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The 12 best restaurants on the Big Island

Get a taste of the island life at the best restaurants on the Big Island, from waterfront five-stars to casual walk-ups

By Lori A. May

There are plenty of incredible things to do, see and eat on the Big Island. From fine dining to thrifty walk-up windows, the most popular eateries on Hawaii celebrate local ingredients and cultural tradition. Prepare to discover Big Island flavor in poke shacks and taco huts, at oceanfront resorts and waterfront lounges; just make sure your taste tour includes the classic Hawaiian lunch plate, savory Loco Moco, and the sweet satisfaction of Malasadas. Savor the daily catch from a patio overlooking Mauna Kea Beach, chill out with a Mai Tai in festive Kona Bay or clebrate your Sunday with a Bloody Mary Brunch. Wherever your island getaway takes you, seek out these recommended venues to enjoy a host of aloha spirit.

Best restaurants on the Big Island


1. Manta

Manta may be known for their breakfast buffets, but a must-try is one of their 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.

Island Fish & Chips
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Pengrin

2. 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 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.

Hula Hulas
Photograph: Courtesy Hula Hulas

3. Hula Hulas

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 speed can be hit or miss depending on how busy the restaurant and lounge are, but the atmosphere and taste are worth the trip.

Photograph: Courtesy Merriman's

4. Merriman’s

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 twenty 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: Lobster pot pie? Yes, please.

Kona Brewing Co.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Nan Palmero

5. Kona Brewing Company

Fill up on liquid aloha during a brewery tour before settling 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 their Growler Shack for big beer takeout. Note: You’ll find the best parking around the back of the pub.

Cafe 100
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Troy Mckaskle

6. 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. Imagine a bowl of white rice beneath a juicy beef patty, layered with rich gravy and topped off with an egg sunny-side up. It’s a quirky combo at first, but classic comfort food Hawaiian-style. Try it any time of day and be prepared for follow-up cravings.

Huggo's On The Rocks
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Karen Murphy

7. Huggo’s On The Rocks

A popular spot for locals and tourists alike, 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 laid back venue.

L&L Hawaiian Barbecue
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Amanda Kelso

8. 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 for a Hawaiian spin.

Da Poke Shack
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Nate Gray

9. 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 service is fast and friendly. Visit early before the daily menu is sold out.

Longboard Legends Pizza
Photograph: Courtesy Longboard Legends Pizza

10. Longboard Legends Pizza

Bring your big appetite or party of friends to Longboard Legends for super-sized pizzas. Pie dough is hand-tossed and made with taro flour, something you’ll be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. Dining solo? Pick up the slice of the day for a few bucks. Keep in mind 28” pizzas require extra oven time, so call ahead to avoid the wait.

Tex's Drive In
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Blueant808

11. 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.

12. Lava Lava Beach Club

Relax along the coast with a Bloody Mary Brunch, every Sunday from 10am to 2pm. The a la carte brunch menu features a Hawaiian take on Eggs Benedict, bacon waffles and nine Bloody Mary variations. Not a fan of breakfast foods? Make a reservation to dine during sunset over Waikoloa Beach, during which you’ll be surrounded by glowing tiki torches and entertained with live music.

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Big Island, Hawaii
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/E Palen

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Whether you’re an outdoor adventurist looking for thrills or seaside leisure seeker, the Big Island offers a host of natural and cultural attractions to explore.


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