69-250 Waikoloa Beach Dr., Waikoloa
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.
578 Hinano St., Hilo
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.
Keauhou Shopping Center, 78-6831 Alii Dr., Kailua-Kona
This local shop is everything you would want to find in an independent bookstore: Beach reads, literary heavyweights, a robust kids selection, plus tons on local culture. Opened by two friends who met at a bookclub in California, they keep the shop heavily programmed with everything from kids reading hours, to various book clubs, to author lectures and an in-house psychic who offers readings every Friday afternoon.
77-6400 Nalani St., Kailua-Kona
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.
Da Poke Shack
76-6246 Alii Dr., Kailua-Kona
This tiny and long-standing Kailua-Kona joint offers endless poke varietals—sweet, spicy, shoyu, Hawaiian, mixed with avocado—all delicious, all incredibly fresh. which are all surpre hit all the high notes at this long-standing Kailua-Kona joint. The sides are also stand-out, including a traditional wakame seaweed salad, kimchee mussels, and a standard Hawaiian potato salad. It's a perfect lunch for a picnic at the beach.
Moon & Turtle
51 Kalakaua St., Hilo
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.
Two Ladies Kitchen
274 Kilauea Ave., Hilo
People drive from all over the Big Island for the now world famous mochi that have been made here for the past 25 years (keep in mind that they're not open on Sundays or Mondays). Helmed by Nora Uchida and her aunt, Tomi Tokeshi, they make mochi as Uchida's grandmother did, preserving not only the recipe but the culture of the Japanese in Hawaii, too. The treats are delicious and beautiful, and as one would expect, the flavors are a mix of local and far-flung: You'll find lilikoi (passionfruit), pineapple, persimmons, ginger, etc.; they also stuff the traditional white rice flour with fresh strawberries, which sadly can't be transported to the mainland.
Umeke’s Fish Market Bar & Grill
74-5563 Kaiwi St., Kailua-Kona
There is an on-island rivalry between Umeke's and Da Poke Shack, the two poke mainstays in Kailua-Kona. Umeke's has an expanded restaurant, and also an expanded menu, offering more than sashimi-style fish for pickier eaters (chicken katsu, grilled cheese, and other eclectic offerings). But the takeout counter is the main thing: White or brown rice, a seaweed or edamame side, plus a scoop of poke of your choice to go.
The Fish and the Hog
64-957 Mamalahoa Hwy, Waimea
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.
45-690 Pakalana St., Honokaa
For about 50-odd years, Tex Drive-In has been serving traditional Hawaiian food (loco moco's abound on the menu, which are typically rice, hamburger, fried egg, and gravy), but that's not why tourists flock to this joint. They are famous for their malasadas, the island version of the donut, typically dusted in sugar and filled with anything from coconut cream to guava to Bavarian cream. You can even watch the malasada production through a big window in the cafe.
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