One of the things I love to do when I travel is to find local food to eat and Hawaii is no exception. The island’s tropical climate is critical to the diverse agricultural conditions that are the backbone of Hawaii’s local food. You can also experience Hawaii’s rich immigrant history through wonderful fusion foods that are traditionally Hawaiian with an Asian, European, or Caribbean twist.
I always struggle to find a list that combines must eats, local favorites, and hidden gems so I put together this guide of all my favorite places to eat on the Big Island. Not only do I review what I think is the best food on Big Island (which I’ve dubbed my favorites) but I also share other places to eat on the island that is highly recommended.
- Best Food on Big Island
- Places to Eat on Big Island
Now let’s get on with the list, shall we?
Best Food on Big Island
1. For Fish
There’s no question that Hawaii is one of the best places to eat fish in the world. A combination of location, industriousness, sustainable fishing, and a deep reverence for our planet creates all the right conditions to sustain Hawaii’s vibrant seafood culture for years to come.
Simply put, you won’t run out of good fish to eat in Hawaii. It’s such an integral part of Hawaiian cuisine that you’ll see all kinds of fish incorporated into local dishes. Served fresh, baked, grilled, fried, by itself, over rice, lightly dressed, and more, the possibilities are endless. Some of the most common and delicious fish to try on the island include ahi, mahi mahi, Hapu’upu’u (Hawaiian name for sea bass or grouper), salmon, and black cod.
Favorite Place to Eat Fish on the Big Island
📍Teshima (menu & hours): Teshima is a family-owned restaurant that’s been around since 1957 and serves Japanese and Japanese-influenced Hawaiian food. There’s so much heart and joy in the food and service that makes dining in a really warm and inviting experience.
I ordered the misoyaki butterfish, which actually isn’t a type of fish but a style of preparation. Misoyaki butterfish typically involves marinating black cod in miso that is then grilled or pan-seared. A result of Japanese immigration and influence, miso butterfish is a common comfort food in Hawaii and absolutely delicious. Although it’s not fish, we also ordered a shrimp tempura bento box that was almost as good as the tempura in Japan. The tempura was airy and crispy without being greasy and too good to not mention.
📍Shaka Tacoz (menu & hours): I heard Shaka Tacoz was the place to go for fish tacos and it did not disappoint. I ordered the Ono Fish Tacoz plate, which comes with 3 fish tacos and a mountain of toppings. The ono was fresh, flavorful, and well-cooked and so good with the shaka sauce and lime crema.
📍Manago Hotel (menu & hours): Stepping into Manago Hotel is like walking into history. The hotel has been around since 1917 and is not only an iconic landmark near Kealakekua Bay but also one of the oldest and homiest restaurants on the island. They’re popular for their pork chops (which my boyfriend said was one of the best he’s ever eaten) but I’d recommend Manago for their fish – specifically, the butterfish.
When you order the butterfish, you get exactly that – no extra sides, no nothing, just a big slab of fish. And oh how tender and flavorful it is! The fish is perfectly cooked and melts in your mouth as soon as you take a bite. I got the miso sauce on the side, which I’d recommend to keep the beautiful texture. The fish isn’t deboned so I’d recommend ordering something else if that’s an issue for you.
I didn’t plan for all my favorite fish places to be near Kealakekua Bay but I’m not surprised. If you’re spending the day in Kealakekua Bay or driving from Hilo to Kona, you can easily stop by all 3 places to eat.
2. For Poke
It seems a little misleading to not have poke under the fish section but it really does deserve its own category. Poke is a Hawaiian dish made up of bite-sized pieces of marinated raw fish (usually ahi tuna or salmon). The combination of fresh seafood as well as Asian sauces and ingredients is a quintessential testament to the diverse influences on Hawaiian cuisine. Poke can be eaten as is but is also commonly served over rice or a bed of greens. If you go to the fish market or a local shop that specializes in poke, you’ll also find a variety of sides and garnishings you can add such as seaweed salad, avocados, and furikake.
