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Itinerary Review (Kauai, Oaho, Big Island)

Will be visiting Hawaii next week and would love any input for the food itinerary I've came up with, especially with choosing from the different places listed for Kauai. Anything we should remove/add? I know Oahu is a stretch and we might have to remove some places, but figure I'd include everything that sounds interesting! Background, we are New Yorkers with an affinity for Asian food and baked goods.

Lunch: Mark's Place
Dessert: The Right Slice
Snack: Puka Dog (& maybe Savage Shrimp)

Breakfast: Ono Family Restaurant OR Kountry Kitchen OR Pono Market
Lunch: Kilauea Fish Market OR Hanalei Dolphin Fish Market

After canyon drive: Island Taco
Before flight: The Fish Express (OR Koloa Fish Market)
Late Dinner at Oahu: Side Street Inn
Dessert: Liliha Bakery

Breakfast: Iyasume Musubi
Lunch: Marukame Udon
Post-lunch dessert: Leonard's Bakery
Post-hike dessert: Uncle Clay's House of Pure Aloha
Lunch #2: Rainbow Drive-in
Dinner: Alan Wong's

Breakfast: Mitsu-Ken
Snack for hike: Kamehameha Bakery
Lunch: Dean's Drive-Inn OR The Food Company
Snack: Agnes Portuguese Bakeshop
Dinner: Sushi Izakaya Gaku
Dessert: Bubbie's Ice Cream
Midnight Snack: Lucky Belly

Breakfast: Helena’s Hawaiian Food
Bakery Stop: Ani's Bake Shop
Lunch: Giovanni's Shrimp Truck & Dat Cajun Guy
Post-lunch dessert: Matsumoto Shave Ice
Dessert #2: Ted's Bakery
Before/for flight: Ono Seafood

Lunch: recommendation for something in the Waikoloa area?
Early dinner (before manta snorkel): Da Poke Shack
Dessert: Scandinavian Shave Ice
Anything open late that'd be really good for a snack/second dinner at the manta snorkel?

Breakfast: Hawaiian Style Cafe
Snack: Tex Drive in
Lunch: Merriman's
Early Dinner; Roy's
Midnight Snack: Ken's House of Pancakes

Breakfast: Cafe 100
Post-lunch Dessert: moonstruck patisserie
Snacks to buy: Big Island Candies, Low International Food, Two Ladies Kitchen
Lunch: Bento from Puka Puka Kitchen for later
Dinner: Thai Thai

Breakfast: ???
Lunch: Hana Hou
Post-lunch snack: Punalu'u Bake Shop
Dinner: Annie's Island Fresh Burgers (closes 8:00)

DAY 11
Breakfast: Island Lava Java
Snack: Umeke’s
Lunch: Ka'aloa's Super J's Authentic Hawaiian Food
Dinner: Rapanui Island Cafe

Thank you!! I know this looks a little crazy =D

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  1. Hey, tofu:

    You picked good places, yeah?

    Humble suggestion: Hawai'i is best enjoyed with minimal itineraries. If you have to (or already have), read up, go for a drive or walk or hike or swim, and think: "Dang I'm hungry! Hey, look over there, that's __________ I read about." Or "Oooooh, I've never tried Kahuku shrimp or akule before, but here it is, right on the road and whoa, that smells good!"

    Make it an adventure, hiki no?


    2 Replies
    1. re: kaleokahu

      haha I know I go a bit overboard with the food planning. it's likely we won't follow everything, but I just like to know my options =)

      1. re: tofuavecfa

        Your schedule is extremely ambitious.

        You might also find yourself tired earlier than normal due fresh air, exercise, jet lag, the time change, and unable to fit in those late night snacks.

        Your body will think it's 6 hours later.

    2. Since this a long list, I'm going to remark by island. I do travel to all these islands frequently for work and have eaten and over 90% of the places you have listed. For Kauai, I would recommend these changes:

      DAY 1 KAUAI
      Lunch: Mark's Place (good)
      Dessert: The Right Slice (never been)
      Snack: Puka Dog (& maybe Savage Shrimp) (go a little further down the road to Brick Oven Pizza in Kalaheo. Puka Dog is nothing special other than the "tropical" condiments. At Kalaheo Pizza, at least the pizza is good. Another option across the street is Kalaheo Cafe and Coffee (sandwiches and baked goods)

      DAY 2 KAUAI
      Breakfast: Ono Family Restaurant (I would stay with this one)
      Lunch: Try Kilauea Bakery (they serve lunches here and have great baked goods and coffee to boot).

