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Big Island of Hawaii -- Kailua/Kona/Waimea

Seattle hound here. We're taking a family vacation (wife, me and two boys (7 and 4)) to the Big Island next month, staying in a condo at Waikoloa. I've reviewed the various posts on the board and would appreciate updates and guidance on the following possibles, including updated news regarding recent closings:

Fine Dining: The wife and I will probably go out for one or two nice meals sans kids. Merrimans sounds like a "must." We had a great meal at the Maui Merriman's last Aug. I'm also intrigued by the Holuakoa Cafe in Holualoa. Doesn't seem to get a lot of attention on the board but what it gets sounds very good. We've done Hualalai several times and while we have had singularly excellent experiences there, I'm interested in trying some place new. Plus with AW departing and the hotel changing hands, I'm curious if it's still performing up to snuff. Daniel Thiebaut also sounded like a "possible," but reviews were more mixed.

Japanese/Thai: We'll probably get the whole family out (if that's appropriate in these places) as my kids love Asian food. I'm looking at Teshima's or Kenichi for Japanese and Original Thai or Bangkok House.

Casual: In no particular order
- Waikoloa Beach Resort fish and chips stand (does anyone have a name for this one?)
- Manago Hotel (how long is the drive from Waikoloa Village?)
- Hawaiian Style Cafe (just how "Korean" is this place? Candidly, while I love most Asian food, Korean is not my favorite)
- Big Island Grill
- Huli Sue bbq
- Pine Tree Cafe
- Boston Basil's
- Kona Brewery (do they have much that kids would like?)

- Coffee Shack (I'm a little concerned this will be a long way to drive for a cup of Joe)
- Kona Joe's


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  1. We finally did Merriman's on Maui, and were impressed. I am sad, that we have not made the original on the Big Island. We will recify that on our next trip.

    Cannot help you with the mid-level, or the more ethnically-oriented fare, sorry.

    I am probably one, who touted Thiebaut's, but they impressed us for both lunch and dinner in the same day, with the same drive from Waikoloa.

    We were very pleased with every aspect of Pahu i`a (but also AW's). Will be interesting to see what happens there. My wife informed me that she would not stay on the Kona-side of the Big Island, except at the Four Seasons, even when the Hilton Waikoloa was free. I wonder how she'll be impacted.

    Please do a review of all of your dining decisions. There are many, who request a full spectrum of ideas, and seem to go wanting. Unfortunately, my recs. are for the fine-dining venues only, and that only helps a very little. Also, as has been pointed out, it has been a while, since our last visit. Unfortunately, with tourists, reports can only happen, as do the trips.

    Canoe House has been getting some good reviews, as of late. Seems that they have made major changes. I'll definitely include them on our next trip, just to see. The venue was great, and if the food and service improve, it *should* be really good.

    Again, as you have a wonderful vacation, please think of hounds "back home," and report on your dining. Too many consider the Big Island a dining "wasteland," and I thought not. Same for Kaua`i.

    Safe trip,


    1 Reply
    1. re: Bill Hunt

      Bill, many thanks for your reply. I read with interest your many good posts. I'll do my best to report on our culinary escapades from the BI.

    2. The fish & Chip stand is at the King's shops .It is called "Island Fish and Chips" Located on the back side facing the lake. A little tricky to find. Take-out window and a few adjacent tables. Nice light tempura batter.
      Manago Hotel is a bit of a drive south of WBR. We usually try to hit it for lunch if we are in the coffee country area. Delicious pork chops. Really basic place. You do mean WBR not the village right? If not , the drive is further yet.
      Pine Tree cafe is another spot near the airport with a lot of local flare. Good basic offerings.
      Kona Brewery has decent pizza...if your kids are into that.
      February is a great time to visit the Big Island.
      Hope you have your vehicle reserved ..prices have been skyrocketing.

      1 Reply
      1. re: easily amused

        EA, thank you for your input. Very helpful information. We are staying at the beach, not up in the village, so we're not far off the highway. Still, it's a haul to get south of Kona. Thanks also for the rental car reminder. That's the one thing I hadn't done. Cheers.

      2. The Manago and Teshima's are a good hour or so south of Waikoloa. More if the traffic backs up. But if you're making a run down the coast to visit Pu'u o Honaunau or South Point or whatnot, they're definitely worth the stop.

        Hawai'ian Style Cafe is Island cooking. Think plate lunch: two scoops rice, scoop mac salad (if I recall correctly, they actually do a potato-mac salad, but you know what I mean). There are some Korean-influenced dishes on the menu (Korean fried chicken, galbi ribs, etc.) but it's a far cry from a Korean restaurant.

