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Trying to get a handle on the Big Island

Gosh it's big. Obvious, dumb statement, but I never realized it was Connecticut big. We're spending three nights at Waianuhea and four at the Fairmont Orchid, and given the size, I'm trying to trim down our food itinerary to what's truly worth the drive (and the money). Most of my research has been on the New York Times website (I saw a handful of critique-my-itinerary posts here, but none seemed quite on point), so I'm hoping that the CH community can let me know whether I'm going wrong with any of the following:

- Hilo Bay Cafe (Worth the hour-long drive from Honokaa? Anything to do in the area after dinner?)
- Waianuhea (Have to stay in at least one night)
- Merriman's
- Rapanui (Possibly before/after visiting Mauna Kea)
- Kenichi Pacific (though I welcome any other sushi recs)

Not planning on Brown's - $15 green salads and $57 steaks only seem fun when the company is paying, in my book, but please tell me if I should reconsider.

Two specific requests: are there any tiki joints left now that Okolemaluna closed? And if we do one classic, touristy, dinner-and-a-show type deal, what's our best bet?

Many, many thanks for your help. I'm feeling much more lost about this than I usually do.

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  1. I'm a big fan of Hilo's grab-and-go, local-style casual foods, and really think it's more of a breakfast-lunch kinda town than a dinner one.

    One of my favorite Hilo meals is to visit the historic Suisan fish market, grab some poke, and walk over to either Liliuokalani Gardens, or Coconut Island, or really anywhere right nearby, and have a picnic lunch by the bay. You get a gorgeous view of the coast, and sometimes Mauna Kea will peek out.

    You can mix-n-match a variety of poke in a rice bowl. I like to get the classic, simple Hawaiian ahi version.

    Or, you could pop by the Hilo Farmer's Market, and cobble together a meal from the vendors there. There is also the Farmers Kitchen Cafe at the Farmer's Market, and lots of other little mom-and-pop eateries nearby. It's fun to walk around Old Hilo and just soak up the ambiance, and local characters. The KTA around the corner from the Farmers Market is a hoot.

    The much-loved Hawaiian Style Cafe in Kamuela recently opened a branch in Hilo, but it sounds like it's bit rough around the edges right now.

    And if by chance Volcano is on your itinerary, you could get a classic Hilo plate lunch, drive up to the National Park, and have a lovely picnic there.

    Enjoy your time on the island.

    1. Hilo Bay Cafe is good for lunch or dinner, but no, not much doing in Hilo after dark. Would make more sense to do daytime activities down that way (Kilauea volcano, Puna district) and stop there for dinner before driving back to Honokaa after dark. The one exception to worthwhile evening events in Hilo would be the Merrie Monarch Festival (April 4-6, 2013), but that is a major goal in itself, and would be hard to get dinner reservations then anyway.

      Definitely keep Merriman's on your list...good for lunch, tops for dinner.

      1. If you are going to go visit the Volcano, try and plan to have dinner at Kilauea Lodge. The dining room is a wonderful place, they grow a lot of their own produce, and the menu has an unexpected selection. The soups are especially good. I always have trouble deciding between soup or salad. I've been known to get both.

        1. The Fairmont Orchid is one of our favorite Hotels....Anywhere! It has an awesome old Hawaii vibe and the beach is nice plus there's a Sushi joint right on property, although the service can be a little snarky. Browns is worth a visit. It is a bit pricey but the food is very good as is the service. What makes it worth every penny is having a table over looking the ocean at sunset as they light the Torches, often with local music. I wouldn't miss that opportunity, after all that's exactly what so many go to Hawaii for but I'd put this as a solid contender even if you just go for a drink and a appetizer.
          It's a little OT but if you stay on the Gold floor in the Fairmont the food is freakin killer. Their pastry Chef is very talented. The Gold floor here is better than the concierge level at any of the Four Seasons properties in Hawaii with one exception, Alcohol is not included. Oddly enough the Garden view rooms on the Gold floor have the best views (except the ocean front rooms).
          Merrimans is simply awesome. The veggies alone are worth the very scenic drive. Every trip we've taken to the BI we have gone to Merrimans at least twice and have never been disappointed.
          It's a bit touristy but if you are on the Hilo side the Mauna Loa factory store is worth a visit. We never did the tour but we do stock up on snacks. When you are the Kohala coast Costco is just down the road in Kona so you can grab wine and other snacks and save some $$$.
          I'd really like to hear where others suggest for LocoMoco and Spam Musubi.

          1 Reply
          1. re: TraderJoe

            Your mention of Mauna Loa reminded me to mention Big Island Candies in Hilo. Mostly cookies etc, well worth the visit.

            I'm sure there are others, but anywhere in Hawaii, 7-11 has some of the best Spam Musubi (distressing isn't it?)

            For a loco moco I'd check out Ken's, Tex's, Blaine's, and K's. But then, I'm just a guy from Honolulu.

          2. Thank you all for your replies. Sounds like Merriman's is the real deal, and I think we'll try to work in Kilauea Lodge for lunch on the day we visit Volcanoes Nat'l Park, then hit Hilo Bay Cafe for dinner on the way home. And, with that calorie intake, maybe walk home from Hilo.

            Any other feedback on sushi? Is Kenichi Pacific the place to go, or does anyone else recommend the Fairmont's sushi joint? Any other lighter fare for a more casual, less caloric dinner if we need a break from Merriman's, etc.?