      DAY 3 KAUAI -> OAHU
      After canyon drive: Try Ishihara Market (Spicy Tuna Bowl). The best seafood in Hawaii will always be of the raw variation
      Before flight: Try Kalapaki Beach Hut. Casual and decent burgers
      Late Dinner at Oahu: Side Street Inn (very good)
      Dessert: Liliha Bakery (very good but 20 minutes from Side Street. Maybe get some mochi ice cream from Bubbies on this night. It'll be 10 minutes from either Side Street location)

      9 Replies
      1. re: Sushi Otaku

        I'm a NYer and I like Puka Dog; it's something I can't find at home and it's fun.

        Not sure I would really be sending a NYer to find pizza in Hawaii.

        Ishihara Market after Waimea Canyon is a good call. You can get takeout and eat it at the picnic tables outside.

        1. re: kathryn

          Also: no visit to Hamura's Saimin?

          1. re: kathryn

            O-Ver-Rated! (Clap clap clapclapclap)

              1. re: kathryn

                If it's for saimin, I would wait until you're back on Oahu and go to Santouka Ramen (Kaheka). If it's for the Lihue area I would recommend Mark's Drive Inn II, pick up a bento box and take it to the airport.

                With that said, my friend and I were just talking about this place last weekend and he said that if you ask for the noodles "firm", that makes all the difference. I'm doubtful but willing to give it another go. I'm actually going to be on Kauai next week so maybe I'll stop by.

                  1. re: Sushi Otaku

                    So I haven't been to Hamura Saimin, and honestly I like but do not love saimin as a whole (it's comfort food to me, I grew up eating it, but the only time I crave it is when I am sick)...

                    That said, saimin is NOT the same thing as ramen and in my mind are not interchangeable. OP said they are from NY, and if they meant NYC, not only are there much better ramen places in NYC, there is an actual Santouka in the Mitsuwa in New Jersey.

                    My recommendation would be to try saimin somewhere while they are here as it is unique to the islands, even if it's not the most amazing dish. Just set your expectations accordingly :)

                    1. re: Sushi Otaku

                      Forget the Saimin at Hamura's... it's all about their Lilikoi Chiffon Pie... BEST DESSERT EVER!!! Seriously. :)

            1. re: Sushi Otaku

              And ssince this was posted the second Liliha Bakery has opened on Nimitz in the old Sam Chois accross from City Mill.

            2. DAY 4 OAHU
              Breakfast: Iyasume Musubi (if you're staying in Waikiki this day, wake up early and go to Eggs & Things instead)
              Lunch: Marukame Udon (good)
              Post-lunch dessert: Leonard's Bakery (not bad but very crowded. Champion's Bakery is a better quality malasada as it's owned and operated by one of the original Leonard's Bakery bakers)
              Post-hike dessert: Waiola Shave Ice (since you're heading back to Waikiki anyway post-hike)
              Lunch #2: Ono Seafood (1 minute walk from Waiola and they mix their poke only after you order it)
              Dinner: Alan Wong's (very good)

              DAY 5 OAHU
              Breakfast: Mitsu-Ken (good)
              Snack for hike: Kamehameha Bakery (good)
              Lunch: In He'eia Kea Pier General Store (still in the area you're going to be in anyway). Kealoha Hawaiian Food (if you are going to be in Kailua
              Snack: Agnes Portuguese Bakeshop (good)
              Dinner: Sushi Izakaya Gaku (excellent)
              Dessert: Bubbie's Ice Cream (good)
              Midnight Snack: Pig & the Lady (open until 1130pm on Friday and Saturday (they just received their first James Beard Nomination after just being open only 5 months)

              DAY 6 OAHU
              Breakfast: Helena’s Hawaiian Food (very good)
              Bakery Stop: Liliha Bakery (5 minutes from Helena's)
              Lunch: Giovanni's Shrimp Truck (this one)
              Post-lunch dessert: Matsumoto Shave Ice
              Dessert #2: Ted's Bakery (chocolate haupia is a must)
              Before/for flight: Ono Seafood

