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Big Island Report

Here’s our report from a week on the Big Island. It had been over five years since we’d been to the Big Island, it was great to be able to take Saddle Road to make the trip from Kona to Hilo reasonable – we finally got a chance to try more food on the Hilo side. Highlight was finally getting to Two Ladies Kitchen.

BREAKFASTS

Dave’s Plate and Coffee Shack (Waikoloa Village): stopped by for an early breakfast. Malcolm is very personable. Got the fried rice with egg on top, with a side of tuna-macaroni salad and cut fruit. My wife liked her French toast. Cute place.

Island Lava Java (Kailua-Kona): the oceanview was wonderful the morning we stopped by. Excellent mac nut pancakes with a small cup of fresh fruit and crispy bacon. My wife got the excellent croissant with avocado, provolone, and ham. If you are in Kona, a good place to hang out.

Ken’s House of Pancakes (Hilo): the best pancakes we had on the trip – good fluffiness, a hint of crisp, huge if you order the pancake specials. The trio of syrups (coconut, passionfruit, guava) were a nice addition to the berry and regular syrup. Got margarine once instead of butter – they must have run out. Coffee was excellent too. At a second visit we sampled the fried rice – hard to go wrong with the combination of sweet Chinese sausage, Chinese barbeque pork (char siu), and bacon – and the homemade corned beef hash with hash browns, both excellent.

LUNCHES:

Da Fish Place Lunch Wagon (Kawaihae): this is in the bus next to the shack, a la food truck. Got the fish plate with mahi mahi sautéed with salt and pepper, came with a salad and a mix of brown and white rice. My wife got the mahi mahi fish burger. The fish was good, the fish tacos also looked pretty good.

Hilo Lunch Shop (Hilo): Inexpensive, grab and go local flavor; a plethora of fun foods to take out. Our eyes got bigger than our stomachs as we got a spam musubi, a cone inari, some nori chicken (fried nuggets wrapped with nori), fried chicken (a bit dry, but it was already starting to get late), breaded ono, an egg foo yung, bean sprout salad, cucumber salad, and mung bean noodles. Go early – it is still on plantation schedule, we’d guess the food is best in the morning and they close in early afternoon.

Da Poke Shack (Kailua-Kona): good poke for snacking, got the Pele’s Kiss (not that spicy) with furikake rice and a seaweed salad. My wife got the special spicy ahi (a little spicier) with a crab salad instead. Hard to find – it is on the water side of Ali’i Road.

Allen’s Table (Waimea): the old Huli Sue’s. We went at lunch so they still had parts of the old Huli Sue’s menu, but unfortunately they were out of corn pudding and banana cream pie. The BLT was pretty amazing – really thick cuts of bacon! My wife got the pineapple mint iced tea which was refreshing, especially since she got the tasty Portuguese sausage meatball sandwich. Curious how their dinner compares with Merriman’s quality.

DINNERS:

Café Pesto (Kawaihae): an old standby for us, we had the seared ahi on a bed of soba and vegetables, while my wife got the wok-fried scallops and shrimp on rice noodles with coconut sauce. Both were excellent.

Merriman’s (Waimea): We really enjoyed our meal here. I started with the mobeeto – an interesting take on a mojito with hints of lavender along with the mint and basil, and colored red by beets. We started with the loco moco which is more of a deconstructed fried rice with a thick slab of bacon (this was really good), jasimine black and white rice, a poached egg on the side, and eggplant puree. My wife’s kurobata pork chop was fantastic – it was melt in your mouth consistency when it first came out on a bed of cheesy polenta. I got the lamb riblets and loin on a bed of orzo with spinach. Also excellent but the pork chop was better. Finished up with the chocolate purse with savory toasted coconut and caramel sauce with vanilla ice cream.

