I'll add day by day notes in subsequent posts. You can check out the full reports on my website along with lots and lots of photos.
Here were some of the highlights (add to this the luau):
Over 100 vendors fit into three large tents at The Hilo Farmer's Market. The produce and food tent extends the length of a block. Fruits you may have had from your local supermarket, like mango, have amazingly vibrant flavor. The papayas are so much sweeter than what you find on the mainland. Passion fruit, normally expensive as gold, or at least porcinis, are downright cheap at six for a dollar. There are local goat cheeses, smoked ahi, and Asian vegetables galore. Plus, cheap gift items, t-shirts, and tropical flowers. This is an excellent farmer's market.
While the Kailua Village Farmer's Market isn't as impressive, it is a good spot on the west side of the island to find cheap, fresh fruit and cheap, hand-made gift items. For more information and other farmer's markets in Hawaii, go to this link.
Any place that grows 14 varieties of mangoes is a place I want to visit. South Kona Fruit Stand organically grows all its fruit. They sell their own dried fruit, too. Some of their fruit could be more ripe, but they're very helpful and there's no better fruit stand on the island.
On the road to Kealakekua Bay is a little stand called Hale Aloha that sells fewer fruits, but still is worth a stop. The island-hippie with the bloodshot eyes who works the spot is eager to answer any questions while you enjoy his reggae music.
We ate at three credit card draining restaurants on our trip and all three were good. Pahu i'a had the most interesting menu of the three. They had very good desserts and surprised us by writing "Happy Anniversary" in chocolate on the dessert plates. Get there early and request a seat outdoors so you can watch the sunset.
The Canoe House also has a wonderful sunset view and grounds worth exploring, including shark and turtle ponds. The seared Kobe beef appetizer with dipping sauces and green papaya salad intensely captured the flavors of the islands and the orient.
Merriman's offers slightly lower prices than the resorts for equal quality food and the chance to get away from the heat a little bit in the ranchland area of The Big Island. The service is knowledgeable and attentive. The kalua pig quesadilla, shrimp fritters, and chocolate purse were as good as anything I had on the trip.
BIG JAKE'S ISLAND BBQ
Normally you expect competition to breed quality. Big Jake's may be the only Q on the island and yet it's some of the best meat I've ever had. Maybe it's the competition from the kalua pig. The brisket is smoked with keawe wood for 18 hours and the pork butt for 10. The mac and potato salad is excellent. Best I had on the island. The coleslaw is good. The beans are good. And, of course, the meats are fantastic -- tender, juicy, smokey, and nicely barked. Any Texan should be proud to have this place in their hometown. This may have been my favorite meal of the whole trip. The pork butt was sublime.
I instantly respect any restaurant that pays attention to little details that separate their dishes from similar dishes at other places. When Sibu brought out three fantastic sambals, one made with local sweet and spicy fresh chilis, and when I tasted their fried rice with nuts and raisins, I knew I liked the restaurant. Even the little garnish/salad that came with each entree was perfectly balanced, fresh, and tasty. Oh, yeah, the entrees were darn good, too. Try the spicy pork.
Any trip to Hawaii must include shave ice. It's like a snow cone, but with a better texture. The best places, like Scandanavian Shave Ice, offer to add a scoop of ice cream under the ice. They're humungous here. "Jumbo" really means it. Very tasty, even if the employees are a little too cool for their customers.
Though everyone recommends it, I was suspicious of the Mac Pie Factory. But it's actually quite good and they'll let you fill up on their samples. There's no cafe, but they'll pack up a pie for you with bubble wrap and a cardboard box for shipping or safe travel. The flavors are very well balanced which you can especially notice in the coffee mac pie.
If you're having a Krispy Kreme kraving and find yourself in Waimea or Hilo, Tex's Drive-In bakes lip-lickingly light malasadas, a Portuguese pastry somewhere between a roll and a doughnut, that are worth a little trip. Get the ones filled with strawberry-guava. The concentrated flavors of gelato make perfect sense for tropical flavors.
Palazzo Aikalima makes excellent gelato and has several tropical flavors. Try the passion fruit with something creamy or sweet. The essence of passion fruit is emphasized here, left moderately tart, which I appreciate.