        Have a great trip!

        2 Replies
        1. re: alanbarnes

          Alan, plate lunch I can handle. Thanks.

          1. re: alanbarnes

            Teshima's is awesome if you like homey environments and maybe you'll be lucky to have Grandma Teshima (103 years old) come visit with you

            Teshima's Restaurant
            79-7251 Mamalahoa Highway, Kealakekua, HI 96750

          2. We literally just left the Big Island yesterday...plan on posting a full review on our blog (www.dineomite.blogspot.com) in a few weeks, but for now, I can provide you with a quick run down of our highlights.

            Merriman's is a must...enjoyed the Kalua pork quesadilla, locally raised beef filet, steamed Kona Kampachi entrees and Chocolate phyllo purse dessert (one for each of us).

            Holuakoa Cafe/Gardens was quite good and popular with the locals. Their menu changes with what's seasonally available, Only one fish entree,,,rest was chicken, beef, pork, etc. Beautiful outdoor seating, very friendly and attentive staff.

            Rapanui Island Cafe - one our best dinners on the BI. Located in the kitschy All'i Drive area of Kailua Kona. The couple that runs it are from New Zealand and the food has an Indonesian twist. My husband loved the Thunder Steak and I thought the Macadamia Shrimp stir fry was awesome, Make sure you opt for the house rice (made with coconut and onions). It's a bit hidden in terms of location...call first to clarify exactly where they are at.

            Huli Sue's - my husband said their pulled pork sandwich rivaled the BBQ he had at Big Jake's BBQ (much further south from where you're staying, near Captain CooK...the ribs from Jake's literally fell of the bone).

            We didn't go to Hualalai Grille since Alan Wong left...we didn't think it would be the same as the last time we went.

            Tried Ceviche Dave's, behind the Costco and close to the airport. Small joint offering fresh catch of the day in 4 varieties of ceviche. A quick, healthy lunch,

            Roadhouse Cafe (lunch), Mi's Italian Bistro (homemade pasta and local ingredients) and Keei Cafe (again, all much further South from where you are staying) were excellent meals as well.

            5 Replies
            1. re: ladybugthepug

              as a local farmer and food supplier we are happy that you had a good culinary experience...come again soon and share your comments/recommendations with future Big Island visitors...mahalo nui loa

              1. re: holualoa farmer

                Holualoa Farmer,
                Scarecrow here. We're on the BI now. I'll give a more detailed report when the trip ends but for now I can tell you we've had great meals at Merriman's, Big Island Grill and Island Fish and Chips. We are staying near the King's Shops in Waikoloa Beach Resort area.

                Two questions: First, we went to the farmer's market in Kona on Sat. Do you have other recommendations for where we can find fresh, local produce during the week? Second, can you recommend a coffee plantation tour? Thanks!

                1. re: scarecrow22

                  if you're still there...the fish market in Kawaihae is ono...coffee tour: Holualoa Coffee Co (organic coffee farmer and processor...good luck

              2. re: ladybugthepug

                LBTP, timing is everything! Rapanui Island Cafe sounds like a great suggestion. I don't recall seeing it discussed before. Cheers.

                1. re: scarecrow22

                  Scarecrow-Rapanui really delivers and prices aren't too ridiculous. I think I originally read about them via reviews on Yelp.com.

              3. I winter in Kona and summer in Seattle. Don't know if you've left yet, but there have been a couple positive reviews of the newly reopened Mauna Kea fine dining restaurant called Manta (Here's one from www.konaweb.com


                Manta is the new fine dining restaurant located in the Mauna Kea Hotel. Five of us headed over there the other night, most of us serious foodies, and were truly impressed! The room is fresh and sleek, but most of the tables are outside overlooking Manta Ray Point-gorgeous. They now feature a wine bar with countless numbers of wines available by the glass,including a tasting size pour. The menu features lots of local products, and they are done well. The chef's favorite salad is asparagus over a grilled flatbread with local greens and topped with a fried egg and parmesan-it's now my favorite too! We also had the goat cheese ravioli and beet salad as starters and both were delicious. One friend had a Kahua Ranch New York steak that was cooked perfectly, my husband had scallops that were also cooked perfectly and wonderful.They offer 2 souffles for dessert, both are excellent and probably the best desserts. For a restaurant that has been open for only 5 weeks, they did an amazing job. I was never a big fan of the old Pavillion restaurant-boring food, surly servers. Many of the old waiters have returned,but with fresh attitudes and smiles. It's not cheap, about what you would expect for a resort fine dining restaurant. Entrees run from $35-$45, apps and salads $11-$15. I'm just going to say it-this restaurant rivals Pahu'ia at the Four Seasons! It's that good.