Sam Choy’s Kai Lanai (Keauhou): this is in the old Wendy’s location. We got a seat on the veranda overlooking the shopping mall but with a clear view of the ocean. It was a great view with the vog turning the sunset dark orange, and with the tiki torches along the wall. We started off with the margarita (black salt) and a virgin drink. We got a complementary minestrone soup and salad with oriental dressing, along with bread. Both entrees were excellent – the lau lau fish (walu) was very tender, and the short rib on the chow mein noodle bed was very tasty paired with a glass of Qupe syrah. The entrees were good sized, all in all a very enjoyable meal. While it wasn’t Merriman’s, it felt like a classic Hawaii meal for pretty good value, we would definitely go back.

Brown’s Beach House (Waikoloa): final dinner of the trip, hard to beat a sunset/torchlight dinner by the beach. Most interesting drink of the evening was the lillikoi margarita with li hung mui powder instead of salt. The bread was excellent with the roasted tomato aioli. Started with an amuse-bouche of seared ahi with a light touch of truffle oil on seaweed, followed by appetizers the kabocha soup and the dinner salad, followed by the king salmon entrée and two starters posing as a second entrée – the scallops and the short ribs. We also got a tasty side of roasted corn. Finally, finished up with the creamsicle. Outstanding presentations of great food, my wife preferred this to our dinner at Merriman’s for the combination of food quality and atmosphere.

DESSERTS:

Anuenue Shave Ice (Kawaihae): this was upstairs in the same building as Café Pesto. A bit too much syrup, but good consistency on the shave ice which is what we look for.

Itsu’s Ice Shave (Hilo): There was a lot of shave ice, although it was packed a bit too much. Maybe we should not have gotten the bowl, because it was really heaped on. Good, but we liked Anuenue better.

Two Ladies Kitchen (Hilo): OMG. The strawberry mochi is to die for. Unfortunately a no-no to bring back to the mainland due to agricultural restrictions. The manju and mochi are all excellent. Don’t miss this!

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

Hilo Lunch Shop
421 Kalanikoa St, Hilo, HI 96720

Ken's House of Pancakes
1730 Kamehameha Ave, Hilo, HI 96720

Island Lava Java
75-5799 Alii Dr Ste A1, Kailua Kona, HI 96740

Merriman's Restaurant
65-1227 Opelo Rd, Kamuela, HI 96743

Huli Sue's
, Kamuela, HI 96743

Brown's Beach House - The Fairmont Orchid - Kohala Coast
1 North Kaniku Drive, Kohala Coast, HI 96743

Dave's Plate and Coffee Shack
Highlands Shopping Center, Waikoloa Village, HI 96738

Cafe Pesto
61-3665 Hwy 270, Kawaihae, HI 96743

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  1. Thank you for your thorough report. I have passed it along to friends who will be visiting Hawaii in the near future, and they asked me to thank you on their behalf too.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Joebob

      Thanks! I got many ideas from perusing the Hawaii board, so thanks to all the prior posters!

    2. Sounds great. Glad you hit Two Ladies Kitchen - I love their mochi and Manju but it's been so long!!!

      2 Replies
      1. re: akq

        Maybe I don't understand the strawberry mochi, but why can't it be taken to the mainland? I take it the strawberries are inside the rice. Sounds good though. Just wondering.

        1. re: ben54

          it is stll raw fruit and there are restrictions on agriculture transport due to insects/microbes between Hawaii and the mainland U.S.

      2. Thanks for the report, heading there next month.

        1. Oh, sad to hear Huli Sue's closed - does anyone know if the second location at Mauna Lani closed, too? My husband needs his BBQ fix :)

          1. Thanks for the report. I want to try that strawberry mochi!

            Hubby and I are on a quick trip to the BI with friends, mostly eating food we cook ourselves, but hubby and I did head out to dinner last night after a day of sightseeing the southern part of the island, at Sam Choy's Kai Lanai. My bottom line: it was ok, but it could have been better. Our friends, who had travelled all the way to Volcano and came back later than us, tried, and liked, Manago's. One of them used to live in Japan and felt a bit transported to rural Japan by the Manago's atmosphere and menu.

            But back to Kai Lanai: Service was mostly very good, with just a few misteps (bringing mains while the empty appetizer plates were still there, and then not removing the appetizer plates but putting the main on the side of a somewhat small table. nothing bad, in other words, but sometimes a bit annoying. I overhead the server at the next table trying to upsell her table at every opportunity (tables aren't too close together, but she had a too loud voice that carried), but our server did nothing of the kind and was friendly and unobtrusive.

