is doing. Entrées could be a bit pricey, but for Hawaii, it was pretty reasonable (burgers and sandwiches are $12-14, fish and chips $13, entrees are as much as $25). For two drinks and an appetizer, we got out of there (after tip) for right at $30. For Hawaii, that’s going to be pretty typical, so you might as well make sure you are getting excellent food for a typical price and eat there.
Da Poke Shack
If I could only eat here for the rest of my life, I would die happy. For all of you raw fish lovers out there, this is your happy place. We had never had Poke before, and turns out it is basically a raw fish salad. And by salad, I mean raw fish slathered in delicious sauce. Da Poke Shack has two locations in Kona, one is very conveniently located on Ali’i Drive. I got the Poke Bowl, which allows you to choose two types of Poke, one side, and gives you a generous scoop of rice. Nathan got the Poke Plate which just let you choose more poke and more sides. I tried muscles for the side. I had never had muscles before, so I was being adventurous. They were good, but ended up being way too salty for me. I tried the spicy garlic poke and the dynamite poke (a specialty of Da Poke Shack), and both exceeded my expectations. This is a MUST while in Hawaii.
Punalu’u Bake Shop
Roughly half way between Kona and Hilo is a beautiful gem that must not be missed. “The Southernmost Bakery in the USA.” This place is a favorite of the locals as well as filled with tourists, due to the mouth-watering malasada. Malasada is a Portuguese donut. And it is heavenly. They come in many flavors, and we tried traditional (our favorite), passionfruit (our second favorite), chocolate crème filled, apple pie filled, taro (not our favorite), and mango. We don’t eat a lot of sweets…but Nathan polished off TWELVE of these in one day. Pro tip – they really aren’t as good the next day. Eat as many of them fresh as you can. And they certainly aren’t inedible the next day. The coffee here was tolerable, and they also offered other lunch items like sandwiches, salads, and wraps in case you need more food for the road. They also serve home-made ice cream, which we didn’t try, but based on how many other people were looking quite satisfied while licking their ice cream cones, I’m assuming it didn’t disappoint.
The Coffee Shack
Okay, we are serious coffee snobs. So though we have great appreciation for a really good cup of coffee, we are also capable with being completely content with a mediocre cup of coffee. The Coffee Shack needs to find another name, because they shouldn’t be advertising that they specialize in coffee. It is very rare that I can’t or won’t drink a cup of coffee, and the latte that I paid $5.25 for was not drinkable. Nathan had a cappuccino, and it was drinkable, but barely. I don’t know what the cruel human did to make Kona coffee so horrific, but they should never be allowed to touch coffee again. Don’t drink the coffee. BUT, they served the most delicious carrot cake I’ve ever had in my life. They had a great breakfast and lunch menu as well. It is worth the stop even just for the carrot cake. Oh yeah, and you sit on a balcony overlooking the jungle and ocean. This was quite possibly one of the best views we had from a restaurant. The view and the cake make this more than worth a stop. But seriously, don’t bother ordering coffee. It’s BAD. But for real, stop here and eat cake.
Broke Da Mouth
Amazing garlic shrimp. And the beef ribs are to die for. Worth the stop. And don’t forget to use whatever magic sauce they have on the tables in old bottles…pretty sure it is made from angel tears. You can also buy the sauce by the bottle and take it home with you. Wishing I’d done that…
Horrible service, great fish tacos, amazing sweet potato fries. And it is ocean front, so the view certainly didn’t disappoint. This place felt a bit pricey as well…the tacos were listed as “market price” and when we got the bill each plate was $16.99. Were they good tacos? Yes. Would I pay $16.99 for them again? Probably not. You can get good tacos anywhere on the island, and for much less than that.
Great service, excellent sushi. You will probably want a reservation. We didn’t think we would need a reservation and we got a pretty horrified look from the hostess when we walked in and our name wasn’t on the list. We lucked out and were able to be seated right away (it helped that we also go there right as they opened). By the time we left, there was a HUGE group of people waiting to be seated.
South Kona Fruit Stand
Sandwiches, coffee, fruit, fresh fruit smoothies, and home-made macaroons? Yes please. The pastrami sandwiches were mediocre, but they filled us up. The smoothies were made right there with all fresh fruit, and were to die for. The macaroons were home-made, huge and delicious. They have a seating area outside that is very welcoming. If you need a snack on your way by, it’s worth stopping.
Bottom line – Hawaii has amazing food. Take advantage of it, and eat your heart out. The good news is, most of it is pretty healthy, so as long as you don’t only eat Portuguese donuts, you will probably still fit in your swim suit by the time you leave. Enjoy!