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Big Island in Feb.

Eagerly planning a visit to the big island of Hawaii in late Feb, coming from Seattle. Plans are still in flux but will have 2 nights at Volcanoes NP, 1 night in or near Hilo, and 7 days somewhere on the Kohala coast, probably near Puako.

We eat virtually anything tasty, but we'd rather cook at home than go to chains. That said, we are interested in poke, plate lunches, sushi/Japanese, fine dining and other local delights, and would greatly appreciate all related advice.

It appears from a glance that the big island is perhaps a step or more behind Oahu in terms of sophistication/variety but that would not be all bad. Have read older posts and heard pretty good things about Merriman's, Senigawa (sp?), and some chef-driven place owned by New Zealanders, the name of which I cannot recall. Is the fish market in Hilo worthwhile? If you had one night with childcare and price was no issue, where would you go on the island?

The other thing I am considering is a coffee farm tour, but only if there is something of quality that is tuned into "third wave" coffee principles, as opposed to a generic tourist trap with nothing behind it but the name "Kona Coffee."

Thanks in advance.

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  1. In the village of Volcano, which is just outside Volcanoes NP, Kilauea Lodge is a B&B with an excellent restaurant. Recommend reservations in advance for the restaurant.

    6 Replies
    1. re: honu2

      second the recommendation for Kilauea Lodge.
      avoid eating at the Volcano House in the park, although I've heard breakfast isn't awful in the dining room. the snack bar is an unmitigated disaster, makes the hot selection at your neighborhood 7-11 mini-mart look appetizing.
      both kiawe kitchen and thai thai restaurant turn out consistently good food.
      lava rock cafe is hit or miss.

      1. re: KaimukiMan

        Agree with K-Man (as usual) about volcano options. The dining room at Kilauea Lodge was built in the 30's as the lodge for a Boy Scout's camp and has all the warmth (the roaring fireplace is quite welcome on winter evenings at this elevation) and charm you can get without a view, plus the excellent chow so sadly lacking at Volcano House. Would also add Ono Cafe at Volcano Garden Arts for lunch...vegetarian, fresh and local. Lava Rock may be best for breakfast...

        1. re: macaraca

          hey everyone, Volcano house has been closed for 2 years

          1. re: Bellachefa

            no kidding. no loss.

            thanks Bellachefa, amazing how you loose track of things you don't like.
            (ok, yeah, i stay shame)

            1. re: KaimukiMan

              Shame on you. [Grin] Last time we were on that area of the Big Island, they were open, but I would never have given a rec., base on our, somewhat Mainlander limited experiences. They were not very good, but that was then, and this is now.



        2. re: KaimukiMan

          Wow, that DOES paint a bleak picture, and one that I do not wish to even go near.

          Some years back, we skipped, between Hilo and Kona, and just did the Volcano Winery.


      2. Could the "chef-driven placed owned by New Zealanders" be Rapanui? I've been to the Big Island a couple of times and it is my favorite. I haven't heard any mention of it here on the board in over a year so I hope it's still around.

        1. Yes, Rapanui is the place run by a Kiwi. It's a small and simple place in Banyon Court in Kailua town with good curries and lamb. Kenichi in Keahou is our favorite for sushi and they have some other very good cooked dishes. If you're staying up in the resort area, Merriman's in Waimea or Roy's in the King's Shop. If you're looking for a special, romantic evening, Pah i'u at the Four Seasons is the place people always suggest first, then the Canoe House at the Mauna Lani.

          1. I am a big fan of the thai place in VV. We had take out two of our 4 nights in VV It was that good, we chose not to cook one night and left the uncooked food for the housekeeper.

            I am also a big fan of Hawi's Bamboo and Sushi Rock. We especially enjoyed the macnut goat cheese salad and the fish cakes along with great sushi.

