Looking for Big Island (Hawaii) Tips
This is my first post. I'm vacationing on the Big Island of Hawaii in October. I'll be staying in Waikoloa, where I know there aren't a lot of value places, but I was hoping that folks could give me tips for spots on the west side of the island. Though I'm generaly open for ideas, it would be great to find affordable Hawaiian, Japanese, or fish places. Thank you.
You may or may not be interested, as this probably doesn't fit your price criteria. But I had a horrible experience at the Hualalai Grille at the Four Seasons. Definitely would avoid this place.
Four Seasons quality. No.
Concierge made reservations for me. I was traveling alone on business. Heard about Alan Wong and wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
Drove to the hotel. Walked to the hostess station and .... no hostess. None for a few minutes. Walked a little bit into the restauarant, past the bar area, and still no hostess. Walked back to the station. I wasn't going to leave as I had driven approximately 20 minutes from the Fairmont and it was 8PM and I really didn't feel like driving back or into Kailua-Kona. So after a while, a hostess apppears and in tow is a old fart pervert who is basically making the moves on this young woman. Keeps asking her when she is back at the restaurant and that he would come back that night. Keeps touching her inappropriately. If she wants a way out, I'm it as she could say, "hold on sir, I need to get to this gentleman." Well, that doesn't happen. Instead she keeps talking to this guy. What is it about these rich old farts who think the world revolves around them? Anyway, finally after another 5 minutes after this, and I am getting pretty steamed, another hostess shows up. Doesn't say much to me, shows me to a table and seats me. At the last moment, acknowledges her colleagues behavior (but where was she?) and leaves.
Got a mango margarita. Pretty tasty. Probably the highlight of the entire meal.
Ordered the tasting menu.
Food was very heavy-handed. Very little subtlety.
First Course: "Soup and Sandwich"
Chilled Red & Yellow Tomato Soup: Was actually pretty good. Somewhat refreshing. My mood was beginning to improve after quaffing the magarita and this.
Then, it went downhill after the foie gras, kalua pig, and grilled cheese sandwich. That was just wrong. I like foie gras. I couldn't taste it with the kalua pig and cheese overpowering it. The only way I knew I was eating foie gras was because I took the bread off and confirmed I was eating it. I couldn't even tell by the mouth texture that I was eating foie gras. Poor choice of ingredients.
Second Course: Seafood Cake: Kona cold lobster, shrimp, dungeness crab, caper mayonnaise, tsukemono relish.
Another mistake. With all of the seafood ingredients, why not just choose one. A lobster cake, or a shrimp cake or a dungeness crab cake? This hodgepodge of crustaceans basically dilutes out all of the taste of each individual ingredient. Why not let just one or every single one stand out on its own? Besides, with a seafood cake the size a little over a quarter, there wasn't much seafood to taste. And to divide that up by a third, well, you just have the "essence of seafood" as an acquaintance of mine used to say.
Third Course: Pan Seared Diver Scallops. Pork hash risotto, sizzling Chinese Soy. Scallops were passable, not really memorable or outstanding. Tiny again. Scallops may be a misnomer. I think I got one or maybe 2. Again, quarter-sized. The risotto wasn't too bad. Good texture, slightly salty.
Fourth Course: Ginger Crusted Onaga. Miso Seasame Vinagrette, Kamuela Sweet Corn. Shiitake mushrooms. Yuck. I couldn't taste anything but for the ginger crust. Onaga or red snapper, is supposed to be a delicate fish, not very fishy and is traditionally served raw as sashimi or steamed whole. What were they thinking?
Fifth Course: Soy Braised Short Rib. Ginger scallion shrimp. Spicy Korean Sauce. I have to preface the fact that I do enjoy spicy food. Whether it be BBQ, Thai, Indian, Szechuan. But this was just too overpowering. I couldn't enjoy the taste or texture of the meat. What a disappointment.
Dessert: Hawaiian Vanilla Bean Cheesecake. Sea salt caramel sauce, Kona coffee ice cream. Dry and crumbly cheesecake. Had better from Sara Lee.
