The islands of Oahu and Maui gobble up most of Hawaii’s food-related tourism, but there is no shortage of palatable options on Hawaii itself (aka the Big Island), which leads the Hawaiian Islands in agricultural production. Visitors can find the best, most affordable selection of local fruits and vegetables and fresh fish on the Big Island. The array of food and drink includes world-famous Kona coffee, low-key kava, gourmet restaurants and local hangouts.
The Big Island is known for its 100% pure homegrown Kona coffee. South Kona is the island’s coffee belt, and visitors can tour coffee farms and museums. If you want to kick back with a cup of Joe, linger at Coffees ‘n Epicurea, an espresso bar and patisserie south of Captain Cook. There’s a coffee-tasting room, fresh-baked daily pastries, a gift shop and a patio.
Visitors who want to experience local “grinds” (food) should steer for Hawaiian Style Café, an island-style greasy spoon upland in Waimea. Huge portions and cheap prices keep guests overfed and happy. Menu favorites include “loco moco” (a native Hawaiian dish of white rice topped with a hamburger patty, a fried egg and brown gravy, or some variation), pancakes, poi, house-made Portuguese sausage and kalua pork hash, all served on a green plastic plate.
It’s the margaritas, not the food, that keep people coming back to Luquin’s Mexican Restaurant in Pahoa. Luquin’s is a local watering hole tucked away in the Puna region. It serves potent margaritas blended to perfection or on the rocks in a dozen flavors with your choice of tequila. Try the blended lilikoi (aka passion fruit) margarita with the li hing mui (Chinese spice) rim instead of salt.
Merriman’s gourmet restaurant in Waimea’s cowboy country epitomizes the Big Island’s “locavore” movement, which places an emphasis on eating locally grown foods. Award-winning chef-owner Peter Merriman uses 90% local products in his restaurant’s Hawaii Regional Cuisine. Entrees range from $22.95 for Maui Lehua Taro Cakes to $55.95 for Butter Poached Kona Lobster (full portion).
The Big Island’s renowned Hilo Farmers Market in downtown Hilo offers a great selection of locally grown tropical fruits and vegetables, plus arts and crafts from more than 200 local vendors. Buy 6 papayas for $1 or a large bag of spiky red rambutans (aka dragon fruit) for $2. Ratana’s Green Papaya Thai Salad is another healthful favorite.
Blue Dragon Coastal Cuisine & Musiquarium, which is located in an area where most tourists never venture across from Kawaihae Harbor, is the island’s only live-music supper club. The roofless, glowing blue restaurant offers fresh, organic Hawaii Regional Cuisine and music and dancing under the stars. Acts range from Hawaiian slack string guitar to Brazilian Carnival and jazz standards. Open Thursdays-Sundays.
7. Uncle Roberts's Kava Bar
Uncle Roberts’s Kava Bar sits at the abrupt end of the road where Kalapana Village used to be before it was covered by lava in 1990. The root of the kava plant is used to make a relaxing drink with sedative properties that is popular in Hawaiian and Polynesian cultures. It tastes earthy (unpleasant to some) and is an acquired taste. Enjoy the ultra-relaxed atmosphere and excellent live music.
There are not many dining options in Volcano Village, the town closest to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, but Thai Thai Restaurant is well worth a stop. The owners get their spices directly from Thailand, and it’s evident in their authentic cooking. The menu features curries, soups, stir-fries, noodle dishes and vegetarian items.