            1. On the Kohala Coast, I highly recommend Monstera at the Shops at the Mauna Lani for Japanese food (sushi, noodles, and more). People may say to go to Sensei in Waikoloa (very pricey and I like Monstera much more) or Norio at the Fairmont Orchid nearby, but the chef, Norio, left his namesake restaurant and opened Monstera. The only issue with Monstera is that the decor is so-so but the food more than compensates for this slight flaw. There's a gourmet grocery store in the same shopping area that has some nice poke variations you can buy to go. I'm sure there are places locals know about that have the same quality without the tourist prices, but I'm just a San Franciscan who is lucky enough to make frequent visits! For a romantic dinner in that area. I would recommend either the Canoe House at the Mauna Lani (down the road from the Shops at Mauna Lani) or Brown's Beach House at the Fairmont Orchid (down the road that goes along the other side of the Shops at Mauna Lani. Both places are outdoors (Canoe House has inside seating, too, which is handy on very windy days) with stunning views, especially at sunset. My husband and I feel that the food is a bit better at Brown's (particularly the entrees) but that the ambiance at Canoe House is more romantic. Canoe House is closer to the ocean (there's a small lawn between Brown's and the beach), smaller, and definitely more intimate. The Orchid is a much larger resort with more of a hustle and bustle kind of a feel, and Brown's is quite large with tables a bit close together. However if food is priority number one, go to Brown's. None of the dishes we have had at Canoe House have been bad, and several have been great. However each meal we have had there included an entree that sounded much better on the menu. Both places have very nice wine lists (at island resort prices). You can have the same view for less money (though still expensive for what it is) with lower key food at the Ocean Grill (I think that's the name) between the pool and the beach at the Mauna Lani resort. I love the gazpacho with little grilled goat cheese sandwiches and the poke in particular there. It is quite casual and is open for both lunch and dinner. They have some really tasty island-inspired mixed drinks too. Have a wonderful trip!

              2 Replies
              1. re: pickles210

                I have read some good things about Canoe House, and have to admit that my experiences go WAY back. Then, the venue was lovely, but that was all that I could say, to recommend them. However, much has probably changed, and if in the right ways, the potential is great!


                1. re: pickles210

                  Recently tried Monstera....enjoyed the misoyaki butterfish appetizer....was better than Roy's version of the same dish. Also had tofu agadashi and liked it as well. Agree that Monstera is better than Sensei.

                  Recommend Pahu I'a at Four Seasons for breakfast. Pricey buffet but oh-so-good and the location is wonderful. I didn't want to leave.

                  If you are driving south of Kona try Annies Island Fresh Burgers....onion rings are quite good and the burgers are very good as well.

                2. Forgot to answer the one night price no issue question. We'd choose between Merriman's in Waimea and Brown's Beach House.

                  1. We are on BI now - spent 4 days in Hilo and are now in Kona. We had a lovely lunch at Merriman's on the drive from KOA to Hilo. We had Mahi Mahi that was well prepared and very tasty. Good service and reasonable prices.

                    We had a really good dinner at Cafe Pesto in downtown Hilo. The fish of the day was Ono and we both had it: Me - Fresh Catch of the Day
                    White truffle Mashed Potatoes,
                    leek cream sauce, Hamakua tomato ceprese

                    Hubby had a Pasta Pesto with Ono. He also had a wonderful seafood bisque.

                    Headed to Farmer's Market on Wednesday and bought a SPECTACULAR pineapple to take back to condo with us. {It was so sweet and flavorful !

                    We were walking around and happened upon Moonstruck Patisserie on a side street - 16 Furneaux Ln - just a few steps from the main street. What a find. We had wonderful pastries and coffee and took home savory Curry puff [turnover] and a Quiche Florentine. Both were top notch.

                    Cafe Pesto
                    308 Kamehameha Ave # 101, Hilo, HI

                    Moonstruck Patissserie
                    16 Furneaux Ln, Hilo, HI 96720

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: DebitNM

                      Glad that Cafe Pesto still has the "magic." We enjoyed them, in years past. As things can change, it is never a certainty, that things have not gone downhill.