Favorite Place to Eat Poke on the Big Island
📍Da Poke Shack (menu & hours): The best poke in Kona, and possibly on the Big Island, is at Da Poke Shack. Da Poke Shack is a no-frills, take-out style shop that specializes in poke. Their Shack Special is exactly what I was looking for in ahi poke, aka the perfect trifecta of salty, sweet, and heaps of delicious fish. Da Poke Shack tends to sell out daily so try to stop by when they open around 10:00 AM.
💡 TIP: Order the soy-based poke dishes and crab salad side. I ordered a poke plate with the Pele’s Kiss (spicy), Shack Special (sweet), Shoyu (soy sauce), and Dynamite (avocado aioli) with a side of seaweed salad and crab salad. I loved the Shack Special and crab salad but would skip the Pele’s Kiss (tasted like pickled, vinegary spice) and the Dynamite (too much mayo for my taste).
3. For Spam Musubi
SPAM® musubi is another iconic Hawaiian dish that non-vegetarians should try at least once. Typically served as a standalone snack or a bento box side, spam musubi is a simple dish consisting of rice topped with soy-glazed spam wrapped in seaweed (musubi means “to knot” in Japanese).
I feel like spam is so misunderstood because it was served as army food during World War II but don’t let that deter you. Generations of Hawaiians figured out how to make spam dishes that are deliciously sweet and savory – there’s a reason why Hawaii has the highest individual consumption rate of spam!
Favorite Place for Spam Musubi on the Big Island
📍Matsuyama Food Mart (Yelp): Matsuyama Food Mart is a local mini-mart that has groceries, specialty goods, an on-site gas station, and tons of prepared foods. We went 3 times during our trip because we couldn’t get enough of their musubis, which have the perfect ratio of rice, sauce, and protein. All of their musubis are delicious but the highlights are the spam and chicken katsu musubi.
💡TIP: Try to get to the mart before noon. After lunch, they seem to sell out of their popular hot food items. We only got to try the chicken katsu musubi once because it was sold out the two other times we went.
4. For Meat Jun
Meat jun is a Hawaiian dish inspired by Korean food called yukjeon. In Korean cuisine, jeon is a type of savory fritter consisting of meat, vegetables, or seafood fried in egg batter. Meat jun is conceptually similar where thin slices of marinated beef dipped in egg batter are fried like a pancake. It’s usually served with a plate of rice and accompanied by popular Hawaiian sides like macaroni/potato salad.
Favorite Place to Eat Meat Jun on the Big Island
📍5-Spice (Yelp): 5-Spice is a take-out-only food counter in a small mart located in Hilo that we happily stumbled upon during our drive from Volcano National Park to Mauna Kea. It’s definitely out of the way so I wouldn’t deliberately make the trek from Kona but I would recommend 5-Spice as a fast lunch stop for anyone who is passing through Hilo. I ordered the meat jun plate with a side of dumplings and purple potato salad plus an extra side of mac salad, all of which were delicious. The meat jun was tender, well-seasoned, and filling without feeling heavy and both the potato and mac salads were flavorful without being overly sauced. Their potato and mac salad were my favorites on this trip (and I had several).
5. For Mochi
Mochi is a traditional Japanese rice cake made from glutinous rice that’s formed into a ball. It can be sweet or savory depending on the filling but always sticky/chewy and a common treat in Hawaii.
Favorite Place for Mochi on the Big Island
📍Two Ladies Kitchen (menu & hours): The best place to get mochi on the island is Two Ladies Kitchen located in Hilo. Their mochi is always freshly made and the texture is delightfully sticky and soft. They also have so many interesting flavors that it’s tempting to order everything, even though they only last for one day (otherwise, the mochi hardens 🙁). We ordered fresh strawberry, strawberry cheesecake, lilikoi, butterfly, plum flower, peach momo, and oreo mochi. All of them were amazing but my favorite was the fresh strawberry, which had so much strawberry flavor from the filling and the mochi skin.
💡TIP: Call the store the night before or the morning of to place an order ahead of time. We called the morning of and were able to get all the mochi we wanted and didn’t have to wait in line.
