I’ve heard it said that Hawaii doesn’t have a great cuisine and that truly good eats demand big bucks—but we had no trouble eating our way around the Big Island, and on a budget too. In short: local fruit & gourmet sandwiches. (Plus sweets, of course)
And if you want all the delicious details, here they are:
The Lighthouse Delicatessen, Hawi
In Hawi, on the North Shore, we discovered a hip, little Deli and devoured some heaping sandwiches, including the Chicken Cordon Bleu (free-range with mushroom gravy) and The Cuban (jerk pork loin on a Hoagie roll). You can also stock up on hard to find (on the island) meats & cheeses and liquor at their adjoining store.
Simply Natural, Honokaa
After a morning horse-back ride through the rivers of Waipi’o valley we were famished. The restaurant that was recommended to us in Honokaa happened to be closed so we took a chance on a tiny lunch place a few doors down. We lucked out! It was a one-woman operation, with wonderful service and open face sandwiches (Ken’s favourite!) grilled to perfection. I had a divine tuna melt with sweet chilli, tomatoes and cheddar. Next time, I’d go for breakfast and try the banana taro pancakes with a smoothie. It’s very veg-friendly too.
Tex Drive-in, Honokaa
This one has been written about extensively, so we had to do a taste test. I really wasn’t interested in the fast food, I was after the malasadas, sweet Portugese pastries made in a glassed-in kitchen on site. We tasted maaaaany, but the prize goes to the mango-filled doughy treats.
Fruit off the tree, Fruit stands & Farmer’s markets
Plentiful, (often) free and delicious—how can you resist? I’m not suggesting you go stealing it from people’s yards, you won’t make friends that way. But we found that everywhere we stayed (all rented apartments) we were offered oranges, mangos, lemons, avocados, lilikois (local name for passion fruit) right out of the garden. Fruit and fruit bread are also sold at practically every road side and there are framer’s markets at least weekly in even the tiniest towns. Hilo’s market is excellent for artisanal souvenirs too.
ps. One of our hosts even gave me a plant that is nature’s shampoo, awapuhi. It made my hair smell delicious.
Lucy’s Taqueria, Hilo
We knew it was a good sign when we walked in that the place we packed with visitors and locals alike, from hipster dads to firefighters. So be ready to get in line. You can opt for local fave Wet Buritto (topped with homemade salsa), or the made to perfection fajitas, at this eclectic pseudo fast-food joint. Each table is marked by a tiny bull piñata with a name, ours was Tòmas.
ps. Lucy is a real character, and we hear she has a salsa holster!
Uncle Robert’s Farmer’s market, Kalapana
This was an off-the-beaten-path kind of party. We were invited to it by our rental hosts, and would never have stumbled upon this gathering of food-sharing-locals otherwise. The market stands were varied but equally appetizing with food of worldly origins: Indian, Eastern European, Hawaiian, Mexican. My pick was the pork on a bun. Kalua Pork is a Hawaiian specialty, so I’ve yet to go wrong with ordering it, pulled-pork-style.We enjoyed our dinner of beers & hot sandwiches while we watched a man strum the ukulele and his wife dance the hula late into the night.
Coffee Shack, Captain Cook
Their Hot Corned Beef Ruben, with pickles and sauerkraut is infamous, but the other breakfast and lunch plates on offer will also leave you satisfied. In hindsight, I wish I left room for the Macadamia nut pie. And perhaps better than the grub was the hilltop view of the Kona coast, a contrast of rugged lava patches, white sand beaches and developed vacationland.
Island Lava Java, Kailua Kona
After one of their organic salads or hearty sandwiches, be it free-range chicken or catch-of-the-day fish, just sit back and enjoy the view. While they don’t serve liquor, they also don’t object to you bringing your own and enjoying it with your meal. Stick around afterwards for a chocolate chip croissant or a freshly baked muffin and sip a cup of Kona coffee harvested from their own farm.
Make your own
The ultimate secret is the sandwich you make yourself from local ingredients and enjoy at the finest of locations, a remote beach. Stock up on Portuguese sausage, avocado, pickles, beans, Kalua bread or tortillas and DIY. Bring beer too, like the Fire Rock pale ale or the more adventurous Pipeline porter (made with Kona coffee), both from Kona Brewing Co.