              1. DAY 7 KONA
                Lunch: recommendation for something in the Waikoloa area? (good luck. this area is a culinary desert. Merriman's Cafe is probably your best bet)
                Early dinner (before manta snorkel): Da Poke Shack
                Dessert: Scandinavian Shave Ice (never been)
                Anything open late that'd be really good for a snack/second dinner at the manta snorkel? (In Kona almost everywhere closes at 8pm. Best bet is Kona Brewing Company

                DAY 8 KONA AND HILO
                Breakfast: I'd recommend Waimea Coffee Co instead
                Snack: Look for a Farmer's Markets that you can pick up stuff
                Lunch: Merriman's (or Yong's KalBi - best Bi Bim Bap I've ever had)
                Early Dinner; Roy's (this is a franchise Roy's with terrible food. I highly recommend not going here)
                Midnight Snack: Ken's House of Pancakes (You're having dinner in Waikoloa then driving to Hilo 2 hours away? )

                Breakfast: Cafe 100 (Koji's Bento Korner has the superior Loco Moco. Cafe 100 is ok)
                Post-lunch Dessert: moonstruck patisserie
                Snacks to buy: Big Island Candies, Low International Food, Two Ladies Kitchen
                Lunch: Bento from Puka Puka Kitchen for later
                Dinner: Miyo's (Japanese). Other than Japanese food, Hilo doesn't do other good Asian food.

                DAY 10 VOLCANO TO KAILUA-KONA
                Breakfast: Go to Island Naturals and make a breakfast plate. While there, buy your coffee beans here as they stock some great beans from farms that you won't see anywhere else. My favorite is Rusty's Coffee Beans.
                Lunch: Hana Hou (never been)
                Post-lunch snack: Punalu'u Bake Shop (never been)
                Dinner:Manago Inn (local family style. Get the pork chops). Annie's Burger is so-so if you want a burger with dry crumbly buns.

                DAY 11
                Breakfast: Island Lava Java (never been)
                Snack: Umeke’s (good)
                Lunch: Ka'aloa's Super J's Authentic Hawaiian Food (good)
                Dinner: Rapanui Island Cafe (never been)

                18 Replies
                1. re: Sushi Otaku

                  thanks so much for your suggestions!! regarding roy's, I thought their franchises were only for the non-island locations? I know everyone recommends the one in waikiki instead but with only two dinners in Oahu, that means I'll have to give up Sushi Izakaya Gaku...

                  1. re: tofuavecfa

                    A choice between Gaku and Roy's would be easy for me. While I like Roy's and have eaten at the Hawaii Kai location many times over the years, Gaku is special.

                    1. re: tofuavecfa

                      The Hawaii Kai and Waikiki Roy's are by far better than the others. If you stick with the classics then it is hard for them to screw that up, but otherwise the one in Waikoloa is a mixed bag. You have a nice list, but I like Sushi Otaku's suggestions. It seems like I have a food double out there.
                      I would not give up Gaku for Roy's. Also, while I think Champions malasada is good, I still prefer Leonard's. Champions is less crowded and cheaper though.
                      I never would think of bringing pastries as a snack for a hike. I would switch Kamehameha Bakery to breakfast and bring the Mitsu-ken bento on the hike or go to another okazuya and pick up stuff for the hike like musubi.
                      Other options that you might want to consider especially if looking for something to eat after hiking Diamond Head are Diamond Head Bakery & Grill, Pioneer Saloon & Monsarrat Shave Ice.

                      1. re: killersmile

                        Agreed on the hiking suggestion. Since you're staying in Waikiki, make a stop at Gulick Deli (King Street). They open at 6am and have lots of items that are "hike friendly".

                      2. re: tofuavecfa

                        Roy owns all of the Hawaii locations. The mainland are franchised through another corporation. This I know from the horse's mouth as it were.

                        1. re: manomin

                          Good to know. Nevertheless, having eaten at every Roy's in Hawaii I can truly say that the Waikoloa one is the absolute worst of the bunch.

                        2. re: tofuavecfa

                          Don't give up Gaku. That is the crown jewel of your list.