6. For Coffee
Coffee is a major agricultural crop in Hawaii and many coffee farmers across the island still use traditional methods of hand-picking, sun-drying, and manually milling beans to produce the high-quality coffee that’s found on the Big Island.
If you’re a fellow coffee lover, you likely heard of Kona Coffee which is one of the most well-known and highly prized coffee products in the world. Only coffee that grows in Kona can be sold as Kona coffee. Coffee grown here on the volcanic slopes of Mauna Loa where it’s exposed to Hawaii’s tropical climate at high elevations ends up smooth and sweet, with no bitterness.
💡TIP: Kona coffee is pricey but worth it as long as you’re actually getting coffee that’s grown on the island. Always ask your barista where their coffee was sourced from to make sure they use 100% Kona or homegrown coffee and not a kona blend, which is a mixture of Kona coffee and beans from other regions. Kona blends may contain as little as 10& of actual Kona coffee!
Favorite Coffee Place on the Big Island
📍The Coffee Shack (menu & hours): The Coffee Shack is a family-owned restaurant that’s known for having gorgeous views of Kealakekua Bay and great coffee. They serve 100% Kona Coffee in all their coffee drinks, including their iced honey mocha latte which is what I ordered. My latte was the right level of indulgence where the sweetness from the honey and chocolate complemented the coffee beautifully.
📍Kona Coffee & Tea (menu & hours): Kona Coffee & Tea is another family-owned coffee shop that only uses 100% Kona coffee. It’s clear that coffee is their craft, as they treat every single coffee drink with so much care and attention to detail. I ordered an iced americano and it was perfectly smooth and sweet on its own.
7. For Hawaiian Breakfast
Whenever I’m in Hawaii, I always make sure to eat a big Hawaiian breakfast at least once. Hawaiian breakfast is comforting, filling, decadent, and reminiscent of breakfast dinners on the mainland with a Hawaiian twist. Think classic pancakes and eggs but instead of chocolate chip pancakes and sausages, you get macadamia nut pancakes and Portuguese sausages or spam instead.
Favorite Place to Eat Hawaiian Breakfast on the Big Island
📍Hawaiian Style Cafe (menu & hours): Hawaiian Style Cafe is a local’s favorite breakfast diner with two locations, one in Hilo and Waimea. There’s so much to love here from the spam, Portuguese sausage, hash browns, rice, and of course their macadamia nut pancakes. Be warned, these pancakes are MASSIVE (bigger than the size of your face) and delicious, especially when you drizzle coconut syrup on top. You’ll leave uncomfortably full but isn’t that the mark of breakfast done right?
Places to Eat on Big Island
If you’re still on the hunt for more food options, I’ve curated a comprehensive list of places to eat on below and separated them by region or landmark. I’ve starred my favorites but also made sure to include other highly-reviewed spots that I didn’t get to try.
Leave a comment if you try one of these places and think it’s a must-eat! I’m always open to feedback as I’m fully aware that food is personal and my preferences/experiences may be the exception, not the norm 🙂.
Food Places Near Kailua-Kona
- Broke Da Mouth Grindz – featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives for their garlic furikake chicken. I thought the flavors were good but my chicken was a bit overcooked. Would still recommend trying at least once!
- Da Poke Shack*
- Matsuyama Food Mart*
- Kona Coffee & Tea*
- Umekes – another favorite spot for poke
- Cafe 100 – famous for their loco moco. I don’t personally like loco moco so I ordered chicken katsu with a side of macaroni salad, both of which were tasty but a tad salty for my preference.
- Hawaiian Style Cafe* (also has a location in Waimea)- large portion plates of local foods
- Ken’s House of Pancakes – 24-hour diner known for their massive breakfasts and loco moco
- Suisan – another highly reviewed poke spot
- Two Ladies Kitchen*
Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach
- Ka’u Coffee Mill – 100% Hawaiian-grown coffee
- Punalu’u Bake Shop – known for their malasadas
- Merriman’s – really wanted to come here to try their burger since Waimea is a vital region in Hawaiia’s rich ranching history
Do you have any must-eat places on the Big Island that are not on this list? Let me know in the comments! 🙂
Leave a Reply