                As far as the other recommendations, I heartily recommend Holuakoa as having the best dinner on the West Side. The wine list is sorely lacking, the service is not terribly refined, but the food and presentation are great. Also a new Thai restaurant in Kona called Krua is quite good.

                1 Reply
                1. re: sergad

                  thanks for the info on Manta; very, very pleased as well to know that they have a large, by-the-glass offering.

                2. Scarecrow back again with a long-delayed report and request for update. My wife and two boys (now 8 and 5) are heading back to the WBR on the BI next month.

                  Feb. 2009 report: Had very good, but not great, meals at Merriman's and Holualoa Cafe. My wife was not a big fan of Merriman's. She thought it was trying to be too cute (e.g., serving soup in a mason jar, which she found hard to eat from), and the food was luke warm and over salted. I'd go back but I'd be eating alone.

                  Our server at the Holualoa Cafe was a bit difficult and turned us off. When we asked for a side order of green beans, which our kids loved, she paused and said "we're not that kind of restaurant." God only knows what that was supposed to mean. We're fairly laid back Northwesterners, or I would have asked. She ultimately brought them, but her demeanor throughout the meal soured the experience. The food, however, was excellent. (We returned in August with a group of eight adults. We got the same server and she was equally awkward that time. But again, the food was great.)

                  The highlight of the trip was Rapanui. Ladybugthepug recommended it and it was fantastic! Our kids loved the sates. The curry chicken was outstanding. And the "house rice" recommendation was right on the money. We returned there in Aug. with another couple and it was similarly excellent. Given the quality, it was hands down the best value. The New Zealand beer and short but well-selected wine list was also a bargain and complemented the food perfectly. We're definitely going back there at least once.

                  We enjoyed great, low-priced lunches at the Big Island Grill in Kona and Huli Sue's in Kamuela/Waimea. Island Fish and Chips was a 5-min. walk from our condo. The fish was fresh and tasty.

                  I've forgotten the coffee shop we visited down south towards Capt. Cook, but it is perched right on the mountainside with stunning views. We also had a terrific breakfast at the place that is connected to a theater, also south of Kona (Cinema Cafe? or some such theater-related name?).

                  Feb. 2010 Trip: We are planning to head south at least one day to Kealakekua to visit the Capt. Cook Memoral. (I read to my boys the rather politically incorrect biography on Cook written in the early 1960s by Ronald Syme. They were fascinated.) We're hoping to kayak across the bay and maybe do a little snorkeling. Time, stamina and appetite permitting, we'll try to hit Teshima Cafe, Keii Cafe, or Big Jake's BBQ. Any thoughts/updates on them?

                  I saw a reference to Two Ladies Mochi. Anyone have any more intel on that place, including location? My wife and I love mochi.

                  I think this trip (Feb. 2010) will be more value oriented. We had such positive experiences at Rapanui, Huli Sue's, Big Island Grill, and similar venues that we'll likely skip the higher end places this time. Plus with the kids it's just easier to go a little more casual. So if anyone has any updates or further recommendations for the Waikaloa Beach Resort area (from Kona up to Waimea), please pass them along. Mahalo!

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: scarecrow22

                    I tried Big Jake's in June 2009, and wasn't that impressed. I don't even remember what we had, but I do recall that there was hardly any smoke flavor in the meats.

                    1. re: scarecrow22

                      Highly recommend Two Ladies Kitchen in Hilo for their scrumptious mochi. The highlight is obviously their strawberry mochi (thin layer of mochi around red bean paste that covers an entire strawberry) but if you can, try their assorted box too.
                      Parking on the street (or if youʻve already parked in Hilo town, itʻs not that far of a walk from the main street drag area) and the place is easy to find on Kilauea Ave.

                      Two Ladies Kitchen
                      274 Kilauea Ave
                      Hilo, HI 96720
                      (808) 961-4766

                      They sometimes go on "vacation", so it would be wise to call ahead to make sure theyʻre going to be open.

