Best Vacation Restaurants on the Big Island of Hawaii
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 take 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 experience count!
Best restaurants with ocean views:
- Manta & Pavilion Wine Bar at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel has beautiful ocean and sunset views. Every time we’ve dine here there was live music, which was sometimes accompanied with authentic hula dancing. This is a restaurant that would be good for celebrating a special occasion.
- Brown’s Beach House at the Fairmont Orchid is located right by the beach, with lovely sunset views. This is another good restaurant for a special occasion.
- Lava Lava Beach Club is quite a bit more on the lively side with amazing sunset views. They usually have live entertainment. A few 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.
- Napua at Mauna Lani Beach Club is located beach front.
- Naupaka Grill is the poolside bar at Westin Hapuna Beach Resort. It offers everything from shareable appetizers to small plates to casual fare. They have live entertainment most nights. Check their happy hour specials to save money.
- Kona Inn in Kailua-Kona is a restaurant that we’ve not yet tried, but have heard great things about.
Excellent Hawaiian fusion cuisine without ocean 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. 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 Seafood, Steakhouse & Sushi Bar in Queens Marketplace in Waikoloa is popular with locals and visitors. Check with them to see if they’re offering either early bird or late night specials.
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 and/or following our popular Big Island scenic drive from Kona to Hilo.
Some of Hawaii’s More Unique Restaurants:
- Kilauea Lodge in Volcano has an atmosphere that reminds us of a mountain lodge with the historic fireplace.
- We haven’t dined at The Rim restaurant, but wanted to mention it for their outstanding volcano view of Halemaumau.
- 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.
- In Kealakekua, we loved Rebel Kitchen.
Best budget-friendly restaurants:
- Kohala Burgers and Tacos in Kawaihae was a big hit with us. If I remember correctly, menu items were under $15 with many under $10. Here’s a photo of their menu.
- Cafe 100 in Hilo. You can easily eat for $5 or less at Cafe 100 and there’s always a lot of locals here, which is a great indicator for delicious food.
- Big Island Pizza Napoletana is located in a shopping and business district just south of the Kona Airport. You can eat in or order food to go.
- The prices at the restaurant in Costco can’t be beat. Costco is located in a shopping and business district just south of the Kona Airport. You don’t have to be a member to access the restaurant.
- There’s a good selection of fast food restaurants in the Food Outlet/Court at Queens Marketplace in Waikoloa.
- Hawaii Island farmers markets have food stands selling local favorites.
Best Hawaii-style pub: Kona Pub and Brewery in Kailua-Kona. We particularly like their kalua pulled pork nachos.
When I first published this article, Yelp wasn’t on our radar. Now we use Yelp at home and when we travel. It’s a great place to check restaurant reviews. Their search feature helps you find exactly what you want in terms of location, meal time, pricing, indoor or outdoor dining and much, much more. Yelp is really our go-to for finding restaurants.
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
- Waimea 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.)
- Kohala Coast Restaurants (This is where many people vacationing on Hawaii Island will be based.)
- Kailua-Kona Restaurants (This area is more commonly just referred to as Kona by most tourists. Kona is a very popular tourist destination. TripAdvisor lists over 100 restaurants here.)
- Keauhou Restaurants
- Kealakekua Restaurants
- Captain Cook Restaurants
- Volcano Restaurants
- Hilo Restaurants (There are over 100 in total)
- Pepeekeo Restaurants
- Honokaa Restaurants
- Hawaii The Big Island Revealed is usually very reliable guidebook for restaurant recommendations.
Big Island Luaus
See our Big Island Luau page for pricing, schedules, locations and reviews.
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.
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.
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
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. 🙂
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.
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”
Thanks for all the great info!
Scott – you are welcome! Please come back and let us know which restaurants you liked after your trip.
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!
Hi JulieAnn – thank you for sharing your favorites. Fresh seafood, pastries, coffee and poke – sound like winners to me!
HVG – FYI – Viking’s Landing is no longer listed as a Hilo restaurant on TripAdvisor. That feedback form worked.
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.
HVG – Thanks a bunch for adding those tasty recommendations!
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?
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 https://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!
After having a “just okay” meal at the Island Fish & Chips in Waikoloa Beach Resort, I’m removing it from my recommended list.
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)
You are really oriented towards the big resorts, which I guess is what you like. We live here and never bother going to any of them, as they are just too much like any hotel anywhere. We did have friends visit once who wanted to treat us to Roy’s and it was the worst and most overpriced meal I’ve ever had in a supposedly “good” restaurant (over $400 for the 4 of us with wine), so I recommend against them to my rental guests. Your experience must obviously have been different.
If any of your readers really want great poke, they need to go to Umeke’s in Kona at Hualalai & Kuakini. They are the hands-down winner, even beating out our old-timer Da Poke Shack. Big hunks of fresh tuna, delicious sides, and super friendly. We eat there a lot. They also opened up a sit-down restaurant in the Old Industrial Area, but we found it less inviting, noisy, and not as good (more bar-like, which is not our thing).
We like Cafe Pesto in Kawaihae, particularly at lunch (pizza, crab cakes, calzone, liliko’i juice) and their desserts – their coconut tart is so better than the Hilo location’s (warm anglaise sauce vs. cold & congealed) and their deep, dark chocolate ganache will make any real chocolate lover happy.
Hi. Can any one advise me of anywhere we can book for Christmas Day that isn’t just a hotel buffet. We are travelling from the UK and Staying at the Royal Kona and I am looking for something a bit more special nearby would be great for our family of 4 treat.
You’ll probably need to head north of the Kona airport to the luxury resorts for something more special that’s not a buffet. Check the restaurants that we’ve listed with ocean views and try to book a table just before sunset for a special experience.
In Kona, the only fine(ish) dining restaurant that we know of is Huggos, but the last time we were there, we were not impressed with the food or the service.
Thanks, Sheila. We have booked a table at Huggos as nearby and Christmas Day set menu looks good. Will let you know what we think. Most reviews seem to be positive and should see the sun set too…
I hope you have a nice experience. Please do let us know how it goes.