Where are the Best Restaurants on the Big Island of Hawaii?

Appetizers to share from Lava Lava Beach Club

Appetizers to share from Lava Lava Beach Club

When we first started visiting Hawaii, the Big Island in 2004, we had a hard time finding great restaurants. Since then, the number of restaurants and the overall quality has improved dramatically. We’ve definitely found some winners.

We’ll start with our personal picks and then move on to the wisdom of the crowds with TripAdvisor, and finish up with recommends from guidebooks.

Go Visit Hawaii Picks

The following restaurants are ones that we particularly like after multiple trips to the Big Island. We tend to focus on restaurants with great views and Hawaii regional cuisine. We don’t our recommendations lightly. In fact, we create this list as if we’re giving it to our family and friends. For us dining is a big part of our Hawaii vacations and we want to make every dining experience count!

Best Beach Views & Most Romantic: Brown’s Beach House at the Fairmont Orchid is located right by the beach, with lovely sunset views The CanoeHouse at the Mauna Lani serves fresh, locally grown Hawaii regional cuisine with beach and sunset views. Lava Lava Beach Club is a bit more on the lively side with amazing sunset views. Some of the Lava Lava Beach Club tables are right on the sand. Kamuela Provision Company at the Hilton Waikoloa Village is right on the water’s edge. For a great lunch with an ocean view, we really like Napua at Mauna Lani Beach Club.

Great Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine without the Beach Views: Merriman’s in upcountry Waimea offers fantastically prepared farm-to-table, Hawaii regional cuisine with excellent service. Roy’s Restaurant at Waikoloa Beach Resort. Their 3-course prix fixe menu is always very good value. We’ve never had a bad meal at Roy’s. I recommend you make reservations and if possible request a seat by the window next to the lake. Sansei in Queens Marketplace in Waikoloa is popular with locals and visitors.

Best Sushi: Sansei at the Queens Marketplace at Waikoloa Beach Resort.

Best Malasadas: Tex Drive-In off Highway 19 in Honoka’a (near the mile 43 marker) Check it out if you are going to Waipio Valley

Some of Hawaii’s More Unique Restaurants: Kilauea Lodge in Volcano has an atmosphere that reminds us of an Appalachian mountain lodge with the historic fireplace. In Hawi, we really like the eclectic bamboo-inspired decor and very, very tasty food at Bamboo Restaurant. Near the Hamakua Coast, a great place for lunch and a farm tour is at the Hawaiian Vanilla Company. If you want to have a delicious and unique vanilla-infused lunch, reserve in advance. We haven’t dined at the newly opened The Rim restaurant, but wanted to mention it for their outstanding volcano view of Halemaumau.

Best Cheap Eats: Cafe 100 in Hilo. You can easily eat here for $5 or less at Cafe 100. Another good winner for cheap eats is Yong’s Kal-Bi Korean Restaurant in Waimea. The food is delicious and for around $10, you’ll get a large plate full of food.

Best Pub Hawaii-Style: Kona Pub and Brewery in Kailua-Kona. We particularly like their kalua pulled pork nachos. They’ve recently added a lilikoi (passion fruit) brew that’s really good.

Best Non-Touristy, Reasonably-Priced, Slightly Upscale Restaurant: (Long title, eh?)  Cafe Pesto is a local favorite and  has locations in Hilo and on the Kona side at Kawaihae Harbor. You won’t feel like you’re paying overpriced resort prices here and the food is very good and fresh. This restaurant is located by a working, industrial-like harbor so the views may not be ideal.

Top of My List for Next Time: We’d love to check out is Huggo’s on the Rocks in Kona. We tried to get there last time, but couldn’t get a reservation.

TripAdvisor & Yelp

When I first published this post, Yelp wasn’t on our radar. Now we use Yelp quite often both on the web and on our mobile phones. It’s a great place to check restaurant reviews.

Thousands of TripAdvisor members rate Hawaii restaurants. I’ll organize the TripAdvisor restaurant listings by geography. Some of the geography they use is a bit odd, but we’ll make it work for us. We’ll start on the Kohala Coast/Waimea area and work our way around the island counter clockwise. So as not to create information overload, I’ll try to only list the areas that you’ll likely be nearby.

Kohala Coast (Including Hawi, Waimea/Kamuela, Waikoloa)

  • Hawi and Kapa’au Restaurants (These small towns on the northern part of Hawaii have just a few restaurants.)
  • Kawaihae Restaurants (There are only two restaurants listed here, but they very well liked and recommended by locals.)
  • Kamuela Restaurants (This is where TripAdvisor uses some strange geography. They lump in restaurants in Waimea (Kamuela) with restaurants at the Mauna Lani resort area and Mauna Kea/Hapuna Beach areas.)
  • Waikoloa Beach Resort Restaurants

Kona Coast

Hilo Side

Guidebooks

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Though this article was originally published in 2008, we keep it updated with each visit. Restaurants and chefs come and go, so we like to keep the list as up to date as possible.

Do you have a favorite restaurant on Hawaii, the Big Island? Please comment to share your favorite.


