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10 Best Big Island Restaurants to Experience Traditional Hawaiian Food



We all know the old cliche, "When in Rome..." and that definitely applies to eating Hawaiian food while visiting the Hawaiian Islands. As an island that is still rich with traditional Hawaiian culture, the Big Island has a huge array of ono (delicious) Hawaiian food. Home to an array of great restaurants with menus of varying cuisines, it's easy to get lost in your culinary journey on the Big Island and it's important not to miss local food.

The Kona Brewing Co. is known for it's amazing locally crafted beers, but the fun brewery also offers menu of dishes with a classic Hawaiian twist. Come here for a Hawaiian take on bar food, like kalua pig nachos and fish sandwich. Of course, don't pass on local brews like a black sand porter and red lava ale.

On the other side of the island in Hilo is Cafe 100. A local style, freshly made but served quick or to go, the open air eatery has been a local staple for decades, serving up classic Hawaiian dishes like loco moco. For quick eats to enjoy it on the go, this downtown Hilo eatery is a true local experience.

For a more gourmet take on Hawaiian food, hit up Jackie Rey's Oahana Grill. Brunch here is always a reliable option for a fill start to the day, and the Hawaiian theme extends to the art and collectibles for sale.

Remember, 10 Best has you covered for the Big Island's best Hawaiian food, and it's all right here.


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Ken's House of Pancakes


As a tried and true Hilo breakfast staple, Ken's stays open 24-7. Breakfast is a serious affair, no matter what time of day, and the waitstaff ensures that patrons stay "well oiled" by leaving a full pot of steaming coffee at each table. Favored fare includes French toast, traditional short stacks smothered in maple syrup, hearty omelets, and waffles. If breakfast isn't your gig, never fear – they also serve up delicious hamburgers, hot and cold sandwiches, and fried chicken plates. This is where the locals go for a Sunday brunch, or for a late night meal after a nearby bar or movie.

Recommended for Hawaiian because: Ken's is a local staple for traditional Hawaiian food.

Jade's expert tip: Come hungry and enjoy the huge portions around the clock.

Read more about Ken's House of Pancakes →


Kona Brewing Company: Kailua-Kona Pub & Brewery


Just across the street from the cruise port, the pub at the Big Island's most famous brewery is a terrific place to wind down after shopping. Brewery tours are quick and personal – an added bonus is that visitors over 21 get to sample the products. Kona's on premises brewpub serves cold mugs of the brewery's top sellers, including Fire Rock Pale, Pacific Golden Ale, and Longboard Lager, and the cozy setting easily pulls you in, making it difficult to leave. Great Hawaiian influenced pub grub – pizzas, salads, and sandwiches – is also available. Sample what's in season since the rest of the brews can be found all year long.

Recommended for Hawaiian because: Kona Brewing Co. serves delicious local beers and great bar food with a Hawaiian and Pacific twist.

Jade's expert tip: For a Hawaiian food on international cuisine, try the kalua pork nachos or the lawai'a special sandwich.

Read more about Kona Brewing Company: Kailua-Kona Pub & Brewery →


Bamboo Restaurant


Take a step back in time and experience Big Island living the way it was before modern resorts and development took over. Once a hotel and later a grocery, the building that houses this popular restaurant (which dates from 1911) has been almost completely restored to its original state and features a green saloon-like facade, bamboo and koa wood accents, and hardwood flooring. Brunch is not to be missed, and house specialties include poached eggs with lilikoi hollandaise sauce and Mamona Paloa Toast, a cinnamon-dusted island version of French toast. A gallery inside the restaurant showcases local art, especially woodworking.

Recommended for Hawaiian because: The ambiance here exudes local home style decor from generations ago, and it serves local food.

Jade's expert tip: Brunch here shouldn't be missed.

Read more about Bamboo Restaurant →


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Big Island Grill


This local favorite is almost always packed, a testament to its fantastic American and Hawaiian comfort food that sparkles. From loco mocos to roast pork, and sweet potato haupia cheesecake (coconut), they've got the Hawaiian dishes covered. The catch of the day is always a sure bet, and you don't want to miss the salad of mixed local greens topped with coconut shrimp. The restaurant also does something magical to mashed potatoes � you may find yourself actually swooning. A drive-through window lets you grab lunch on the run, and service is friendly and family-oriented. Plus, the total bill won't empty your wallet.

Recommended for Hawaiian because: Big Island Grill is a local favorite for authentic Hawaiian food.

Jade's expert tip: Eat some traditional laulau.