The service was really slow. At the end of the meal, one of the busboys came up to me and asked me where I was from and I told him. It was a weird conversation about how he wanted to travel up and down the West Coast. He also started asking me what I did and was doing in Hawaii. It was just bizarre. Then the waiter told me that they were swamped because there was a torrential downpour (that part was true) and it drove everyone into the restaurant, which was one of the few that was covered in the resort. I looked around. I saw maybe 5 or 6 tables occupied. That was probably a third or a fourth of the restaurant's capacity. I was the last diner that entered. I did not see anyone else being seated after I was seated. That was such a pathetic and untrue excuse.
Well, I tipped him the requisite 20% and left.
I want people to know that I am actually fairly laid-back, flexible person. I don't have delusions of grandeur about myself. But if you're a restaurant in the freaking Four Seasons and you're charging people an arm and a leg to eat there, the service and the food better be better than average. It was pretty bad.
I also had a less than stellar experience at the Hualalai Grill, but still, your review left me scratching my head and wondering if we were in the same place. You say that 4 or 5 tables is a third or fourth of the restaurants capacity, which implies to me that you are saying there are 12 to 20 tables. I believe The Grill is considerably bigger than that.
I'm surprised no one mentioned Cafe Pesto in both Kawaihae and Hilo. Another Thai restaurant that I like is Royal Thai in the Keauhou Shopping Center (a little pricy). Rocky's Pizza (also Keauhou) is pretty good too. Harbor House at Honokohau Harbor is good for lunch (good hamburgers, cold beer); usually stop for lunch there on the way back to the airport. It's a bit of a drive from Waikaloa, but Teshima's Japanese Restaurant in Kainaliu is inexpensive and has the kind of charm that only a very old family run restaurant with a decor out of the 50s can have! The 95 year old family matriarch still shows up every day.
Royal Thai is definitely better than Orchid Thai IMO, with better service to boot...yes, the Harbor house makes a nice pre-airport or post dive (several charters leave from the Harbor) stop.
Sigh: was scheduled to head out to Big Island in two weeks, but had to postpone due to an unexpected big, multi-continent trip in December. Will have to get back soon!
First, a strong second to konaho's excellent suggestions, along with a couple of additional points. In the mornings (until 10:30 or so), the Huggo's on the Rocks spot is actually occupied by a different business, Java on the Rocks. Their breakfast menu is quite healthy, mostly steamed eggs wrapped in tortillas, with additions to make them American, southwestern, Greek, etc. The real star of their show, however, is their coffee, locally grown and processed Kona coffee that is the best I've had at a food establishment on the Big Island. Two versions are availble, Mountain Harvest, and the very hearty Three Stone. While not outstanding, the food is good, and the great coffee along with their location makes a morning visit very worthwhile. Note: even in Kona not all restaurant coffee is good!
At the top of the breakfast spectrum is the buffet at the Pahui'a Restaurant at the Four Seasons. Pricey, of course, but a full range of top-quality fruit, baked goods, smoked salmon, traditional breakfast fare, fresh juice, and made-to-order omelettes in a beautiful setting on the ocean. And the coffee's good. Definitely worth a splurge if you can.
A much different breakfast experience can be had at the Paniolo Grill in Waimea. For fans of huevos rancheros, I can highly recommend their version. The restaurant is a truly local place, although they serve an eclectic mix of Italian, Mexican, and American food. Other than the huevos, it's not particularly a food destination, offering basically adequate food at reasonable prices.
For Thai food in Kona, I like the Orchid Thai restaurant, in an area known as the Old Industrial Area. It's small and family-run, and the vegetables in their various curry dishes are always impeccably fresh. A downside is that they seem to have had a recent surge in business without a corresponding surge in service, making a meal, especially on a weekend, a somewhat drawn-out affair. Bring your own alcohol (also to the Big Island Grill mentioned by konaho above).
The Kona Brewery has good brewpub food, and very good beer. Their India Pale Ale is special, as is a seasonally available barleywine-style ale that can be had by asking. It isn't always mentioned on the menu.
Food on the Big Island is, in general, a little expensive, but it is a truly wonderful place to visit!