            Anyway, the good:

            1. the setting: we went after dark, so not really a view to speak of (it would be great before dark), but the place is very pleasant: all open air, well-spaced tables, fire-pits, a nice bar).

            2. prices: for the neighborhood and Hawaii generally, I thought prices were very reasonable. I had a wine flight of three nicely chosen South American reds for $9, and the pours on the flight were very generous. Lots of wines by the glass, wine list not overpriced. Mains start at around $18 and top out at $26, and as you mention, all include a cup of soup and a small salad (obviously inspired by the miso and small salad one would typically get in a Japanese restaurant, although the soup of the day for us was a Maui onion.) Total for our meal for one shared appetizer, two mains with soup and salad, and one dessert, a glass of syrah and my wine flight, with tax but before tip, was $89, and we both got two of the most expensive mains.

            3. portions are generous. Hubby's rib eye was advertised as 10 oz, but it looked to be closer to 15 oz. We both took home leftovers, though part of that might be that we weren't crazy about the food. Which leads me to...

            The not so good;

            the food: actually, hubby's rib eye wasn't bad: done to medium-rare as requested, and the brown rice it was served on was tasty with juices from the steak. Just slivers of sauteed cabbage and bok choy (and small ones at that) as accompanying veggies, other than the thin bits of onion ring on top of the steak, which he ignored. I tasted his steak and thought it was flavorful; local beef and good quality.

            I had the short ribs you mentioned, and was not too happy. The short rib itself was in a sauce I found to be overly sweet and one-note, but my real complaint was with the chow mein, which was both oily and cloying. Even at home in Merced in a town with few decent restaurants I can find noodles that are better than that. I did see spicy fish sauce as condiment on a few other tables (not ours), perhaps it would have helped.

            The appetizer was a generous portion of fried calamari on a peppered cabbage base with a somewhat spicy aioli. The calamari wasn't greasy, but otoh, it didn't have much flavor.

            Dessert was a dense and very good chocolate cake with Tropical Dreams vanilla ice cream. Unfortunately, they included an unadvertised caramel sauce which was much too sweet and one note (particularly after those ribs) and for me did in what would otherwise have been a well above average version of a classic dessert.

            Sigh. The search for a good mid-range restaurant near Kailua continues.

            And a few misc reports of my own:

            As for dining at home: the line-caught that day fish we've been getting from Bite Me fish shop and restaurant, in the Honokohau Harbor where our dive boat leaves from, is excellent, as is their mahi-mahi ceviche. Yum! Might be worth trying the Bite Me restaurant for lunch, given the quality of the fish at their market.

            We also have had good luck with fish at KTA in town, (and it is a bit cheaper than Bite Me) though the poke selection at KTA isn't as large as I remember from previous trips.

            Found a new ice cream place, Dave's Ice Cream, mauka side on Highway 11 near Kealekekua. friendly service: the teenage girl behind the counter encouraged us to taste everything and was quite knowledeable. I ended up with a mixed scoop of pineapple and haupia; hubby had kona coffee. The taro and coconut was interesting and worth a try. All flavors are locally made and are high butterfat, creamy mouth-feel. I liked most of what I tasted a bit better than Tropical Dreams, but the place across the street sells Tropical Dreams so no reason not to do one's own comparison. :-) Dave's also has plate lunches, which we didn't try.

            8 Replies
            1. re: susancinsf

              Maybe one of the locals can comment on Dave's...is it a local (ie Hawaii) chain? My friend in Honolulu keeps raving about an ice cream place there called Dave's......with exotic flavors like ube....The thought of ube ice cream (the same root is known as rotaru in Gujarat where dh is from, and he loves it; aka purple yam....) almost has hubby ready to get on a plane to Honolulu......

