Last updated: January 6, 2020
As we keep visiting the Big Island of Hawaii, we will keep updating this list with a focus on small, local and unique businesses. When there is only one location of the place mentioned, if you click on its name, you will be taken to a Google Map where you can pin the location for future reference.
Da Poke Shack: Located in Kona, Da Poke shack is one of the more popular poke places and it’s delicious but not cheap at $27.99 per pound. Considering how expensive sub-par poke is here in Vancouver, the poke at Da Poke Shack pricing is on par but the quality is outstanding, it’s never frozen and not salty. More information: http://dapokeshack.com/
Hale l’a Da Fish House: Located in Kawaihae, Hale I’a Da Fish House is our favorite place to grab poke to go. It’s a very small place that sells out fast to it’s best to go to early and remember they’re only open Monday-Friday during the summer and Monday-Saturday in the fall/winter. At $12.99 per pound, they have some of the freshest poke we’ve ever had in Hawaii and it’s not overly salty. This small family owned and run poke shack credits the taste and quality of their poke from the love they feel in making it and sharing it! More information: http://dafishhouse.restaurantwebexpert.com/
Umeke’s: With 2 locations in the Kona area, Umeke’s offers up delicious poke bowls and other food in either a small restaurant with counter service or a sit-down restaurant (there is a poke bar for takeout as well). More information: http://www.umekesrestaurants.com/locations
For craft beer/cider:
Ola Brew: Located in Kona, Ola Brew has the best beer on the island and tasty craft ciders brewed in-house. You can enjoy the beer and cider in the tasting room or purchase cans and get growler fills. On our last visit in December 2019, we noticed that Ola Brew has expanded to include restaurant seating and a food menu focusing on poke bowls, poke melts, salads and flatbread pizzas. The poke actually comes from Da Poke Shack, making this a great collaboration between two local business with excellent products and high standards! More information: https://www.olabrewco.com/
Daylight Mind Coffee Company: Sadly, Daylight Mind has closed all their locations on the island, including our favorite one by the water in Kona. Daylight Mind’s café setting was one of my favorite ones in the world; you could sit in a rocking chair as you face the ocean and enjoy your coffee. Since it has closed, it has re-opened as Papa Kona Restaurant and Cafe but we have not visited yet. More information: https://papakonarestaurant.com/
For happy hour:
Lava Lava Beach Club: Located in Waikoloa on the beach, the Lava Lava Club is a great place to have a casual happy hour barefoot on the beach. Happy hour runs daily from 15:00-17:00 and offers discounts on select draft beers, cocktails, wine and food. The Lava Lava Beach Club is a very family friendly place so don’t worry about bringing children. We love how casual it is here and find that this type of setting is missing from other Hawaiian Islands. Since we’ve last visited, they have expanded to add a lawn area where you can play games as well as enjoy drinks and food. We would also recommend the Lava Lava Beach Club for those wanting to enjoy the stunning sunsets on the west coast of the Big Island. More information: https://lavalavabeachclub.com/bigisland/
Kuleana Rum Shack: The Kuleana Rum Shack is part of a Kuleana Rum Works, a rum distillery on the island. Located in the Queen’s Marketplace near Waikoloa Beach, the Kuleana Rum Shack is a full-serviced restaurant open from 11:30-21:30 most days. During 15:00-17:30, they have a happy hour which drink and food specials. The setting is a little bit more formal than the Lava Lava Beach Club but the open air interior is actually quite comfortable and fun. We really enjoyed the mojitos and the poke nachos and would definitely order them again. The local smoked meat was also good but seemed to be lacking something, like a sauce so we are not sure we’d order that one again. More information: https://kuleanarum.com/pages/rum-shack-1.
South Kona Fruit Stand: If you’re in the captain Cook area, check out the South Kona Fruit Stand to find exotic fruits and veggies grown locally as well as home-made snacks like sandwiches and smoothies. More information: http://www.southkonafruitstand.com
For huli-huli chicken and ribs:
Randy’s Huli Chicken and Ribs: Located off the Mamalahoa Highway in Kealakekua (South of Kona), Randy’s Huli Chicken and Ribs serves up chicken and ribs a-la-carte or in the plate lunch format with rice and corn. We enjoyed our chicken and rib plates on one of the picnic tables with a view and enjoyed the food and service very much. More information: https://www.restaurantji.com/hi/kealakekua/randys-huli-chicken-and-ribs-/
GJ’s Huli Chicken: GJ’s Huli Chicken is a food truck operation that moves between locations; we visited when it was parked in Hawai at the Kohala Welcome Centre and it also parks in Waimea (check their Facebook page for the schedule), making it a good option for those staying in the Kawaihae area. GJ’s serves up plate lunches; chicken or ribs, as well as a-la-carte options and pastries. We opted for a half-chicken to go with fresh greens we picked up at the farmer’s market and really enjoyed the chicken which was moist and tasty, even if it was not fresh off the grill. More information: https://www.facebook.com/pg/GJsHuliChickenAndFilipinoRestaurant/
For salad bar/prepared food:
Island Naturals Market: With locations in Kona, Hilo, and Pahoa, Island Naturals Market is a good place to find a salad bar, prepared salads and other foods, as well as organic produce and natural foods. Lots of options here for vegans. More information: https://www.islandnaturals.com/
For thin crust pizza:
Big Island Pizza: With a location just outside of Kona and one in Hilo, Big Island Pizza is a great place to grab a takeout thin-crust pizza or to eat in. More information: http://www.bigislandpizza.com/
For local snacks:
Kona Chips: Located in the Captain Cook area, Kona Chips is a great place to visit to pick up some snacks, like their delicious and addictive handmade kettle chips. The plain chips are good but it’s the furikake that we love for their sweet and salty taste on a super crispy potato chip. They also have other local products and snacks, like lillikoi butter, mac nut brittle, and shrimp chips to name a few. More information: https://konachips.net/
For a farmer’s market experience:
Kamuela Farmer’s Market: Located in Waimea, the Kamuela Farmer’s Market is open on Saturdays from 07:30-noon and offers up locally made food and other products: from art to moringa plants to racelette and smoothies, there something for everyone. With plenty of food options, it’s a good place to grab a snack as you explore the Waimea area. We love Lebanese food and recommend the falafel plate at Tabaraka; at about $12USD it’s a healthy and affordable meal that can be shared. For more information: http://www.kamuelafarmersmarket.com/.
