Hawaii Island is one of those places you have to see to believe. From this unique and distinctive land comes livestock and seafood raised or caught with sustainability and respect, some of the world’s best coffee grown from volcanic soil, and miles of gorgeous land sprouting fruits and vegetables you won’t find anywhere else in the U.S. Some of the best restaurants are family-owned and bursting with local pride, translating into menus full of the best Hawaiian ingredients grown throughout the vast landscape ranging from volcanic to rainforest, and the sea surrounding the island.
For views with your meal, you can’t do much better than Huggo’s, a family-owned and award-winning restaurant that dates back to the late 1960s. In true Hawaii fashion, Huggo’s features locally sourced ingredients and fresh island-caught fish, with a selection of non-seafood dishes, such as the famous Teriyaki Steak, to choose from as well.
This diner-esque restaurant on the east side of the Big Island offers a casual atmosphere and a massive following with one promise: you won’t leave hungry. The local cuisine served up here can only be described as Hawaiian-style comfort food, attracting locals and in-the-know tourists with favorites such as chicken katsu, fish and chips, saimin, and loco mocos. Be warned; the portions are pretty huge (but you’ll still want to save room for pie).
This spot on the Hilo side is a must for local food in extra-large portions. Hawaii Island residents start lining up at Hawaiian Style Cafe at 7 a.m. on the weekends for massive pancakes and a breakfast that is sure to fuel them up for a day of relaxing, surfing, or hiking. One of the state’s favorite staples, Spam, is present all throughout the menu, so if you’ve been looking for a place to try the salty preserved pork in true Hawaii fashion, look no further than this neighborhood joint.
With a brand new location inside the Coconut Grove Marketplace in Kailua-Kona, Island Lava Java is the hotspot in town for a casual Sunday brunch. While its best-known for breakfast served with a side of glorious morning waterfront views and salty sea breezes from the top floor of the open-air cafe, don’t make the mistake of disregarding the lunch and dinner menus. Combined with a craft cocktail menu that is delicious without being pretentious, Lava Java can be enjoyed at any time of the day or night.
Fish Hopper Seafood & Steak
This open-air dining spot overlooks Kailua Bay and provides a casual ambiance with quality food on par with any fancy restaurant. The establishment advertises Kona's longest Happy Hour from 2 pm - 9:30 pm every day, featuring festive libations such as the Bucket of Fire and the Flaming Volcano. It doesn’t get any better than watching the boats pass by while enjoying good food at a reasonable price in a tropical setting.
Da Poke Shack
Da Poke Shack may look unassuming from the outside, but inside you’ll find the freshest, locally caught Hawaiian fish around (short of catching it yourself). No matter what time of day you arrive, there will most likely already be a line outside the door. But don’t worry, these guys are used to the queues and the employees inside have seen it all. You’ll want to arrive early in the day before they run out of fish, they don’t sacrifice quality for quantity and would rather wait for the boats to go out the next morning than serve less-than-perfect product.
Lava Lava Beach Club
This is what you think of when you picture casual ocean-side dining, swaying coconut trees, white sandy beaches, and sand between your toes. Many visitors who frequent the islands for their annual vacations traditionally have at least one meal at Lava Lava Beach Club, and the land where the restaurant sits can trace its ownership back to 1848. Don’t miss the Bloody Mary Beach Brunch served on Sundays or the live entertainment from legendary local performers such as Henry Kapono and John Cruz.
Jackie Rey’s Ohana Grill
With locations on both the Kona and Hilo sides of the island, there really is no good excuse for missing out on a meal at Jackie Rey’s Ohana Grill. Jackie’s advertises “classic American dishes with an island flair,” and the self-description couldn’t be more spot-on. The menu is full of local organic ingredients, fresh fish cut by hand in-house, local beers, and a wine list good enough to receive the Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator Magazine.
Ulu Ocean Grill and Sushi Lounge
If you’re going to splurge on one upscale meal on the Big Island, the Ulu Ocean Grill at the Four Seasons in Kona should be at the top of your list. According to Ulu, 75% of the food comes fresh from the Hawaiian waters or local farms, which is pretty impressive considering the abundance of sushi and unique seafood dishes on the menu. Pair that with a gorgeous ocean view and service quality endorsed by the Four Seasons name, it is truly the perfect place for a romantic evening out.
While Peter Merriman’s restaurants are likely to be found on most lists for best places to eat throughout the state, the location in Waimea on the Big Island is extra special. This was the famous chef’s first location and a forefront of the Hawaii Regional Cuisine movement that elevated local cooking to include the best quality fusion techniques and locally sourced ingredients. Guests keep coming back to appreciate the flagship restaurant’s humble, cozy ambiance, as well as a premier menu highlighting the best ingredients that Hawaii has to offer.