                      1. re: scarecrow22

                        Nice report, For the absolute best pizza on the Island...Head down to Kealakekua to "Patz Pies" Thin crust NY style Delicious Real casual place. Basically a take-out window.
                        Heard there is now a Huli Sue's at Mauna Lani Golf Course Clubhouse....a little closer to WBR.
                        We love the Island fish and chips stand at King's...very tasty.
                        Have you ever tried the KIng's Grille at the King's clubhouse(Breakfast & Lunch) Great for that 1st morning breakfast...before you head out for supplies.
                        On the topic of casual places.....People are talking about the Fish Tacos (Only $2.50) at "Bite Me Fish shop & Restaurant" We haven't been yet, but will be sure to stop this trip coming up. They are located at the Harbor near the Airport....also a fish market to take fresh catch of the day home.

                        1. re: easily amused

                          Ate the fish tacos at bite Me at Honokohau Harbor a few weeks ago. Not bad (I upgraded to the mahi mahi for a buck more), plus the overheard conversations at the bar were priceless. Good post-charter/dive stop.

                      2. I recommend a drive to Hilo for some good eats. For Japanese food, try Miyo's.
                        400 Hualani St
                        Hilo, HI 96720
                        (808) 935-2273

                        Nori's Saimin and Snacks serves good Japanese and local food.
                        688 Kinoole St Ste 124
                        Hilo, HI 96720
                        (808) 935-9133

                        And the seafood buffet at the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel is unbeatable.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: caille en sarcophage

                          Can someone recommend any good plate lunch or Saimin on the Kona side?

                          In addition, where should I go for some goof Kona coffee beans on the Kona side?

                          1. re: fatbully

                            gotta give it for big islands grill also. island food and lots of it and its good. mite want to check out kona plate up by safeway nice home style cooking also.

                        2. Holuakoa Cafe is nice for brunch or lunch, though service can be a bit slow. Haven't been there for dinner because the drive back in the dark could be troublesome! Kona Brewery definitely has things kids should like (pizzas, sandwiches, salads); I've seen kids there often and they seem to be enjoying themselves. Kenichi is great, though pricey. And Big Island Grill is a must for non-touristy Hawaiian plate lunches (huge portions, cheap price). Manago Hotel is probably close to an hour away from Waikaloa. It often get's mentioned here, but I find it rather ordinary. For pizza, someone recommended Patz' Pies, but again, it's probably 45 minutes to an hour away from Waikaloa and is primarily take out unless you like sitting on the road. There is a brand new Indian restaurant that opened earlier this month on Ali'i Drive (Shivalik), but haven't tried it yet. Eager for reports. Apparently they have had a restaurant on Kauai for a few years.

                          Holuakoa Cafe
                          76-5901 Mamalahoa Hwy, Holualoa, HI 96725

                          Manago Hotel
                          Captain Cook, Kealakekua, HI 96750

                          Big Island Grill
                          75-5702 Kuakini Hwy, Kailua Kona, HI 96740

                          68-1330 Mauna Lani Dr Ste 111, Kamuela, HI 96743

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: BobInSF

                            Had the lunch buffet at Shivalik last week. Not cheap @ $15, but a great way to sample many of their dishes. All of the food was very tasty, but not spicy enough for me. I did ask for some spicy condiment and they brought out a chile paste that added the heat I needed. The nan was fabulous. Unless you are with a big group and into dish sharing, I think the buffet is the way to go, although I understand they only offer it at lunch. Service was pleasant enough. All in all, its a nice addition to the food scene here in Kailua-Kona. In the four years that I have been here, that location seems to be "cursed", many places have come and gone. I hope they do well.

                          2. We liked Teshimas. Good solid Japanese, with good selection (nice options also for non-fish eaters). Lava Java was good for breakfast. Coffee was fine, but some more particular drinkers may not like their espresso drinks. Coffee Epicurea ( just north of Coffee Shack) is a good alternative to the shack. No view, but good breakfast baked goods and a nice outdoor patio. I was disappointed with Kona Brewing Co. A lot of stuff on your plate, but flavor was lacking. Cafe Pesto pizza was probably better, but their person answering phones and reserving tables was seriously lacking in skills. 3 times I called to reserve a table and each time was put on hold, never to be answered again.

                            Kona Brewing Co
                            75-5629 Kuakini Hwy Ste X, Kailua Kona, HI 96740

                            Cafe Pesto
                            308 Kamehameha Ave # 101, Hilo, HI

                            Coffee Shack
                            83-5799 Mamalahoa Hwy, Captain Cook, HI 96704

                            Teshima's Restaurant
                            79-7251 Mamalahoa Highway, Kealakekua, HI 96750