In the Hilton Waikoloa (about 4 miles from the town) there's a good Chinese place called Kirin (Hey, I didn't name it), with excellent dim sum every day from 11 to 5.
In Kailua town about 25 miles south is my favorite island place, Big Island Grill, or Biggie's as it's known to locals. Wonderful local food, run by and priced for locals. Also good eats & priced for locals is Kau Kau Kona, a Chinese joint across from Biggie's. Keep a night for dinner at Jackie Rey's on Kuakini, about a mile out of Kona.
Even further south in Kainaliu is Kee`i Cafe, fresh food imaginatively prepared.
I second the Fujimama suggestion, and Huggo's on the Rocks is a gorgeous place for drinks or morning coffee. But keep in mind, the best food is NOT where the best views are. Nuff said.
Up in Waimea, 15 miles north of Waikoloa are two gems. On Saturday morning at the Waimea Farmer's Market, Auntie Maha cooks breakfast for the farmers & the shoppers. Broke da mouth good. Hawaiian Style Cafe opens at 7 am and closes when the food is gone - usually about 12-1. Go early with a huge appetite: the largest portions on the island. And if you're in Waimea on Saturday (or anywhere and you see a sign for) Huli Huli chicken, cooked by the side of the road, is an island specialty.
Cross the island for Kaikodo and Nori's in Hilo, one expensive, the other not. Get a buttermilk stick from Lanky's & your coffee from Kope Kope, and take Banyan Drive to the park. Bingo: Great food AND great views!
Take the scenic drive north from Hilo and stop at What's Shakin' for fresh tropical smoothies & homemade sandwiches. A little further north on the Hamakua Coast is Tex's for lunch and malasadas.
You can check on konaweb.com for further ideas and reviews from other locals.
Don't leave the island without having Spam musubi, and a plate lunch. Big Island Mo' Betta!
I have more, we were there in July, ate a LOT!
Brown’s Beach house at the Fairmont Orchid in Kohala is excellent, but expensive. They have Kona lobster bisque with Tahitian vanilla custard that is like crack. My husband gets misty just thinking about it.
Went to a party catered by O’s Bistro in Kona, they food was really great. Didn’t eat in the restaurant, but the use of fresh local ingredients blew my mind. They even did the cocktails such as a yellow passion fruit martini – yummy!
Kona Brewing Company also has good pizza. I had a cold piece of the spicy shrimp pizza on a late night graze of someone’s fridge, even cold, it was darn tasty!
Up the road from Waikoloa village, toward the hills, there are a few places to get food too. There was a little buger place that had a good burger and Loco Moco in a pinch. Don’t remember the name of it, but it was next door to Tony’s Italian Irish Café. How could you forget that!
There was next to nothing in Waikoloa and Kohala other than food at the resorts. I suggest you drive down to Kailua Kona, for Japanese (curry, sushi, etc.), Fujimama's was great and really cheap. There is a vietnamese place called Ba-Le in the Kona Coast Shopping Center that was amazing and dirt cheap. If you make it to the Hilo side of the island, try the Puka Puka Kitchen. Little hole in the wall with ahi katsu don that is crazy good and excellent prices.
A real gem was Huggo's on the Rocks in Kona (next to the expensice Huggo's) has happy hour prices that includes some tasty little seafood goodies you can order off the menu. Best place I could find to nibble, drink and watch the Kona sunset.
re: Cher D.
Just got back from the Big Island, and I have to say I was a bit disappointed with the price of Vietnamese sandwiches at Ba Le. Definitely not dirt cheap relative to prices here in the S.F. Bay Area or L.A. I think I paid around $5 for a sandwich, which would normally cost around $2.75. Didn't try any of the other items, so can't comment on them. And, while I ate my sandwich on the plane about 2 hours later, it was decent.
There is a popular mix plate restaurant across the street from Ba Le called, of course, Kona Mix Plate. Another popular place with the locals appeared to be Cafe 100 in Hilo. Cafe 100 had a different style of plate lunch that I haven't had before, which was pretty tasty.
Finally, check out Two Ladies Kitchen in Hilo if you like freshly prepared mochi. http://starbulletin.com/98/09/02/feat...