Maku’u Farmer’s Market: This market runs from 08:00-14:00 on Sundays and is located between Keaau and Pahoa on the Hilo side of the island. It has numerous fruit and vegetable stands with staple crops but also more exotic ones that grow on the island. If we lived here, I could see myself coming here and buying bushels of avocados, ginger and turmeric root, potatoes and greens. If you are hungry, they also have a few food stalls; Thai food seems popular! Tabaraka Lebanese food was also here the last time we visited this market in December 2019. If you can, we recommend trying some Puna Goat Cheese with the La Tour Lillikoi Sugar crisps you can buy from Foodland in Mauna Lani; what a great combination! Please note you do need to pay $2 to enter the parking lot here and they have clean restrooms. If you are planning on visiting Hilo after the market, make sure to eat at the market as many of our top pick restaurants in Hilo were closed (lots of things were closed on Sundays). We are not sure we’d make the drive over just to visit this market again. More information: https://www.facebook.com/pg/makuufarmersmarket/about/
For take-out burgers and fries:
Kohala Burger & Taco and Surf Burger: These two restaurants are in Kawaihae, just across from Da Fish House. They serve Hawaii grass fed beef burgers and other fast-food items. We used to eat here when it was just Kohala Burger & Taco because you could order online to get a discount and select burger boxes which was super convenient to grab food to take to the beach. Between May 2019 and December 2019, the concept changed; Kohala Burger & Taco and Surf Burger share a kitchen and similar menu items but operate independently, or so it appears. We had food at both Kohala Burger & Taco and Surf Burger in December 2019; the food is very similar but the regular burgers are cheaper and have organic mixed greens at Surf Burger vs. Kohala Burger. We pretty much ordered the same meal at both and it was about $6 cheaper at Surf Burgers. The hours are also a little unpredictable; sometimes they are both open or only one is open so it is best to check each of their websites to double-check. Overall, we enjoyed the meal and would get this again even if we find the new concept and direction very confusing and baffling to say the least. Service was still friendly and helpful despite the changes. For more information: http://www.kohalaburgerandtaco.com/and https://surfburger.com/
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For casual home-cooked farm-to-table breakfast and lunch:
Waipio Cookhouse: Permanently closed as of May 2019. This open-aired restaurant with stunning views serves up common and local favourites using local ingredients exceeded our expectations. Everything is made fresh and to order and it’s BYOB. We ordered the Kanahonua Farms burger served with homemade pickles and slaw and for $10, it was a budget friendly meal that didn’t compromise on taste, quality, and quantity. We really enjoyed the Hawaiian bun’s sweetness and the freshness of the tomatoes and lettuce on the burger. Next time, Jason wants to get the lamb burger and I want to try the fish salad. For more information: https://waipiocookhouse.info/ .
For local desserts:
Two Ladies Kitchen: if you find yourself in Hilo, make your way to Two Ladies Kitchen for some delicious local desserts all home-made in this small bakery. The specialty here is “mochi”, and they are renowned for their strawberry mocha. Due to ongoing popularity, you may want to pre-order because they sell out fast. More information: https://www.yelp.ca/biz/two-ladies-kitchen-hilo. If you cannot make it to Hilo, you can purchase packages at the KTA store in Waimea.
For a grocery store with extended hours:
Foodland Farms Mauna Lani: We visited the Foodland Farms in Mauna Lani during our last visit because they’re open daily from 06:00-23:00 and have a great selection of general groceries, produce, beer, wine, and poke. For anyone staying at the Westin Hapuna, this is your best option to pick-up supplies. More information: https://www.foodland.com/stores/foodland-farms-mauna-lani
For an acai bowl:
Basik Cafe: Located in Kona on the beach stretch in the town’s more tourist commercial center, Basik Cafe offers acai bowls and smoothies in an open air-shack style setting. More information: http://www.basikacai.com/
Do you like to research where to eat and drink before your trip? Do you prefer local places or chains that you’re used to? Is there anything on this list that we should add?
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