                          1. re: tofuavecfa

                            thanks everyone! will definitely keep Gaku based on the consensus here. If anyone has been to NY, how does Gaku compare to top sushi places in NY? I'm really intrigued by all the rave reviews it gets here!

                            1. re: tofuavecfa

                              It doesn't and it isn't trying to. Gaku is an izakaya and what it does, it does very well with a lot of attention to detail. Just don't expect to compare it to a top NYC sushi restaurant where one can easily spend $300+ per person.

                              1. re: curiousgeo

                                If you want "blow your mind" sushi, go to Sasabune. Be warned though, that it's all Omakase at the chef's discretion. This means that you have no say in what to order. You get whatever is good for that day. Your own choices are what you want to drink and when you want to stop. I've been here several times and have never been disappointed. Runs about $125/person

                                  1. re: kathryn

                                    That's right, I forgot about that.

                              2. re: tofuavecfa

                                Apples to oranges comparison. Don't try to compare Gaku to a 15 East, Yasuda, etc. I'd try mostly non-sushi dishes there.

                                1. re: kathryn

                                  got it! will set my expectations accordingly. I'm a huge fan of izakayas in general so i'm definitely excited to try their non-sushi dishes regardless.

                            2. re: Sushi Otaku

                              Island Naturals is in Hilo and thus 45 minutes or so backtrack in the wrong direction assuming the OP is staying in Volcano the night before as the itinerary implies. Options are fairly limited in Volcano, but many accomodations include breakfast, probably for that reason. Or try the Kilauea Military camp: open to the public and getting good reports, although I've never been.

                              Regarding Hana Hou: I've never been but you will be there too early to want lunch unless you hang out a while in Volcano before going over to the Kona side. You might want to consider lunch at Super J's this day instead of day 11, as it is very much out of your way once you are in Kona proper, your itinerary is too ambitous already, and you won't want to backtrack to go there. We really liked it, but as a stop on the way to Volcano, not as somewhere I'd drive back from Kona to go to after spending a week doing way too much driving already.

                              Regarding Punalu'u Bake shop: first of all, it isn't very far from Hana Hou, so the only reason to stop there would be to get food for later. I wouldnt bother. We stopped there on our last trip, and were so overwhelmed by the touristy nature of the place, number of people (around lunch time) and LOUD music that totally destroyed what little 'out of the way' ambiance the place had, that we used the admittedly very nice and clean (and large, they get tourist bus traffic) restrooms, and left. You've been warned. I refuse to believe you can't get snacks just as good elsewhere without the hype.

                              1. re: susancinsf

                                If you're staying at the Volcano park, consider going to Kau Coffee Farms to pick up your beans. It's a newer farm but they do a great bean to take home

                                1. re: Sushi Otaku

                                  yes, I concur. A better stop than Punalu'u in my opinion.

                                  1. re: susancinsf

                                    thanks! I am staying in volcano that night so i'll definitely do that instead!

                            3. You've done a lot of impressive research and I know you want to experience as many great food stops as possible. But you are wise in thinking that some of your days are a too ambitious food wise. I would rather eat a bit less during the day and savor those Oahu dinners at Side Street, Alan Wong's and Gaku, eating to your hearts content there.

                              Good call on the Manago Hotel in Captain Cook, an old time island favorite. Check on times for Helena's. I don't think they are open for breakfast and I personally really wouldn't want to eat lau lau, kalua pig, pipikaula, naau, etc. first thing in the morning.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: curiousgeo

                                Helena's opens at 10:30 am and is only open Tuesday through Friday.

                                1. re: kathryn

                                  Four words on breakfast

                                  Liliha Bakery Loco Moco

                              2. Are you accounting for the time change from the East Coast?

                                You'll also probably wake up very early (4-5am) the first few days. I'd make sure your breakfast spots open early.

                                Any reason why you don't have dinners the first two days? Time change? Other plans? Luau?

                                Do you have reservations for all of the upscale dinners already? I've seen people turned away at Gaku, for example.

                                Have you checked this against hours of operations and days of the week?

                                For example, we tried to go to Dean's and Agnes on a Monday. And both were closed. Dean's seems to have irregular closures, judging from their Facebook Page.

                                Whereas Agnes is usually closed Mondays.

                                Helena's is also closed Mondays.

                                Gaku is closed Sundays.

