I just came back from a 2 week trip to the Big Island and thought I'd share some of my experiences with you all. My family had many memorable meals thanks to this message board.
The Coffee Shack (Mamalohoa Hwy 11) -We stopped here when we visited last year as well and it's still a great place for breakfast or lunch. The fresh fish specials are always fabulous (esp. the mahi mahi eggs benedict.) Stay away from anything they make with shrimp or imitation crab (it's frozen and not local, obviously). Their house-roasted coffee is delicious.
Uncle Indeba's (Mamalohoa Hwy 11 near Captain Cook) -We had a laid-back Christmas meal here. This is a local steak/fish restaurant with lots of Aloha. It's not fancy but they serve well prepared food, feature fresh fish, and provide friendly service. The restaurant is also BYO, which is particularly convenient as there is a quickie mart 2 doors down that sells beer/wine/etc.
Ke'ei Cafe (Mamalohoa Hwy 11) -Good food, great ambiance. The food was well prepared and the ingredients fresh. I had no specific complaints other than the "red curry" fish special they offered was not a traditional red curry (it was made with an ordinary madras curry powder...strange.)
South Kona Fruit Stand (Mamalohoa Hwy 11) -Great selection of organic products, though a tad overpriced. I find that their produce is consistently under-ripe, which isn't a problem if you have a few days to wait.
Big Jake's BBQ (Mamalohoa Hwy 11) -We had a hard time catching this place when it was open this year...but it was worth the trouble. The grilled fish special was delicious as was their ribs and brisket. You almost feel like you're in Texas. The little fish market next to this place is usually good too, though the freshest fish goes fast (the owner is super friendly.) This is also a great place to pick up some beer to enjoy with your Q.
Royal Thai (Keahau Shopping Center, Kona) -Awesome Thai restaurant. The service can be a little chaotic but they are very friendly and the food is authentic. I especially liked the fresh fish (mahi) special and the green papaya salad.
Kenichi (Keahau Shopping Center, Kona) -We decided to eat here after finding that Royal Thai was closed one Sunday. What a great find! This is probably my favorite upscale restaurant on the island. The restaurant features fusion Japanese cuisine. The prices are very competitive (entrees around $25 for seafood, more for steak/lamb) and everything was creative and delicious: fresh ingredients, unusual flavor combinations, and the freshest fish around. I loved the seared Ono dinner, and the sushi specials. Everyone was very friendly and we got excellent service. I can't say enough good things about this place.
Killer Taco (Kona) -This is a solid taco/burrito take-out restaurant. The prices were very reasonable and the food was tasty. My only complaint was that the fish tacos were made with frozen Alaskan cod (why not use a local fish?) I particularly enjoyed the burrito with kahlua pig (their chicken was a little dry.) This is a good option for a quick and very inexpensive meal.
Royal Kona Luau (Royal Kona Resort, Kona) -We thought we'd give this luau a try and overall we had a good time. The food was excellent by luau standards, particularly the kahlua pig (the best we had the whole trip) and we enjoyed the oceanside setting. The open bar before the ceremony was a bit of a disappointment though -the pre-mixed mai tai's had zero alcohol and one of the bartenders was a bit rude (he was probably jaded from dealing with drunk tourists, cant blame him.) Unfortunately, the hula/dance show was brief and unimpressive.
Ba Le (74-5588 Palani Rd, Kona) -Typical Vietnamese food. I enjoyed pho with mushroom broth and chicken katsu. We also liked the coconut tapioca pudding.
Gelato Shop next to KTA market on Palini Road -I really wanted to like this place. Despite the fact that they are located in Hawaii, they had no tropical gelato flavors other than coconut (they did have a lillikoi sorbet, I believe). The flavor of the gelato was not anything special and did not have the true gelato texture. It was also expensive. I wish there were a Lapperts on the Big Island!
KTA Market (Palini Road, Kona) -This store is very popular with the locals. Fresh fish if you get there early. Fabulous spicy tuna sushi rolls if you get them freshly made by the sushi chef. This is one of the few stores around that sells the fresh Hanalei Poi (my brother is a poi fanatic.)
KTA Market (Keahau Shopping Center, Kona) -Also a solid grocery store but more geared towards tourists (no Hanalei poi.) I did have one problem with their pre-made sandwiches though when I noticed that they were sticking new date labels over the old labels on sandwiches (gross!)
Cafe Pesto (Kahula) -We also visited Cafe Pesto in Hilo last year. Though the food is good and ingredients are fresh, we are always slightly disappointed. The fresh fish dinner specials are WAY overpriced for what you get (for the same $30+ price, you could have a much better meal elsewhere, like Merriman's or Kenichi). The pizza is also disappointing. They skimp on the pineapple on the Hawaiian pizza and the Pizza Margarita was just a plain cheese pizza, no basil. For a restaurant of this caliber (with higher than average prices) this is unacceptable.
