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The best restaurants on the Big Island

From waterfront five-stars to casual walk-ups, these are the very best restaurants on the Big Island of Hawaii

Written by
Lori A May
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Gorging on local delicacies is just about the most exciting aspect of travel. This is true, quite literally, everywhere on the planet, and Hawaii is no exception. There are plenty of incredible things to do on the Big Island, and sampling local food and drink are very much in the business part of the discussion. Of course, by business, we mean pleasure, and there are few more pleasurable experiences in Hawaii than this food in these places.

Dining out on the Big Island is also surprisingly affordable. Hawaiian culture is famously convivial, which leads to as many casual walk-ups as fine-dining establishments with no drop in quality between the two. When you add the growing roster of local craft beers to the mix, you’ve got a culinary experience the rival of any on the planet. These are the best restaurants on the Big Island.

Best restaurants on the Big Island

Chef Peter Merriman has a handful of eateries across the Hawaiian Islands, and the flagship Merriman’s in Waimea has been a local favorite for more than 20 years. The focus here is on local ingredients and regional flavor. It’s a pricier night out, but there’s a solid selection of sharable side plates and award-winning entrees, with a wallet-friendly Monday lunch special on shrimp tacos and Mai Tais.

Manta may be known for its breakfast buffet, but its must-try dish is one of its most popular dinner entrees: the macadamia nut encrusted mahi-mahi. The fish is super tender with a hint of nutty sweetness. No matter when you visit, you’ll experience open-air fine dining on a gorgeous patio overlooking Kauna’oa Bay—oh, and you’ll probably encounter a few resident cats strolling among the flower beds.

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3. Da Poke Shack

Tempt your taste buds with a variety of fresh poke at this classic shack. Spicy Pele’s Kiss is a local favorite, but you won’t go wrong with garlic and sesame. Or why choose when you can order a plate with four poke selections? There may be a line of folks waiting to order, but the service is fast and friendly. Visit early before the daily menu is sold out.

4. L&L Hawaiian Barbecue

The Hawaiian plate lunch is a local classic meant to fill you up on the cheap. Take two scoops of rice, add a side of macaroni salad and enjoy a featured item ranging from marinated chicken to garlic shrimp. L&L Hawaiian Barbeque isn’t fancy, but this is where you want to go for a traditional plate lunch. Ramen fan? Try the SPAM Saimin noodles.

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Kona Brewing Company
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Nan Palmero

5. Kona Brewing Company

Fill up on liquid aloha as you settle in for a casual patio lunch. Pair a hand-tossed pizza or Kalua pork tacos with a beer flight, or get your veggie fix with the popular chickpea ‘burger’ served with chipotle yogurt sauce. Love the brews? Visit the Growler Shack for big beer takeout. Note: You’ll find the best parking around the back of the pub.

6. Island Fish & Chips

It may feel like you’re playing hide and seek as you try to find Island Fish & Chips, but rest assured this walk-up joint is real,  tucked deep inside the King’s Shops at Waikoloa set alongside a koi pond. Must-try items include flaky fish tacos, coconut shrimp and the crispiest fish and chips you’ll ever encounter. The sweet pineapple slaw side is an added bonus.

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7. Cafe 100

Loco Moco is a must-try no matter which island you’re visiting, but legend has it Cafe 100 is the original home of this Hawaiian dish. It’s a bowl of white rice beneath a juicy beef patty, layered with rich gravy and topped off with an egg sunny-side up. Undeniably a quirky combo at first, but it’s classic comfort food Hawaiian-style. Try it any time of day and be prepared for follow-up cravings.

A popular spot for locals and tourists, this Kona Bay lounge boasts a cozy waterfront setting. Enjoy live local entertainment while you sample a poke bowl and sip one of the best Mai Tais in town. For your main course, try the Bulgogi fried rice bowl featuring island-style marinated beef. Beach bums will feel at home with the sand floor of this super laidback venue.

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For a local take on happy hour, visit this waterfront venue for lilikoi (yellow passionfruit) cocktails. You’ll also find plenty of regional flavors on the dinner menu, with pineapple chili glazed pork belly and coconut rice stuffed kabocha squash. Service of speed can be hit or miss depending on how busy the restaurant and lounge are, but the atmosphere and taste are worth the trip.

10. Tex Drive In

While there are burgers and plate lunches to be had here, everyone goes to Tex Drive In for the Malasadas; thick, eggy Portuguese donuts sprinkled in sugar and celebrated island-wide. The local favorite is Tex’s Bavarian cream filling. There’s a no-frills walk-up counter certain to have a line-up, but you’ll find plenty of outdoor seating.

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11. Lava Lava Beach Club

Relax along the coast at this beachfront venue where guests are seated with toes in the sand. Liquid happy hour is offered daily 3-5 pm, while the lunch and dinner menus offer a range of island flavors with poke nachos, sizzling shrimp, teriyaki steak, and pineapple chicken bowls. Make a reservation to dine AT sunset over Waikoloa Beach, during which you’ll be surrounded by glowing tiki torches and entertained with live music.

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