                                8 Replies
                                1. re: kathryn

                                  For Gaku's you have to call at least a week in advance for a reservation. With that said, they only reserve tables for seating from 5 -7pm. They do not accept reservations for 7pm on.

                                  1. re: Sushi Otaku

                                    thanks both! I already made reservations for Alan Wong's, Roy's, and Gaku =D

                                    @kathryn We're actually attending a wedding in Kauai so dinner for the first two nights are set. We usually get over our jet-lagged very quickly so that shouldn't be an issue (actually, even better if I do manage to wake up earlier so I can get in some gym time to balance all this eating ha)

                                    1. re: tofuavecfa

                                      I strongly recommend you make the time for Pig & the Lady. They are getting a lot of national buzz and features on the cable food channels. White Linen dinners in Hawaii take a second nowadays to the hip independents. Town would be another great example of this.

                                      1. re: Sushi Otaku

                                        The Pig & the Lady is excellent and NYC is not strong in creative Vietnamese / what they do.

                                        They are also at the Saturday morning farmers market at KCC. From your schedule it looks like you'll be missing that?

                                        The hip kind of places like Town are all over NYC though and not necessarily what one travels to Hawaii for. I've seen foie gras french toast on more than a few menus here.

                                        1. re: kathryn

                                          By that rationale he should just eat Hawaiian food and malasadas if he was to only eat things you probably can only find in Hawaii. Isn't it fun to try many places and appreciate the different interpretations of the same ideas? End of the day, he'll eat where he finds interesting regardless if it exists in NY or not. We're just trying to help right?

                                          1. re: Sushi Otaku

                                            My advice is to give priority to things that are hard to find at home, especially since this doesn't look like that long a trip and it's a very long flight from the East coast. That's how I approach my trips to Hawaii.

                                      2. re: tofuavecfa

                                        To tempt you further, my friend just went to this place in Kailua and had this...

                                  2. I did a similar 3 island, 15 -day trip 2 summers ago. Same 3 islands, too. :-) However, my food itinerary was based more on what was near whatever I was visiting each particular day or what was on the way toward or back.

                                    Ono Family is very good, I visited twice when I stayed in Lihue. Had an ahi omelet one day and a mahi mahi eggs benedict the other day, both were fantastic.

                                    Mark's Place was good, but it's a remote restaurant in an industrial business park. If you're in the area or passing by, it's fine to visit, but I wouldn't drive out of the way to go.

                                    I remember Kountry Kitchen being very good. Had a Kalua pork omelet there.

                                    Just be aware if it's your first visit to the Big Island and if you're staying at one hotel the entire time, how far apart everything is and the long drive times to get from Kailua-Kona to Hilo (80-90 miles) and from Hilo to the Volcano (40-50 miles) and then back to Kailua-Kona (80-90 miles). That was my only miscalculation on my trip that I didn't factor into my planning, as I stayed in Kailua-Kona only during my stay.

                                    Just have fun. My trip was one of my best vacations I ever took, took tons of photos that bring me back to the islands whenever I look at them, and the food helped add to the special memories of my trip.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Wonginator

                                      thanks for the recs! we are staying in multiple places on the big island, but the driving does look pretty crazy. that's actually another reason it'll be nice to have food stops along the way so we can take some breaks along the way to different places!

                                    2. Regarding Day 8: the itinerary confuses me. Take a closer look at the map, you are zigzagging back and forth, and I agree with other posters that Roy's isn't worth the zig zagging (not sure it is worth the stop period. If you are looking for an upscale dinner near Waikaloa, Monstera in the Mauna Lani shops beats the pants off of Roy's. On our last visit in May, hubby declared Monstera the best food he had on the Big Island (and I was inclined to agree, especially the outstanding seaweed salad), although we both found the service to be lacking. (on a previous visit when I sat at the sushi bar, service was fantastic). Monstera is open for lunch if that works better. Personally, I just don't get why you'd want to have dinner on the west side and then drive to Hilo after dinner, especially since that is when the saddle road (ordinarily fine these days) is more likely to be very, very foggy and deserted. I wouldn't hesitate to drive the saddle road these days but I WOULD hesitate to drive it at night.