              1. re: janetofreno

                here is the Dave's homepage. It is a local ice cream with several locations, mostly on Oahu but one In Kealakekua on the Big Island (Kona side). They have a number of interesting flavors, including the Ube you mentioned as well as one of the best Green Tea ice creams I've ever had.

                1. re: KaimukiMan

                  thanks for the additional info. I also tried the ube, and thought it was indeed interesting, but not my favorite, but then again, unlike Janet's hubby, I wasn't raised with it...

                  but link to home page doesn't seem to be there, and I can't find it when I google. would you be willing to re-post, KaimukiMan?

                  1. re: susancinsf

                    Since I noticed it before KMan, here's the website link.
                    http://www.daveshawaiianicecream.com/...

                    on another note, I have seen ube ice cream in other places such as San Francisco so I know it's not unique to Hawaii. I have seen it used in the Filipino dessert halo-halo as well so i'm sure it can be found in other places.

                    1. re: killersmile

                      I'm thinking back to when *I* was more of a regular at Mitchell's in SF (when it was around the corner from Susan's house....)...and I vaguely remember ube ice cream there as well. But it was only in the last week or so that I even realized ube and rotaru are the same thing....someone sent a picture of one they saw at a farmer's market in San Diego and asked a bunch of friends what it was. My husband said "It's Rotaru!" and got so excited he almost jumped in the car and drove across the desert to buy some (Fresh rotaru is non-existent in Nevada:-) and my Oahu friend I mentioned earlier said 'That's Ube!" So now we know.....:-). Will defnitely try and check out Mitchell's to see if they do have it next time I'm in SF....or may just end up at Dave's:-)

                      1. re: janetofreno

                        that's right. that's where I saw it in SF, it was at Mitchell's. You should be able to find it there.

                        1. re: killersmile

                          Because it has become naturalized throughout tropical South America, Africa, Australia, the US southeast, D. alata has many different common names from these regions. In English alone, aside from purple yam, other common names include greater yam, Guyana arrowroot, ten-months yam, water yam, white yam, winged yam, or simply yam.[2] In other cultures and languages it is known variously as uhi in Hawaiʻi, ratalu or violet yam in India, kondfal (कोंदफळ) in Marathi, ube in the Philippines, rasa valli kilangu in Tamil, ʻufi in Tonga, Samoa and Tahiti, and khoai mỡ in Vietnam.

                          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purple_yam

              2. re: susancinsf

                Our return flight from Hawaii was delayed, not exactly the worst of situations, particularly since we had called before heading to the airport and turning in our rental car. A last, leisurely lunch was in order but we didn't want to head too far from the airport. So, got to try Bite Me Restaurant for lunch after all:

                we were seated on the back patio; not much of a view but you can look out over some of the boats in the harbor, and it was pleasant on a cool (for Hawaii) day. At two pm on a weekday the place was crowded (I think that is about the time boats start to come in), but service was fast and friendly.

                The menu is simple and (of course) fish centric. Catch of the day was ahi, and we had it in fish tacos. The fish itself was wonderful, the tacos average: soft flour tortillas, cabbage, a smoky chipotle mayo, and house-made pico de gallo. Hubby also had a shrimp taco and enjoyed it. I got a side of guacamole: a small serving for $1.50, but freshly made and simple (avocado, lime juice, cilantro and a bit of salsa), made the way I would make it at home. Both of our orders of two tacos each came with rice and beans or salad: we both chose rice and beans: the beans were good, the rice was undercooked, which was a pity since flavor was nice. Portion sizes were fairly generous.

                I'd eat there again because of the quality of the fish and its convenient location (particularly post-dive), but the real selling point for Bite Me is the beer selection: small but very nicely thought out. In particular, we really liked the Hawai'i Nui Southern Cross Belgian Style Double Red Ale, $10 for a 22 oz bottle.

                Total for a plate of two fish tacos and a plate with one fish and one shrimp taco, plus rice, beans, house made salsa, and guacamole, plus a coke, one regular size craft bottled beer, and one 22 oz bottle, with tax but before tip, was around $42. Same menu at lunch and dinner, and they are open till around nine, I believe, so dinner might be a better deal. Recommended for a post dive beer and a snack.