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About Sheila Beal

Sheila Beal is the founder and editor of Go Visit Hawaii. You can connect with Sheila Beal on Twitter, Go Visit Hawaii on Facebook, or Sheila Beal on Google+.

16 comments

  1. We didn’t like the Big Island Steak House in Waikoloa. The service was good, but the quality of the food was equivalent to fried pub food.

    Skip the shave ice in Hawi at the Shave Ice/Fudge Shop Upstairs at the Mill. Their shave ice wasn’t even snow cone quality.

  2. Sheila,
    As a long time resident of the Big Island, the very best kept secret is a great Korean food Restaurant in the KTA shopping center in Waimea. Yong’s Kalbi has the best meat jun on the planet. The food is local and well made. You get great food at plate lunch prices that will shock you. This has to be the best deal you can get for great food. They will also pack your meal for take out so that you can eat it at the beach or at the park….check it out but don’t tell anybody my secret..jerry

  3. Hi Jerry – I was hoping you’d comment! You’re Korean food restaurant sounds like a real gem! I’ll definitely give that a try next time! Thanks for adding that suggestion, er secret. :)

  4. Living on the Hilo side of the Big Island, I have eaten at most of the restaurants listed at Trip Advisor. I don’t know why Viking’s Landing is on the list, they closed years ago and I just called the number listed and it isn’t them.

    As for Kuhio Grille, I ate the Hawaiian lau lau plate there and got really, really sick. I also got the run around for days trying to contact the manager so I gave up and vowed never to eat there again.

  5. HVG – Yeah, I guess TripAdvisor should do a better job maintaining their site, but I’m sure they depend a great deal on their members providing the reviews. Plus there are dealing with probably hundreds of thousands of restaurants around the world. Thanks for letting us know about Kuhio Grille and that we should avoid it. Would you care to share with us what restaurants you do recommend on the Hilo side? We’d love to hear your insight.

    UPDATE: I found a link on TripAdvisor where you can send them a message to suggest a correction. I sent a message that they should remove Viking’s Landing.

    In case anyone else is interested, this is the url for sending TripAdvisor feedback : http://www.tripadvisor.com/Feedback
    From their pull down menu, you can select “Suggest a Correction”

  6. Thanks for all the great info!

  7. Scott – you are welcome! Please come back and let us know which restaurants you liked after your trip.

  8. For Hilo, I’d add Pescatore. Seriously, the fresh seafood was amazing! O’Keefe’s Bakery has fabulous sandwiches, bread, and pastries. Kope Kope has exceptional coffee (the Ka’u is our favorite – way better than Kona – they get it from the Hilo Coffee Mill), but good food too. And the poke truck is soooo good!

  9. Hi JulieAnn – thank you for sharing your favorites. Fresh seafood, pastries, coffee and poke – sound like winners to me!

  10. HVG – FYI – Viking’s Landing is no longer listed as a Hilo restaurant on TripAdvisor. That feedback form worked.

  11. A really nice bistro is Hilo Bay Cafe. They have good burgers for lunch, I have never been there for dinner.

    Also Ken’s pancake house has good Big Island antibiotic free burgers, and breakfast any time of the day–they are open 24 hours.

    For a quick lunch, Maui Taco at the Prince Kuhio Mall. They have a fresh all you can eat salsa bar.

    If you like local plate lunches, the best kept secret to where the locals go is Sputniks.

  12. HVG – Thanks a bunch for adding those tasty recommendations!

  13. Hi,

    I am thinking of going to the Big island and want to know what part is the least rainy part. Where would you recommend staying on a budget, and close to the ocean that is usable?

    Thanks

  14. Hi Roz –

    The Kohala Coast (about 20 to 30 mins North of Kona on the West side of the island) receives the very least amount of rain. That being said, Kona isn’t a particularly rainy area, it just gets a bit more. You can read more about the driest spots of Hawaii here http://www.govisithawaii.com/2008/08/28/where-to-stay-in-hawaii-to-avoid-rain/

    As far as budget places to stay, hotels in Kona tend to be cheaper than the Kohala Coast.

    As far as beaches, make sure you consult the Hawaii Beach Safety website http://oceansafety.soest.hawaii.edu/?i=hawaii and read their recommendations. Note that conditions can change based on the season and really from day to day.

    I might suggest you consider a resort in Waikoloa. That beach resort is along the Kohala Coast and the beach at Anaehoomalu Bay (often called A-Bay) tends to be a bit protected, but again, make sure you check the beach safety website. There’s a Marriott and a Hilton at Waikoloa. Plus, there’s quite a few condos that you can rent that tend to be very budget friendly.

    There are tons of great deals available now….it’s definitely THE time to go to Hawaii on a budget!

  15. After having a “just okay” meal at the Island Fish & Chips in Waikoloa Beach Resort, I’m removing it from my recommended list.

  16. A new “Huggo’s” devision called Lava Lava in the Wikaloa area. Check out their web site. Great lunch on the beach at A-Bay (February 2013)

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