                                      I am not a Merriman's fan, personally, though I've only eaten there once. (I thought it was too pricey and food wasn't as good as I'd expect). But others seem to like it.

                                      A lower end and quicker option in Waimea is VIllage Burger. Made to order, delicious burgers and if you ask for it rare, you get it rare. You can call ahead to order. On our trip to BI in May it was one of the best meals of our trip.

                                      My recommendation for the post manta snack would be to be sure you get an accomodation with a fridge, and then get extra at Da Poke Shack and keep it in your fridge for after the snorkle. You will likely be cold and want a hot shower before you eat, and yeah, there isn't much open as late as it will be after all of that.

                                      Also, unless there is a new Hawaiian Style Cafe that I am unaware of, the closest one to Kona is in Waimea, which means if you are staying in Kailua Kona proper, you will have to drive AT LEAST 45 minutes for breakfast. Otherwise, if you are staying up near Waikaloa, I am even more confused by your itinerary for Day 8: breakfast in Waimea, up to Tex's, back to Waimea for lunch, over to Waikaloa for dinner, THEN to Hilo? I thnk you need to make google maps your friend and rethink some of this itinerary, particularly this part of it. To further emphasize: some of what you are proposing MIGHT (emphasis on the MIGHT) make sense if the primary purpose of your trip is to eat. But, if the primary purpose is to eat, skip the Big Island and hit Maui instead. A lot of the places you list are good, but certainly not good enough that you will want to give up seeing what is best about the Big Island (its underwater wonders, its historical sites, the Volcano, wandering in its farmer's markets, its small towns to wander in) in order to eat there...especially if you are coming from New York. IMHO of course..

                                      9 Replies
                                      1. re: susancinsf

                                        Day 8 looks like it's being spent up in Waimea and then trekking down the East side to Hilo. The odd choice is Roy's in Waikoloa.but I think all the replies on this post has taken that place off the list. That leaves a hole for dinner that night in the Hilo area. I'm thinking Miyo's?

                                        1. re: Sushi Otaku

                                          It was the part about going up to Honoka'a to have a snack at Tex and then back to Waimea for lunch, after breakfast in Waimea, that confused me the most. Perhaps the morning is being spent touring Waipio Valley? My point is that I don't think the backtracking to have lunch at Merriman's is worth it, but just my opinion. I'd have lunch with malasadas and keep going towards Hilo rather than head back Merriman's for lunch. and I wouldn't build an itinerary around the malasadas to begin with.....

                                          I've never been to Miyo's and if there has been much reporting here about it, I've missed it. Would love to hear more if you have a recent report.

                                          1. re: susancinsf

                                            For day 8, you're correct that we're planning to spend the morning touring Waipio Valley. The reason for backtracking is that instead of directly going to Hilo, we were planning to have an early dinner and then drive to the Mauna Kea visitor's station afterwards.

                                            1. re: tofuavecfa

                                              If you're backtracking go to Yongs Kalbi. They make their own gochujang so their Bi Bim Bap is worthy of the still

                                              1. re: tofuavecfa

                                                That sort of makes sense then, *other* than the fact that if the weather is at all iffy, I think you will regret your decision to take the saddle road after dark (and there really isn't that much to see or do at the Mauna Kea visitor's station unless the stars are out, so presumably you are timing it for after dark). Would be a total bust if it is cloudy or raining, and the road can be daunting in the (not uncommon) fog. (quite possible for the visitor's station to be above the fog, but not the rest of the road. If it is raining, you won't see stars anywhere along the route). Besides, the northern route from Honoka'a to Hilo is beautiful, with waterfalls and gardens that are gorgeous rain or shine. Edited to add: If you do insist on such craziness, I'd just do a light lunch/snack at Tex's and then have your early dinner at Merriman's rather than take the extra time to drive down to Waikaloa. My one unimpressive meal at Merriman's was at lunch, and I wonder if they aren't a better dinner place. Take a look at the lunch and dinner menus online: they do seem to be different.

                                                1. re: susancinsf

                                                  hmm noted. we'll adjust our route based on the weather for that day. thanks!

                                                  1. re: tofuavecfa

                                                    Saw this over the weekend and took a quick pic for you. It probably didn't have anything you need but you may find a coupon or two that aligns with your dining plans. I believe you'll find these at any airport baggage claim area. This one was at the customer service area at a local Safeway.

