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my Hilo list, please critique

Here is what I have gleaned from my research for my upcoming 9 day stay. I am concentrating on grilled fish, sushi, and poke, island specialities, and fresh produce. Located in Puna, I will venture to Hilo and Pahoa, as far as Waimea on one side. Will travel to Naalehu on the other side, anything memorable to eat or gather over there? Is there one restaurant in Pahoa that is good? Please no Kona or Capt. Cook recs!

In Hilo, Farmers Market, Ocean Sushi and Deli, Tsunami, Ken’s House of Pancakes
Nori's Saimin & Snacks, Miyo’s, Miwa, Hilo Homemade, Sombat's Thai, Suisan Fish Market, Supermarket in Pahoa for poke

On the north road, What’s Shakin’, Merriman’s
Volcano food, golf course, Keawe Kitchen

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  1. Kuhio Grille is pretty good for local kine food. Known for their 1 lb. lau lau. Service can be kind of slow though.

    For shave ice, both Itsu's and Kawate Seed Shop are good. Itsu's can be easy to miss. It's located inside of a shop that sells fishing tackle and bait. Kawate Seed Shop is also a great place to pick up some crack seed.

    For malasada's, Punalu'u Bake Shop. I like them even better than Tex Drive-In, but just a notch below Leonard's.

    Places that I haven't been to but heard are good:

    Ning's Thai Cuisine

    Maui Tacos Kaahumanu

    Hilo Bay Cafe

    Restaurant Miwa

    Kuhio Grille
    111 E Puainako St, Hilo, HI 96720

    Itsu's Fishing Supplies
    810 Piilani St, Hilo, HI 96720

    Kawate Seed Shop
    1990 Kinoole St, Hilo, HI 96720

    Panaluu Bake Shop
    95 5642 Mamalahoa Hwy, Naalehu, HI 96772

    Ning's Thai Cuisine
    15 2879 Pahoa Rd, Pahoa, HI 96778

    Maui Taco's Kaahumanu
    111 E Puainako St, Hilo, HI 96720

    Hilo Bay Cafe
    315 Makaala St, Hilo, HI 96720

    Hilo Shopping Center: Restaurant Miwa
    230 Kilauea Ave, Hilo, HI 96720

    1. While in Hilo I enjoyed Ken's House of Pancakes (kalbi was especially good), the farmer's market (amazing fruit selection and great prices), Kuhio Grill for lau lau, and Itsu's Fishing Tackle for plate lunch (five different choices a day changing daily and very tasty). In the Volcano area, I highly recommend Thai Thai in Volcano village and the golf course restaurant.

      1. Quince is right about ThaiThai in volcano village, Keawe Grill you mentioned, You didn't mention Kilauea lodge (a personal favortie - only open for dinner). I don't recommend anything inside Volcanos National Park (how sad). All in all its a great list.

        1. I was in Hilo earlier this month. In my view, What's Shakin' was terrific and worth a trip off the main road. I would not recommend Hilo Bay Cafe--this was the big disappointment of my entire trip to the Big Island. The food was trying hard to be creative (good menu descriptions, anyway) but turned out dull to virtually inedible. Both our entrees were dry and overcooked. I also judge a place by what I see others eating--still not promising. We ended up liking Cafe Pesto, our other dinner in Hilo, better. The local fish was tasty, even if it was expensive (about $30 for an entree) for such a casual place. We also went to the Hilo Farmers' Market, which turned out to be much smaller than I'd envisioned. Good local fruit, though.

          Also went to Merriman's in Waimea. Good ingredients fairly well prepared (but avoid the chocolate sampler for dessert--two cookies and four bite-size pieces of chocolate, all of which seemed little better than supermarket quality), nice room, okay service. This one seemed to have one of the better wine lists on the island. Definitely more of a real restaurant experience than the two in Hilo.

          2 Replies
          1. re: amydeastbay

            People are often surprised that the farmer's market isn't any larger. But the greater Hilo area is less than 50,000 people, not a huge population base. Still it is better than much of what is available on Oahu, including the one at Kapiolani Community College on Saturday Mornings.

            1. re: amydeastbay

              I thought Merriman's was the second best meal I had on the Big Island. I would put The Hualalai Grille first.

              Here are my experiences of each.



