We are back from our jaunt to the big island and we had a wonderful time. What a fantastic place! Swimming in hot pools with sea turtles, the amazing kayaking and snorkeling at Kealakekua bay, Hawaii Volcanos National Park.... Unfortunately, our chow experiences were less than spectacular. We are from Philadelphia, an excellent restaurant city, and my husband and I are very picky about food.
First the good places:
We were absolutely amazed by the fresh fruit shakes and snacks at a little stand just north of Hilo called What's Shakin'. The owner of the stand grows almost all of the fruit that she puts in the shakes and she uses frozen banana and papaya instead of ice. The java lava shake, tropical fruit and coffee, was other-wordly. The macho nachos with avocado on top (to quote my 9 year old) "rocked." She also makes a mean tuna sandwich.
We had very good vegetarian sandwiches with very good whole grain bread at a little pizza place in Honoka'a called Cafe Il Mondo. The pizza was not so great on the other hand; sauce tasted like chef Boyardee.
There is a little coffee place on highway 11 near Captain Cook called the Orchid Isle Cafe that made good breakfast sandwiches and great coffee.
The malasada's at Tex's drive-in in Honoka'a were good but heavy on the tummy. I really liked the papaya filled one's.
There is a local chain of snack/breakfast/lunch stands called Vera's. We had a nice lunch at the one at the end of highway 137 on the Puna coast, after exploring the new kaimu black sand beach. The plate lunch was good, and the grilled ono sandwich was very good.
Bear's coffee shop in Hilo makes very good coffee and breakfast. They cook egg souffles with their espresso machine and serve them in cafe au lait cups.
Another very good place for breakfast was Dotties in Hilo. It was in the large shopping mall, the Prince Kuhio Plaza just past the Hilo airport. The homemade hash and eggs were good, the fish filet and eggs were outstanding. They serve lunch as well, but we didnt eat there for lunch. We had the best piece of fresh papaya ever at Dotties.
In Waimea the Hawaiian Style Cafe was fun to experience. The food is extremely heavy and greasy, loco moco, hash and eggs, dinner plate sized pancakes. A single breakfast there costs a hot 5 or 6 dollars and literally could easily feed 4 people.
Breakfast at the Hilton Waikoloa was tasty but very expensive. The breakfast buffet was very good, and a whopping $85 for two adults and two kids. The Orchid Cafe was about half that price and they made good macadamia nut french toast and good omelettes. The cheapest way to get breakfast at that resort is to go to the Boat Landing cafe and get the breakfast sandwich and split it between two people. It is not really a sandwich. It is a generous platter of good, fluffy scrambled eggs, a good fluffy biscuit, and some sausage. Definately enough for two and at $8 a relative bargain.
Lunch at the resort was expensive and passable.
We didnt have much luck with dinners. We spent very active days with our kids and for most of the dinners, location and timing took precedence over going to the most highly recommended place.
Roy's in Kohala was an uneven meal. My butteryaki (black cod with soy and butter glaze) was excellent as was my ahi entree. My kids had grilled fish from the keiki menu and it was dry, overcooked. The vegetables on their plates were indifferently cooked. Undercooked grilled japanese eggplant that had not even a hint of sweetness, overcooked zucchini etc...
My husband had a tuscan style mahi mahi that was just not good. The concept sounded good on paper, but it was overcooked and the herbs were kind of weird on it. The service was efficient and friendly there.
The Chinese Restaurant in the King's shops, Grand Palace, was good, and compared to the prices of other restaurants in that area, it was a good bargain. It is not as good as our favorites in Philly Chinatown, but it was better than any suburban Chinese place we have tried in the Philly area. They had many authentic Chinese dishes on the menu. We enjoyed the soup with pork and greens.
A restaurant to absolutely avoid is the Kamalua Provisions Company in the Hilton Waikoloa. The prices were stratospheric and the quality of the food and execution of the cooking were horrid. My husband had a sirloin steak recommended by the waiter that was literally half fat. My mahi mahi special was way overcooked. The best thing on my plate was the pineapple relish that it came with.
We went to the luau at the Hilton Waikoloa and it was ok. There was a wide variety of foods, but it was served buffet style and we waited an unbearable amount of time for our table to be called up to the buffet. That was after waiting a ridiculously long time in the line to get in so that they could take everyone's picture to try to sell to you later. We ended up missing the kalua pig ceremony. By the time we got our food, the kids were cranky from the wait and the show was well underway. Honestly, we enjoyed the luau at Disney World better and this is coming from someone who thinks "disney dining" is an oxymoron.
In Hilo, we went to Kaikodo, a restaurant recommended on this board. It was a beautifully decorated restaurant in a building that was previously a bank and it had a cosmopolitan, in-crowd feel to it. We enjoyed the two appetizers from the sushi bar. One was ahi served two ways and the other were some interesting maki rolls. My husband and I each had an oyster shooter that were a little weird. They were overly sweet with a liquer that I cant quite remember. My ono was overcooked. My son had the pork ribs with 5 spice appetizer for dinner that were too fatty and had an overpowering 5 spice powder taste. My other son had the keiki cheeseburger that was huge even for an adult and nicely grilled. The service was well meaning but the wait for food to appear was a bit ridiculous. Our entrees arrived over an hour after we had been seated. Our kids took about two bites of their food and promptly fell asleep in their dinner plates.
The Hilo farmer's market was amazing. The abundance of freshly grown and beautifully ripened fruits and vegetables made me wish we had a kitchen at our hotel. We did taste some tropical fruits that we had never heard of nor seen before. The ecuadoran tamales were great. The flowers were incredible. We bought some hot sauces from Ono Que Hawaiian Bbq, in fact we bought a jar of each one he had to offer. They are good and we now have a taste of Hawaii at home, with lilikoi honey mustard, lilikoi and papaya sweet and sour sauce, ancho mango and chipotle papaya sauces.
We had sushi in Hilo that was fair, I have already blocked the name of the restaurant, but it was located in a little strip mall called the Hilo shopping center. It was not at all up to the quality, freshness and presentation of our favorite sushi places in Philly.
The biggest disappointment of the trip was Oodles of Noodles. It was my son's birthday and the night we were leaving the island. I figured we would pick a place in Kona that had been highly recommended on this board and also in several of our guidebooks. The menu was very interesting, but the food was mediocre to bad. Mediocre was the dumpling sampler at a steep $12. We got a steamer basket with five different dumplings. All dim sum standards: har gow, sui mai, sticky rice dumplings, and unfortunately all frozen and reheated. The fried calimari was weird. Instead of a nice light breading or panko, it had some sort of cheese in it that made it heavy, too rich, and weirdly sour. The ahi tuna casserole had a very small portion of absolutely tasteless raw ahi that was supposed to be seared and a huge portion of noodles in a heavy tasteless white sauce with shiitake mushrooms in it that I was unable to taste due to the profuse heavy white sauce. The Saimin was ok, but better done elsewhere. The chow fun was pretty bad. Not done like in a good chinese restaurant and not very tasty at all. My son's keiki mac and cheese was poorly executed due to coagulation of the cheddar cheese into little gritty bits in the cheese sauce(who is cooking there anyway). To top the bad meal off, I handed the waitress a birthday candle for my son's dessert and she returned with the candle stuck in his dessert, unlit! Du'uh! Bad meal. The bathrooms were about a quarter mile away in a completely different part of the strip mall, a big inconvenience with kids.
We had an awesome trip and will be back soon, hopefully with some better dining experiences next time.