                                                    1. re: tofuavecfa

                                                      Look forward to some of this when you get here. Make sure you always have a small cooler filled with ice and keep stuff like this in there to snack on through the day. Can't find this on Madison and Fifth

                                                2. re: susancinsf

                                                  It's a Locals place so off the tourist radar. Check Yelp for better reviews. Hilo is very much a sleepy town without much of a tourist market. I've been going there bi-weekly since 2004 and I have a hard time every trip finding a dinner that I can recommend on here.

                                            2. Aloha..
                                              When your in the islands, you need to get rid of the rigid list and let things flow.

                                              Yes, there are places that are must to try but I would let things happen organically...once you've been, you will get what I and others are talking about.

                                              Kaua'i is my fave and I would add:

                                              Hamura Saimin for saimin and lilikoi pie in Lihue..James Beard nominated.
                                              Red Salt in Poipu


                                              Roy's Waikiki..Ahi Poke and Hamachi is stellar..Butterfish and Ahi (seared rare) for entree's
                                              Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai Bar for Mai Tai's


                                              4 Replies
                                              1. re: Beach Chick

                                                What BC said in her first couple sentences, 100 times over. I adore Hawaii and try to go there at least twice a year (usually Maui). but at the risk of being de-Chowhounded, I have to say it's really not a food destination for me, unlike, say, Paris or NYC or many other vacation spots. I mean there are some restaurants that I really like, but to me it's a place where you plan your day around surfing, snorkeling, hiking, or sitting on the lanai staring at the ocean, not around where you're going to eat every meal. But that's just me.

                                                1. re: cookie monster

                                                  While I agree it is important to take advantage of all of the natural beauty Hawaii has to offer, I would say it is also very important to scout out where the good places to eat are near the locations you are planning to visit. The food here can be terrible and/or wildly overpriced for the unprepared, especially near tourist attractions and in resort areas.

                                                  On the other hand, thanks to the internet, visitors can now eat some of the finest local food available, if they are willing to go looking for it. I recently saw two Japanese tourists getting their picture taken outside of Tanioka's in Waipahu. They did their homework!

                                                  In terms of fine dining, I agree Hawaii is not a world class dining destination like NYC or Paris. However, we do have a very interesting and distinctive regional cuisine that is worth seeking out.

                                                  By the way, if you can only make it to one location from your list for snacks in Hilo, make sure it's Two Ladies Kitchen. The mochi is wonderful.

                                                  1. re: Quince

                                                    Good point about scouting out the best dining options near the locations you plan to visit. There are some truly bad places aimed at tourists. I now have a back-up plan when I'm wandering about the island, in the form of a cheap cooler and ice packs in the back of the rental car stocked with fruit, cheese, crackers, salami, yogurt, cookies, bottled water, etc for impromptu picnics.

                                                    1. re: Quince

                                                      Indeed, to truly take advantage of the best of the food that Hawaii has to offer, IMO one also should try a bit of cooking with the distinctive ingredients that are hard to find elsewhere. Even coming from California where most anything is available if one looks a bit, I see fruit in the farmers markets in Hawaii that I've never tried before, even after multiple trips. and the markets are fun as well as a good way to learn more about those ingredients. But of course, shopping takes time and cooking a few meals is difficult when one is in a different locale every night or two.

                                                2. Thanks everyone so much for your help! I had an amazing time in Hawaii. As predicted, we had to make some adjustments based on our schedule and appetite, but here's a rundown of what we did manage to hit.

                                                  Did not get to try a lot of stuff in Kauai based on our tight schedule and the fact some places were closed for the July 4th weekend. I did actually love PUKA DOG. I generally love a good hot dog, and this was both unique and delicious. THE FISH EXPRESS was pretty good. SHRIMP STATION was and ISLAND TACO were both just okay and not memorable.