            2. As a former resident of Hilo here is my personal fav list:
              Pahoa: Luquins- great Mexican food for being in Hawaii and the drinks are made fresh.
              I heard a new Thai place opened there but never tried it.
              Hilo: you MUST go to Sombats!! I ate there 2-3days a week. The service is great and she grows most of the veggies and herbs.
              Kens is a great late night denny's type place(depends on the time but this really is the only place open after hours)
              Suisan is a must for great price poke and fresh seafood choices(KTA also verygood poke and I like the Ahi Shoyu)
              Resturant Miwa but if you go to any sushi bar in Hilo just know that they get there fish on Thursdays.
              Seaside is also one of my fav ilike the furikake salmon and the specials are always good!!!
              Cafe Pesto cool but its a gamble.
              If I think of anything else I will post...Have fun!!

              1. I loved Ocean Sushi Deli. Its like a diner, with fresh sushi

                1. We love Paolo's , the food is fabulous.
                  Otherwise we view Ken's and Verna's as stops on our list for local flavor.
                  The food is fine, and the experience is interesting .
                  We like Sombats too.
                  But if you stay in Puna, Paolo's is the place.

                  1. If you're in the mood to try an interesting treat, check out Two Ladies Mochi in Hilo. The make a variety of mochi (Japenese pounded rice sweets with sweet beans inside) in a variety of flavors including strawberry mochi. They will sometimes have some for walk-ins to buy, but it's better to place an order (do an assortment - they are fun to try). I always try to grab some when I am in Hilo and take it back to Oahu for family. YUM.

                    Also, if you happen to be in Waimea for their farmer's market - check it out. I've gotten some great produce and prepared foods there.

                    1. I live in Hilo and I am a food writer who has lived in Chicago and San Francisco. Our food scene is not quite up to the standards of either of those cities, but there are some good places. In general I advise people to get a vacation rental and go to the farmer's markets, making at least some of your meals with our fantastic local produce, fresh caught Ahi and grass fed beef.

                      Kuhio Grille or their sister restaurant, Encore are the place to go for Lau Lau.

                      I agree with the Punalu'u Bake Shop, even their hot dog buns are the bomb! Great Malasadas are available at the Hilo Farmer's Market on Wed. and Saturday.

                      You are right on about the shave ice @ Itsu's and Kawate Seed Shop. There is also a good one next to the Hilo Farmer's Market.

                      I would nix a few places on your list though and remember that Pahoa actually has some good restaurants too.

                      In Pahoa: One of my favorite restaurants on the whole island is Kaleo's ! Paolos Bistro is good Fresh pasta, Ning's Thai and Sukithai are both decent Thai restaurants. STAY away from Luquins even if you are craving a margarita. Black Rock has good burgers and even better Bloody Mary's. We like to eat lunch in the bar and chat with the owner who also moved here from Chicago.

                      Forget Maui Tacos, it is in the mall... not worth doing

                      Ocean Sushi has good sushi, but the atmosphere lacks and it is dirty, not what I want for a sushi restaurant. Foodland makes excellent Poke and there is a stand on the highway near the Hilo Airport called Poke your way, that makes custom Poke for you while you wait.

                      Nings? Never been there, and I thought I had been to every Thai restaurant in Hilo! Sombats is not my favorite either. My personal favorite is across from the East Hawaiian Cultural Center, New Chang Mai is the best. Also hard to find, but ever so delicious is the Garden Snack Club. All fresh, local produce used to make Thai Inspired dishes. Huge portions, BYOB and slow service.

                      Hilo Bay Cafe is awesome. REALLY Great food, good service and a very yucky location. It is in the Walmart Shopping center. Expect to pay $$$, but worth every bite.

                      Ken'sPancake House is an icon. It is decent food available 24/7. BIG portions. The same owners have a great steak house called Ponds Hilo on the ice pond. Nice views of the water and really excellent service. Kind of pricey, but very good.

                      Cafe Pesto downtown is great food, mostly local and fresh and a bit pricey. Good lunch spot by the farmer's market.

                      Craving good Cali Mexican food or a margarita? I really like Ruben's next to the Hilo Farmer's Market.

                      Miwa is not one of my favorites. Instead I suggest Miyo's and reserve a window table. You will be over looking the Hilo Lagoon... lovely. Prices are quite fair and this is a place that mostly only people who live here know about. Great Japanese food, but this is not a sushi restaurant.

                      Tsunami is no longer in business.

                      What's Shakin' is a great place for a fresh local smoothie (not cheap, but wonderful) and it is on the scenic drive double score!

                      Merriman's is awesome. Another one of my favorite island restaurants. Not open for lunch on weekends though. Same goes for another Waimea favorite, Daniel Thiebaut. Both are a little on the high end price and foodwise. Both are dedicated to serving local produce, fish and meats.

                      Have a great trip and you can contact me through my blog, myhawaiianhome.blogspot.com if you have any questions.