Read more about Big Island Grill →


Merriman's


Peter Merriman, whom many regard as the man who helped put Hawaii's regional cuisine on the world map, owns and operates this eponymous restaurant just outside Waimea. His award-winning dishes continue to reveal imagination and an understanding of local ingredients that amazes and tantalizes even the most discerning diners. Featured items include ponzu-marinated mahi mahi with shiitake mushrooms and hearts of palm, roasted natural chicken with vegetable ragout, and "Kansas City Cut" New York steak platter. A uniquely Hawaiian dining experience that you shouldn't pass up. This is the type of place to go for a nice date or other special night.

Recommended for Hawaiian because: Merriman's puts a gourmet twist on many classic Hawaiian dishes.

Jade's expert tip: Reservations are a must, especially during peak seasons.

Read more about Merriman's →


Hawaiian Style Cafe


The name says it all with this place. On first glance, this place may not look like much, but as everybody knows, you can't judge a book by its cover. Big Islanders are fond of homestyle cooking, and it's done especially well at out-of-the-way places like Hawaiian Style Caf�. At breakfast, just try to finish their massive yet tender pancakes, especially if you've also ordered eggs or sausage. Lunch is similar, thanks to big portions of ribs, steaks, burgers and fries, macaroni salad, and rice � all at a refreshingly affordable price. Try the loco moco to experience a local favorite.

Recommended for Hawaiian because: True to its name, the Hawaiian Style Cafe serves up classic Hawaiian food.

Jade's expert tip: Make a note that this place is cash only.

Read more about Hawaiian Style Cafe →


Jackie Rey's Ohana Grill


Well-credentialed chefs at this popular establishment focus on thoughtful preparations of freshly-caught fish, chicken, and beef. Dinner favorites include curry-crusted ahi, beef short ribs, and Szechuan pepper pork loin with purple sweet potato mashers. Lunch also sees a brisk business, thanks to filling turkey burgers, Ohana Cobb salads, and items like spicy teriyaki beef bowls. Many of the items have a true Hawaiian twist, and the casual atmosphere makes diners fell like they're at home. It's a true family run establishment, and it's named after the owner's daughter. A nice wine list and full bar bring flavor and fun to this local favorite.

Recommended for Hawaiian because: This is a casual joint with a delicious menu, with Hawaiian style Pacific Rim dishes.

Jade's expert tip: Try a teriyaki beef bowl.

Read more about Jackie Rey's Ohana Grill →


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Kainaliu
Keei Cafe


Ask a local or a frequent visitor where to go for the island's best seafood, and you'll likely hear this treasure named among the top suggestions. Nestled between the highway and the coastline, Keei Cafe serves spectacular American-Hawaiian fusion dishes. Savor the flavorful likes of an herb-rubbed rib-eye, pork chops smothered in peppercorn gravy, tofu fajitas, Thai-style curries, or even Brazilian seafood chowder. Although the decor will not knock your socks off, the food very likely will. Be brave and try new things at this eatery, don't shy away from Hawaiian dishes. This place will really give you a taste of the Big Island.

Recommended for Hawaiian because: This is wear the locals go for a menu offering various cuisines, and delicious Hawaiian food being the gem.

Jade's expert tip: This is a casual hidden gem.

Read more about Keei Cafe →


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Volcano National Park
Lava Rock Café


Serving three meals a day, volcano-themed Lava Rock Caf� is where locals refuel. Breakfast includes traditional egg dishes and the Big Island's own Loco Moco, a heap of rice with a hamburger patty and fried egg, all doused with gravy. Lunch consists of burgers, salads, and sandwiches. There's also a plate lunch option – choose up to three meats to accompany rice and a salad. Dinner is a global experience – the menu includes Asian specialties, Mexican fajitas, Italian pastas, and American grilled steaks. To-go orders are welcome – a boon for hungry hikers. Remember that this is a casual and local style experience.

Recommended for Hawaiian because: Lava Rock Cafe brings many Hawaiian and local dishes to a menu highlighted by more familiar dishes too.

Jade's expert tip: Be brave and try a local loco moco.

Read more about Lava Rock Café →


Cafe 100


Caf-- 100 has been around for years, and it continues to offer great, filling food at unbeatable prices. In fact, it's the ideal place to try Hawaiian comfort food. Take the Loco Moco, for instance – it's a heap of white rice topped with a hamburger patty and a fried egg, then smothered in gravy. Caf-- 100 invented it back in the early 1950s, and today, they offer several variations, including one made with Spam. Although the Loco Moco is served all day, you may want to sample other dishes, which range from Kalua pork to beef stew and teriyaki beef.

Recommended for Hawaiian because: This is a fast food style local place to sample classic local dishes.

Jade's expert tip: Try this if you're looking to experience a local style breakfast.

Read more about Cafe 100 →


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Meet Jade Eckardt

Raised on the Big Island of Hawaii, Jade has traveled the world and doesn't intend to stop, yet the Hawaiian Islands are still her favorite place. She spent seven years living on Oahu and...  More About Jade

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