                                                  I loveeeeed Oahu.
                                                  Side Street Inn: The fried rice was delicious. I didn't really cared for the pork chops though but my SO enjoyed it. It was too dry for me. Beef stew was super salty.
                                                  Bubbies: Good mochis for one of the few late night dessert options (but long lines).
                                                  Marukame Udon: Very good but similar to a place I go to at home so didn't stand out too much for me.
                                                  *** Waiola Shave Ice: BEST shaved ice on this trip for me. We actually went to both locations in one day, after both our hikes. The ice was great, the flavors were were great. Really recommend it.
                                                  *** Lenoard's Bakery: LOVED it. Piping hot mouthful of deliciousness. Didn't enjoy the ones with filings as much. though.
                                                  Ono Seafood: Very good poke. Spicy > Shoyu
                                                  *** Alan Wong's: Delicious. Enjoyed the appetizers a lot more than the entrees though. Favs were the “Soup And Sandwich”, Butter Poached Kona Cold Lobster, Lobster “Tofu” Agedashi, Whole Tomato Salad, and the Pineapple “Shave Ice”.
                                                  Rainbow Drive-in: Good but not entirely memorable.
                                                  *** Iyasume Musubi: Best musubi of the trip.
                                                  Liliha Bakery: Cream puffs were just ok for me. Nothing special.
                                                  *** Sushi Izakaya Gaku: Yum, yum, yum. We had to cancel our 7:00 pm reservation since we were running late from our hikes, but there was no wait at 9:00. Unfortunately, they had also ran out of salmon and oysters by 9:00. Everything we had was delicious though (except for the TNT).
                                                  *** Patisserie La Palme D'Or: Had the jelly mocha au lait here and thought it was amazing. I think it's mainly due to the fact I never had coffee jelly before. I need to search for it in more places now.
                                                  *** Helena's Hawaiian Food: Short ribs <3
                                                  *** Kamehameha Bakery: The poi glazed was AMAZING. Didn't enjoy the one with haupia as much.
                                                  Ani's Bake Shop: Yummy lilikoi butter cream rolls!
                                                  Giovanni's Famous Shrimp: Good, but not amazing for me.
                                                  Matsumoto Shave Ice: Not bad but don't really understand the hype.

                                                  Sad to have missed Ted's Bakery and The Pig and the Lady, but I know I'll be back to Oahu at some point =)

                                                  THE BIG ISLAND
                                                  Since places tend to close pretty early on the Big Island, we didn't end up hitting a lot places here either.
                                                  ***Da Poke Shack: Very good, but we went towards the end of the day and they ran out of a lot of stuff already. Would go for lunch instead.
                                                  Tex Drive In: Good, but not that memorable.
                                                  ***Roy's Waikoloa: I know everyone advised against this Roy's, but since we ended up going anyway and really enjoyed it mainly because of the butterfish. We went during happy hour which was a great deal. The butterfish, the fries (yes, the fries), and the molten chocolate cake was great. Everything else forgettable.
                                                  Hawaiian Style Cafe: Good but not memorable. French toast was meh.
                                                  Two Ladies Kitchen: They were super nice but didn't love this as much as everyone else seem to.
                                                  Thai Thai: Pretty decent thai food with limited options in the volcano area.
                                                  Hana Hou: Surprisingly good! Chicken was tender, and the mac nut pie was good!
                                                  Kanaka Kava: Interesting to try the Kava but the food did not stand out.
                                                  Umeke's: Yummy!
                                                  *** Rapanui Island Cafe: Really, really good! Paw paw chicken was great.

                                                  Visited a couple other shaved ice places and snacks, but nothing memorable. We had an amazing time in Hawaii and thoroughly enjoyed the food there! Next time, will visit Maui and go back to Oahu for more amazing food =) Thanks everyone!

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: tofuavecfa

                                                    Thanks for the report. I visit Oahu quite frequently and appreciate reports like yours. I think you planned your dining the right way by trying the things Oahu is famous for, like Alan Wong, shave ice, malasadas, etc.

                                                    I think you're finding that Oahu is where the food is, over the other islands, and Honolulu has been going through a fantastic upsurge in new foods and restaurants to go along with the traditional favorites. Every time I go back, there's something new to try. heck you gave me some places to try, Iyasume, Ani's, etc.

                                                    1. re: tofuavecfa

                                                      Glad you had fun and you enjoyed Izakaya Gaku. Funny how you went to Rainbow Drive-Inn anyway and a lot of the tourist places were "forgettable". Like most tourist places, the quality has gone down from long ago in efforts to keep up with the increased masses. Leonard's Bakery and Rainbow's definitely fit in the group