Honeymoon Guide: Big Island
Continued (page 2 of 5)
WHERE TO EAT
75-5828 Kahakai Rd.
The best fine-dining spot in town for catching the sunset while savoring teriyaki steaks and crab-encrusted ono is this open-air dining room. It stands on pilings sunk into the lava-rock shoreline—at high tide it’s actually over the water. When the tiki torches light up after dark, the eels and manta rays come out to feed along the rocks. If you’re not up for a full meal, you can order a little skillet of sizzling shrimp and scallops in the piano bar. Or you can go next door to Huggo’s thatched-roof bar, where slack-key musicians play and hula dancers sway, and couples sip flaming drinks from old Hawaiian drinking bowls with extra-long straws.
ISLAND LAVA JAVA
75-5799 Alii Drive
Kailua-Kona's favorite breakfast hangout goes budget gourmet at dinner, illuminating its tables by candlelight and serving grilled fish specials, pork tacos with black beans and chipotle aioli and other entrées that rival those at Kona's sniffier restaurants at a fraction of the price. Although it's perched right on the edge of traffic-filled Alii Drive, that drawback is easy to overlook, since just across the street lies glimmering Kailua Bay, where cruise ships, yachts and tour boats bob at anchor and the occasional Iron Man triathlete-in-training swims by. Breakfasts include heavy platters of eggs and potatoes, pancakes as big as your head, gigantic cinnamon rolls and steaming cups of Kona coffee grown and roasted not far from there.
BAMBOO RESTAURANT AND GALLERY
Old Takata Store
Akoni Pule Highway
Looking for tropical drinks in coconut-shell cups and snappy waiters in screaming aloha shirts? Head to this kitschy classic at the northern tip of the island, in the sleepy old plantation town of Hawi. The bamboo decor, the well-worn wooden floor and the bold tropical paintings endow the place with a cozy country-chic Hawaiian style. The theme carries onto the menu, with entrèes like pineapple-barbecue pork, and the catch of the day rolled in crushed macadamia nuts. Knock back a few lilikoi margaritas and party with the live musicians laying down island beats on Fridays and Saturdays.
KILAUEA LODGE RESTAURANT
19-3948 Old Volcano Rd.
After winning an Emmy in 1983 for his work as a TV makeup artist, Albert Jeyte reinvented himself as a gourmet chef. The restaurant he opened in 1986 at an old YMCA camp just outside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is one of the island’s most inspired. Comfort food from Jeyte’s childhood in Hamburg, Germany, joins French classics on a menu that brings duck à l’orange and pauipettes of beef together with hasenpfeffer (braised rabbit) and German sausages. There’s exotic game too, such as venison and ostrich filets (which do not taste like chicken). Believe it or not, it gets cold near the volcano (you’re up at 3,700 feet), but you can warm up in front of the roaring International Fireplace of Friendship, inspired by the YMCA camp’s director.
Kawaihae Shopping Center
308 Kamehameha Ave.
Need a break from fussy resort dining? Head to this casual yet refined eatery at sun-baked Kawaihae Harbor, a short hop up the road from the Gold Coast hotels. Pacific fusion seafoods, pastas and colorful organic salads are among the specialties. The seafood risotto is a favorite, but the real standout is the pizza: It’s baked in a kiawe wood (a.k.a. mesquite) oven, it’s got a thin, crispy crust, and it comes with toppings that range from the usual suspects to kalua pork and shiitake mushrooms. As you dine, ponder Kawaihae’s stone heiau, or temple, which ancient Hawaiians dedicated to shark gods. There’s a second Cafe Pesto in Hilo, in a historic downtown building that survived two tsunamis.
HILO BAY CAFE
315 Makaala St., #109
That this restaurant has you forgetting the Wal-Mart outside the window says a lot about the transporting powers of its imaginative, largely organic cuisine. Asian, Hawaiian, San Franciscan and (curiously) Midwestern cooking influence the menu. In a town more accustomed to greasy plate lunches than potato-crusted catch of the day with scallion butter sauce, this hole-in-the-wall bistro wedged between a cell-phone store and a food court is the finest place around. This being Hilo, the menu has a down-home side too—you can get dripping blue-cheese burgers and vegan pot pies with fabulously flaky crusts. The cocktails are first-class—think pear mojitos and lilikoi margaritas.
KEN’S HOUSE OF PANCAKES
1730 Kamehameha Ave.
Tel: 808-935-8711 (no reservations)
The best diner in Hawaii is open 24/7 and has a lengthy menu with a little bit of everything—or, rather, a lot of everything. Traditional breakfasts like waffles and eggs Benedict compete with island favorites such as the loco moco (two scoops of rice, hamburger patty, fried egg, gravy) and the mahi moco (same thing with mahimahi instead of hamburger). "Sumo Size" the loco and it comes with six scoops of rice and three fried eggs. The short-order cooks have the pride of artisans, and the servers bustle cheerfully and never lose their cool. Tuesday's dinner special is all-you-can-eat tacos; Wednesday's is prime rib; Thursday's is Hawaiian food; and Sunday's is all-you-can-eat spaghetti.
65-1227 Opelo Rd.
Reservations are a must at this little restaurant with a big reputation— the Big Island mecca for devout foodies. It's the flagship eatery of Peter Merriman, one of the chefs who started the Hawaiian Regional Cuisine movement. From the ultrasimple Lokelani tomato salad to the wok-charred ahi to the Kahua Ranch lamb, everything is super local and super fresh. Take the Hawaii Forest and Trail (808-331-8505; hawaii-forest.com) farm tour and spend the afternoon meeting the ranchers and growers who supply meat and produce to the restaurant. Afterward, the kitchen will use their ingredients to prepare a meal for you.
45-690 Pakalana St.
Like most of the Portuguese in Hawaii, the Texeiras came originally to cut sugarcane and pick pineapples on the plantations. In 1969 the family gave up a life of sweat in someone else’s fields for a life of sweat in their own kitchen. Tex’s Drive-In has been serving up beef stew, boneless Korean chicken and pot roast pork ever since (though the ownership has changed). What it’s most famous for, though, are the malasadas—big, fluffy, hole-less Portuguese doughnuts, baked fresh every day. If you pick up a fat bag of them before driving the Hamakua Coast, you'll fly down the highway on a sugar high. Before rushing off, spend some quiet time in Tex’s garden of native plants—and take in the smashing view of Maui from Tex’s parking lot.