The Big Island Hawaii Guide
It’s true that every Hawaiian island has something different to offer—but it’s also true that there a lot of different experiences to be had even on a single island. And despite all the arguments to be made for the superiority of any given destination—visitors tend to be overwhelmingly loyal to either the place they went on family vacations growing up or their honeymoon spots—“the best island” is, like most things, a matter of opinion. The Big Island is cool because it’s home to the majority of the world’s climate zones; you can see snowcapped mountains, black and white sand beaches, jungles, and active volcanoes. It’s also great for families and easily accessible by direct flight from Los Angeles. Not your cup of tea? We also have a guide to the more luxurious Maui, a guide to the more urban Oahu (which is home to Honolulu), and a guide to the lovely and low-key Kauai.
Canoe House68-1400 Mauna Lani Dr., Kohala Coast | 808.881.7911
The Canoe House is the excellent oceanfront restaurant of Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows, complete with an open-air dining room and outdoor patio overlooking the Pacific. The menu draws heavily on local ingredients (nearly everything on the chef’s optional tasting menu is sourced from the Big Island), with dishes like twice-cooked pulehu pork ribs, locally grown beets served with Big Island goat cheese, and seared wahoo with pickled ginger and wasabi soy dressing.
Holuakoa Café76-5900 Old Government Rd., Holualoa | 808.322.5072
Holuakoa is an artist enclave in Kona’s coffee region, but it’s good for more than a morning cup. Designed like an open-air house, and surrounded by gardens, this Holuakoa restaurant is known for their tasty brunch and dinner menus. Most of their produce is organic and comes from farms located within five miles of the restaurant. Fish is caught by local purveyors; meat is sourced from local, grass-fed, organic farms as much as possible; the bread, pasta, and desserts are all made in the restaurant’s kitchen; and the wines and spirits are biodynamic and organic. In front of the restaurant is a small coffee shop serving Kona’s own Buddha’s Cup Estate.
Huggo’s75-5828 Kahakai Rd., Kailua-Kona | 808.329.1493
Although Huggo’s isn’t the healthiest option on the island—the barbecued beef ribs and teriyaki steak are favorite dinner dishes—you can get some of the tastiest local fish here. Founded in 1969 as a local fishermen joint, the dock-like restaurant is literally perched over the ocean; at high tide, the surf is just feet away.
Manta & Pavilion Wine Bar62-100 Mauna Kea Beach Dr., Kohala Coast | 808.882.1840
Even if you’re not staying at hotel Mauna Kea, you should come to its flagship restaurant, Manta, for dinner. It’s an especially good date-night spot, with stunning views of Kaunaoa Beach and an admirable wine-by-the-glass list. And this is one of those restaurants where you have to order dessert: Make it pastry chef Ross Alaimo's famous chocolate soufflé.
Rays on the Bay78-128 Ehukai St., Kailua-Kona | 808.930.4949
Rays on the Bay: A totally cheesy name for the Sheraton’s quality restaurant that is built into the lava rock cliffs on Kona’s coast. (As guessed, you can see the local manta rays swimming at night just feet from your dinner table.) The head chef here, Francis “Junior” Ulep, is an Oahu native with a flair for island cuisine—from pupus (small appetizer plates) like ahi poke and raw crudo to Kona-coffee-rubbed beef.
Merriman’s65-1227 Opelo Rd, Waimea | 808.885.6822
Peter Merriman was one of the pioneers of the local food scene in Hawaii—he was at the forefront of efforts to grow vegetables in the local volcanic soils, so they could be eaten fresh (rather than after a lengthy journey on a boat). Today, he partners with local farmers to serve his three restaurants, and there’s one each on Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island. The dining room and menu are dressed up without being overly stuffy, so it’s ideal for a nicer family or group outing. Try the upcountry salad (made with kale and butter lettuce from local farms), the fresh-caught mahi mahi, and vegetarian taro cake.
The Fish and the Hog64-957 Mamalahoa Hwy, Waimea | 808.885.6268
While an excellent barbecue joint might seem unlikely in Hawaii, considering the island's natural predilection for pork, as well as Waimea's reputation as a "paniolo" town (i.e. cowboy), The Fish and the Hog makes perfect sense. What's fun is that you can get pulled pork, beef brisket, and all the requisite sides (their Crackseed, Hawaiian-inspired sauce with Chinese plum is not to be missed), you can also get super fresh poke and delicious, chili dusted calamari.
Moon & Turtle51 Kalakaua St., Hilo | 808.961.0599
Earning rave reviews for its daily changing, farm-to-table, ocean-to-table small plates, this sweet little spot justifies a trip if you're not staying in Hilo (also consider a stop here for dinner on your way back from Volcanos National Park). The plates are truly inventive, blending the best of Hawaiian ingredients with Asian flavors, and they always sell the best of what's available, which translates to only having enough for a few of some plates. (The chef-owner Mark Pomaski got his training from Roy Yamaguchi, so the mastery makes sense.) Make reservations, though you can usually grab seats at the bar.
La Bourgogne77-6400 Nalani St., Kailua-Kona | 808.329.6711
An excellent French restaurant seems unlikely on the Big Island of Hawaii, but La Bourgogne is exactly that: So when you've tired of poke and pork head here. It sits in a very unassuming building on the side of the highway in Kailua-Kona, but the menu is anything but: Very French options like frog legs and escargots are balanced by more accessible options like baked brie, lobster salad, and a really good filet mignon.
Takenoko Sushi578 Hinano St., Hilo | 808.933.3939
There are only about 8 seats at Chef Igarashi's sushi bar, and you will have to line up for them (reservations book up months in advance). Igarashi focuses on perfect, incredible fresh sashimi and sushi—that he doesn't dress up with much beyond rice, wasabi, and shoyu—in short, get the omakase.
Roy’s69-250 Waikoloa Beach Dr., Waikoloa | 808.886.4321
Chef Roy Yamaguchi is a Hawaiian legend, with a corresponding empire of restaurants scattered across all the islands (Eating House 1849 in Kauai, etc.). This outpost is one of his classics, and is ideal if you're all-in for a tasting menu or have something to celebrate. It's exactly what one would expect from a fancier version of island food: Macadamia nut encrusted fish, baby back ribs done with Szechuan-style sauce, and a famous chocolate soufflé. It can get loud and noisy, so not always the best choice if you want to have an intimate conversation.