                      Mahalo for the report, and update,


                    2. It's been a year since our visit planned in the OP, and I like to make a practice of reporting back when I make a travel inquiry. I'll keep it simple and categorical rather than a daily report (which I can't recall anyways)


                      Da Poke Shack (Kona town). Just an awesome value. We could have eaten this every day (and nearly did). The Pele's Kiss combination was magical, the avocado poke luscious, and the various daily special sides, ranging from tiny pickled raw crabs to korean-style octopus salad, were excellent.

                      Pah i'u at the Four Seasons. Can't relate the fine details, but this proved a wonderful seafood-oriented meal and setting that did not seem possible after some of the experiences below.

                      Okolemaluna Tiki Lounge (Kona town). Sadly, this closed since our trip. It had great tiki cocktails and a local's vibe.

                      Farmer's market in Hilo. A utterly unique mix of old Japanese ladies, expatriated hippie kids and everything in between selling all manner of beautiful produce and tropical fruit at cheap prices. Got some great tsukemono here. Actually, my favorite farmer's market in the U.S.

                      Suisan Co. Ltd (Hilo): Great fish market that otherwise appears to be a wholesale facility. Also sells a dozen varieties of poke.


                      A bakery in Honoka'a, with nice tropical flavored pastries. Can't recall the name.

                      Tex's Drive-in (now am confused about location because was a different town from Honoka'a?). Decent burger (somewhat overdone, as are many stand burgers anywhere), but great malasadas. I think this was the first time in my life where I downed a cheesburger and donut in one meal. Felt like Homer Simpson.

                      Beach Tree (Mauna Kea). One is sort of captive at this stunning, quasi-public beach. Decent sandwiches and drinks at a high price.

                      Pine Tree Cafe (Kona): Good island-style plate lunches in alot of varieties.

                      Yong's Kalbi (Kamuela). Nice value for Korean standards served in the plate lunch format.


                      Don the Beachcomber, Kona Canoe Club. Very unremarkable food at high prices. Seems like the standard MO for tourist places on the main drag in Kona town. The former was especially dissapointing and the cocktails could not compare to the other tiki bar mentioned above.

                      Some plate lunch place on the main drag in Hilo--maybe we just don't like moco loco, but this version was tasteless.

                      Other than that, it was cooking in our lodging or totally forgettable.

                      Thanks to all for the suggestions.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: equinoise

                        Corrections/updates: Pahu i'a has since closed; Tex's was in fact in Honoka'a; the place at Mauna Kea is Hau Tree (not Beach Tree); the bakery mentioned was Mr. Ed's and it was in Honumu.

                        1. re: equinoise

                          Hey, that was good of you to update. I was just on the Big Island for a few months (Hilo side), so it's fun to read your post and relive the memories.

                          Glad you made it to Suisan. It's one of my favorite Hilo institutions; lots of history attached to that place.

                          Man, I could sure go for some of those Hilo Farmer's Market avocados right about now. Heavenly.

                        2. Will you have access to cooking facilities? If so, a trip to the Hilo farmers' market is a must (Wed. and Sat. - they have a good selection of tropical fruits if your cooking arrangements are limited).

                          We visited a coffee farm a few years back that was low-key and educational, though not too extensive. Can't remember its name, though.

                          1. One night on the island without exception for price would be Manta at Mauna Kea. Flawless service, fabulous food with many a local ingredient and a stunning, romantic setting.

                            1. Thanks Equinoise for the summary and update. We will definitely go to da poke shack. Is there any place in particular at the Hilo market that does the food truck thing? Or should we eat in Hilo? Also we are doing a drive on the Sunday and it seems like many places are closed. We are staying at the Fairmont (company trip) but will drive anywhere.

                              Also, I'm still trying to find the best fish taco...thanks for any more advice.

                              1. I went to the Big Island last yr Sept & hated staying in Hilo. Coqui frogs all night long & tons of mosquitoes!
                                YouTube of the noise: