Volcano Report: Thai Thai and Kiawe Kitchen
Just back from an all too quick trip to the Big Island to recharge our batteries after a tough winter…I’ve not been a huge fan of Big Island restaurants in the past, but this trip was more successful than most with a few good finds. Here’s my report on the Volcano side (Kona side to follow):
We called Thai Thai in the town of Volcano to ask if they take reservations, and was told only for large groups, but that we wouldn’t have trouble getting a table. Sure enough, at about seven on a Friday night the place was certainly busy, but there was no wait, and we were greeted by members of the Thai family that own the place, and were seated immediately at a comfortable window table. The room is small and pleasantly, casually decorated.
The menu is long, although most of the dishes are variations on a theme of Thai standards. The wine list is almost non-existent; I ordered a glass of Sauvignon Blanc but beer would be the best choice for an alcoholic beverage. There was a fairly nice selection of non-alcoholic drinks.
Our server came right away to take drink owners and for our food orders just after that. We’d heard that the service at Thai Thai can be quite slow, but we thought it was friendly and very efficient, but not rushed.
We ordered pork larb, a broccoli and tofu stir fry, and the daily special, which was mahi-mahi in green curry. The larb was delicious, fresh, and exciting. As soon as I took my first bite I knew that we were in for a very good meal. The broccoli and tofu was also delicious, and perfectly cooked. While I loved the curry and vegetables that were part of the mahi mahi dish, the fish itself was somewhat overcooked. It was served as a whole filet (not chunks in the curry), which unfortunately emphasized the contrast between the nicely cooked vegetables and the actual piece of fish itself. Portions on all three dishes were quite generous.
A few previous mentions on CH and elsewhere had commented that the food is calibrated to Thai heat standards, and they weren’t kidding. Indeed, the server warned us that their medium is equivalent to hot at most Thai places. She was right. The “Thai hot” option would have been too much for us, but medium was just perfect, which is to say it was hot, but just this side of painful. Fans of Thai restaurants where they aren’t afraid to bring out the heat will definitely be happy here.
After that heat, dessert was in order. The choices included several tropical flavors of ice cream, mango with sticky rice, and a ‘Thai tapioca pudding’ made with taro. I would have liked to have tried both the pudding and the mango, but we were much too full for more than one dessert, so stuck with the mango. It was terrific, though I am not sure where they got the perfectly ripe mango (mango season doesn’t start till June in Hawaii). We weren’t too stuffed to eat every bite.
Total cost with tax and tip for three dishes, jasmine rice for two, one dessert, a glass of wine and a club soda, was about $70. By Hawaii standards, quite reasonably priced.
Bottom line: What a pleasant surprise, especially in a town of about 2000 people: In my opinion, this could well be the best restaurant in Volcano (there are only perhaps five). Indeed, it may well be one of the better restaurants on the Island. Recommended, and I will definitely make it my first choice for a dinner out in Volcano from now on.
The next day we had a great early hike, worked up an appetite, and were ready for a good, relaxing lunch. I’d have gone back to Thai Thai if it were open, but it is dinner only. I refused to let hubby near the Lava Rock Café and its internet connection, and hubby nixed JP’s since he is not a fan of plate lunch type places, we couldn't deal with the tour buses or the food at Volcano House, so that left the Kaiwe Kitchen Café. This small place has a tiny patio and a few inside tables. It is casual, but (again, this being Hawaii) not cheap. It also has a wood fire oven, a big plus for pizza fans. (which I am not).
The lunch menu consists of a few salads, some sandwiches, and several of those pizzas. Hubby had a cesar salad, which was made in a very non-traditional fashion: no shredded cheese here: there were huge slices of parmesan laid across the top of whole romaine leaves. No croutons either: the ‘croutons’ were long, thin slices of toast…pretty to look at, but not necessarily easy to eat. I ordered the wood fire roasted lamb sandwich: served with aioli on a baguette, with some very fresh mixed greens in a vinegrette on the side. It was satisfying after a long hike, though not outstanding, since the lamb was a bit chewy. Presentation seemed to be an important component of both dishes.
With lunch hubby had a rather watery cup of Ku’a coffee, and I enjoyed a cold Mehana Red Volcano Ale, brewed in Hilo, which was quite tasty.
Service was fine though not great (our server was definitely new to the business; I’d guess he was still in High School…) Interestingly, during the time we were there two families came in with little, hungry kids, sat down, looked at the menus, and walked out. The place is definitely family friendly, and any menu that includes pizza would seem to appeal to kids, so I don’t know what the deal was there. Did these folks think it was too expensive? It is pricy, but did they think they could get lunch for much less in the town of Volcano? Did they know they had a drive of a number of miles to the next options if they didn't eat in town> Couldn't figure it out.
Our lunch was almost $40, including a salad, sandwich, coffee and a beer. I wasn’t crazy about the place, but our lunch was pleasant, the food was fine and I would probably go back, especially for lunch given the alternatives...
That’s it for our brief trip to the Volcano side. Didn’t even make it to the Hilo farmer’s market this trip (sigh). Next report: Kona, and another surprisingly good find (Kenichi Pacific)!
Thai Thai Restaurant
19-4084 Old Volcano Rd,
Open daily from 5 to about nine pm
Credit cards accepted.
19-4005 Haunani Rd.
Volcano, HI 96785
Tel. (808) 967-7711
open for lunch and dinner
More about Mehana beers:
So glad you enjoyed Thai Thai! My better half swears it's the best Thai restaurant in the state. I haven't had a chance to dine there yet, but look forward to visiting as soon as the Super Ferry begins service. BTW, it is not too early for mangos here in Hawaii, generally (weather permitting) peak availability begins in March and we can get them until October.
Thanks for the mango update. I was relying on internet info on that one, glad to know it starts earlier, which means that the mango could well have been local. (although while I saw papayas and bananas on trees that looked to be ripe, none of the mangos I saw did appear to be so).
Can't speak for the state, but I feel confident it is the best Thai on the Island; hope you report back when you get there!