Merriman's Restaurant (Waimea) -This place was delicious. Awesome local ingredients, wonderful flavor combinations, excellent service, great wine list, the freshest local fish, ALL island meats (beef, lamb, etc.) I loved the purple yam soup. All around great place. It is a little pricey but I thought it was well worth it. Their dessert selection is also very creative.
Merriman's Market Cafe (King's Shops) -This is a good option for lunch given other restaurants in the area (i.e. resort dining.) I loved the fresh fish sandwich on foccacia with the string onion rings. The Moroccan Chicken sandwich was also good and well priced (around $7). The Lamb pita was a huge disappointment. The meat patties in the pitas were mostly couscous and they were extremely bland. For $13, this is definitely not something that I'd recommend. The only thing it had going for it was that it was probably local lamb.
Tako Taco (Waimea) -This is a standard taco/burrito fast-food restaurant. I thought the prices were a little high and the food was nothing special but it was good for a fast, cheap lunch.
Tex's Drive Inn (Honoka'a) -The Malasadas here are truly wonderful. We ate malasadas at a few other places before making it to Ken's and none of them compared. We also had lunch here. The loco moco looked really nasty (though my brother said it was alright.) The fish sandwich was really good (seemed like they used fresh mahi). We also had the local platter special which featured kahula pork and cabbage, lomi salmon, rice, cole slaw, haupa, and a mixed meat lau lau, which I thought was good for a fast food joint, but not nearly as good as what I have had elsewhere. All in all, not a bad choice for a quick lunch.
Bamboo Restaurant (Hawi) -We came here only for lunch so things might be a bit different at dinner. The fish salad was very delicious and colorful (I loved that they included purple potatoes, papaya, heart of palm, and mac nuts.) We also had the kahlua pig and cabbage which was a huge entree and very good. The pot stickers were a bit of a disappointment (and overpriced) as the small amount of filling was not very flavorful (luckily the sauce was good.)
Ice Cream Shop across the street from Bamboo Restaurant (Hawi) -The ice cream here was very flavorful and creamy. This is a super popular place and when we got there they only had a few flavors to offer. The sundae is excellent and features fresh (local) mac nuts.
Small Mac Nut Stand up the road from Pololu Valley -Someone was selling mac nuts and oranges at an "honor stand" on Highway 270. The mac nuts were a bit pricey ($2 for a very small bag) but they were SOOooo worth it. I got both the raw and roasted and they were incredibly fresh and sweet. The roasted nuts were roasted perfectly. After eating a truly fresh mac nut, you won't be able to go back to the usual store variety.
Simply Natural (Honoka'a) -Small cafe in downtown Honoka'a. The turkey melt sandwich was spectacular, particularly with the fresh baked foccacia bread. The soup of the day (vegetable curry) was disappointing as it was too watery and bland. All of their fresh bread was fabulous. Very friendly and laid back. One minor complaint was that there were no public bathrooms here (closest bathroom was at the library down the street!)
Honoka'a Natural Foods (Honoka'a) -Small health food store owned by a friendly lady located near the downtown strip. We stopped in here for a few staples and found super fresh local greens, yummy organic/free trade chocolates, and fresh Waipi'o Poi (this was a treat!)
Waimea Farmer's Market (Saturday until 12pm) -This marked didn't have a lot of produce when we visited (January) but there was a lot of delicious prepared food. The Peruvian Tamale guy was there (get the chicken tamales). We also tried their beef burrito which I enjoyed. There is also a very nice lady selling delicious Indian food (this might be the only place to get Indian food in the area.) Another lady was selling lilikoi jelly, fresh baked pies, and lemon bars. All of her baked goods were delicious and made with real butter.
Hilo Farmer's Market (Wednesday & Saturday) -still my favorite farmer's market in Hawaii. Cheap fresh veggies, awesome prepared foods. The Peruvian tamales are a MUST. There is also a lady selling fresh island goat cheese, which we enjoyed.
KTA Market (Kamehameha Ave, Hilo) -I stopped by here on New Years Eve day and it was super chaotic. Lots of asian ingredients/products, friendly service.
Ken's House of Pancakes (Kamehameha Ave, Hilo) -My brother ordered the loco moco here and thoroughly enjoyed it. Next time we'll have to try the lillikoi pancakes (which looked great.)
Miyo's (400 Hualani Street) -We had a very difficult time finding this place but it was well worth it. This is a traditional Japanese restaurant and seems to be very popular with the locals (for good reason.) We had a little trouble with the service as it was a bit slow and they forgot some things (like the miso soup) but if you are willing to put up with a little chaos it's a great choice. One dish I would not recommend is the cooked fish special (I don't think they use fresh local fish). Otherwise, the sushi, sashimi, miso, Japanese curry and teriyaki beef were delicious. The ambiance is rather unique as it overlooks a lake and is in the top story of a building with high ceilings.
Well, that's about it. Hope this helps all of you out -happy eating!
ps - Does anyone know what happened to Sibu Cafe in Kona? We usually love coming to this place but the phone is disconnected and they were never open when we stopped by. I'm hoping that they were just closed for the holidays.