Hawaii Big Island trip report
Aloha Chowhounds! Just back from a great week on the Big Island, since I used Chowhound to help find restaurants, I wanted to post my trip report. Apologize for the length and the chronological organization, but it’s the easiest way for me to organize. I hope this helps some future traveler find some of the Island’s great food!
Lots of people complain about the cost of things in Hawaii, but it’s still cheaper than Vancouver
You can get a good cup of coffee almost anywhere in Kona
Plate lunch rules!
Arrived at mid-day, starving after like 10 hours of traveling. My wife and I love Hawaiian plate lunch, so we headed from the rental car place straight to Pine Tree for an awesome first Island lunch. It’s just a mile or so towards Kailua from the airport, in the typical Kona strip mall. Solid lunch, they have the usual plate lunch menu of like a thousand options served with rice and mac salad. Had the spicy garlic chicken, awesome.
We were fighting jet lag and stuffed bellies the rest of the afternoon, but made time to tour the Holualoah coffee plantation, which was fun and they had good coffee to taste. Had some pre-dinner drinks at Humpy’s on Alii, didn’t love the sports bar atmosphere, but enjoyed the chance to try some Hawaiian microbrews we can’t get on the mainland. Finally, made it to Rapa Nui for dinner. This is a great place! Love the spicy southeast Asian food and the mellow patio seating. It’s a little hard to find, but worth the effort – make sure to google it before you head out. Portions are huge, my wife and I were able to split one of the combo plates plus an app and it was plenty of food. We liked it enough to go back again later in our trip!
Spent the morning snorkeling then headed to Island Lava Java for lunch. Obviously a well-known place, the brunch options weren’t really any different from what we get at home, but it’s a really nice place to sit outside with a coffee and enjoy lunch. I also liked the coconut topping on the pancakes. We went back several times for to-go coffees, since it’s located right on our drive north (and has free parking).
Dinner was our one “fancy” meal for the trip. We headed up to Waimea for dinner at Merriman’s. After reading through the blogs and Chowhound, it seemed to be the most consistently recommended restaurant on the Island. I was surprised when we got there how fancy it was and how traditional (if you squinted and ignored all the Hawaiian shirts!). But the food was awesome! Everything we had, apps, entrees, dinner, was great. It is definitely not cheap, but it was very good.
Spent the morning kayaking and snorkeling at Capt Cook, once we got off our boats we were starving, so we headed back up the hill and to the nearby Manago Hotel, just a couple of miles south on the Belt Road. The Manago is a historic hotel, honestly looks a little down at the heels, but the dining room is great, very atmospheric and historic. They are known for their smothered pork chops, and they were very good. Recommended. I’m kind of sorry I didn’t try the liver, which also looked good. The farmer’s market across the street is also nice.
We did the nighttime manta ray kayak / snorkel in the evening (highly recommended!) which put us back into Kona late on a Sunday night. Unfortunately, not much is open late on Hawaii on a Sunday, and we were a little gross for some of the touristy places that stay open out by the resorts. Fortunately, the Kona Brewery was still open. This is a super useful place for Kona visitors! The food is fine, nothing special, absolutely typical of brewpub food everywhere, but I like their beer and they were open, so I’ll call it a win!
Monday we headed to Southpoint, so breakfast was to go coffee and pastries from Daylight Minds on Alii. This place is amazing – maybe the nicest coffee house I’ve ever been to. The place is huge and has a beautiful deck. They have their own roaster and great coffee. They were doing free yoga lessons the morning we were there. The only drawback is crappy parking, we ended up paying to park in the basement ($3).
Lunch was at Hana Hou in Na’alehu near southpoint. Claims to be the southernmost restaurant in the U.S. Old fashioned Island diner. Good plate lunch. On the way back to Kona stopped again in Na’alehu to grab pastries from the Punalu’u bake shop, cool place but I wasn’t in love with the pastries we got – maybe we mis-ordered.
Dinner was at the Big Island Grill. Had some kind of “super loco moco” with 4 or 5 different kind of meats. It was delicious (I love loco moco) but the portion was a little bit obscene. Big Island was the only place we went that was so crowded we had to wait for a table, so you know its popular, although it was cleared out by 8pm – Hawaiians really don’t eat late!
Plenty of leftovers Tuesday morning, so didn’t stop until lunch on the north side of the Island. After hike at Pololu, stopped at the Kohala Coffee Mill in Hawi. Very cool place, decent sandwiches to go. We had heard about tropical dreams ice cream, and this was our first time to try it. It really is good!, highly recommended. Long afternoon of driving around the north side of the Island, followed by sunset at Mauna Kea (awesome), so didn’t make it back to Kailua until late. Fortunately, Rapa Nui still open, still great, and enjoyed it much more the 2nd time when we weren't feeling the jet lag so much.
Wednesday was our switch over to the Hilo side of the Island. We tried to stop for coffee and pastries at the local coffee place in the Kings Shops in Kohala, but it was out of business. Ended up at Starbucks in Queens Shops, pretty much what you'd expect from Starbucks. Lunch was at Café 100 in Hilo – the widest selection of loco mocos I’ve evern seen! (like 30 of them). Fun place, definitely not fancy. Did have to wait in line to order, seems very popular w/the locals. Dinner was at Island Style in Hilo. More plate lunch (or plate dinner), had chicken katsu, pretty good.
Spend Thursday at the National Park, so lunch was takeout sandwiches from the general store in Volcano. Actually, were pretty good, although after a morning spent hiking, anything would have tasted pretty good. We were going to go to Thai Thai for dinner, but as the rain and fog rolled in, we decided we wanted something heartier so we ended up at the Lodge instead. Very fancy and definitely not cheap! The menu was a strange mix of very old fashioned (when was the last time you saw duck a la orange on a menu?) and interesting (I had a great antelope schnitzel). I’m not sure that it was enough better than Thai Thai to be worth the price difference, but it was definitely a very good and very satisfying meal. Note, we got a walk-in table but we showed up early, like 5:30, when we left around 7 the place was full.
Our last day on the Island! Lunch was a repeat at Island Style, followed by snacks at the Big Island Candy outlet across the street. Good on the second visit, too. Stopped for tropical dreams at the smoothie place on the scenic road near the botanical gardens (I can’t remember the name – some kind of pun off the word “Shake”) Dinner was at Pine Tree again – one of the things that makes it useful is its airport-adjacent location, good place to carb up before the red-eye flight back home.