When you live in Hawaii, there’s no such thing as a road trip (because you’d be around the island in just a few hours), so instead we island hop. This time Sasha and I decided to explore the Eastern side of Hawaii’s Big Island on the rainy coast of Hilo for a three-day weekend. We often wonder how the farm-to-table movement has not penetrated Oahu more than it has on neighbor islands, which seem to be teeming with delicious foodie joints utilizing organic produce and partnering with local farms to bring good, honest, sustainable food to their residents. Because of limited time (the Big Island is huge, so if your trip is not properly planned, you can easily spend countless hours driving and not getting very far), we decided to focus all of our time in the Hilo area. Below I will detail our favorites (and not-so-favorites) for places to eat in Hilo!
1) Conscious Culture Cafe and Kombucha
By far our favorite eatery during our time in Hilo. From our first interaction with the staff, to the high quality of local, organic ingredients, we loved this place so much we returned every single morning for three days straight for breakfast! I emailed the owners, Brendan and Kela to provide our positive feedback, and he responded straight away! He answered my questions about what it’s like to start a business like this in Hilo, and his passion for sharing good, honest food and positive vibes. I wish there were more places like Conscious Culture Cafe. The world would be a far happier and healthier place!
Address: 110 Keawe Street
Hours: Open 7 days a week, 8:00 AM – 8:00 PM
What we spent: We averaged $35 for brekky each morning, which consisted of: 2 main plates, 1 coffee, 1 kombucha + tip
Here is the exterior and interior. The inside features beautiful new age spiritual art from local artists.
We tried nearly all of their brekky items that contained eggs. Every single one was outstanding, but my personal favorite was Kela’s Breakfast. They brew their own kombucha too (see above photo for menu.) They have inventive natural flavors that changed based on seasonality. If you are vegan or vegetarian, there are plenty of options for you!
Be sure to try their chai coffee (they brew the coffee with chai tea), and ask them for a side of their home-made almond milk!
2) Moon & Turtle
We dined around 8:30 PM on a Saturday, and the very first table of the evening had just opened up (we didn’t have a reservation). On Fridays and weekends, reservations are highly recommended, as it is a small restaurant. Service was attentive and friendly, and the food was outstandingly flavorful. They use locally-grown ingredients such as soursop, charcoal salt and Waimea strawberries. The menu changes daily, and all leftover menus are reused by being turned into the lights for their decoration.
Address: 51 Kalakaua Street
Hours: Closed Mondays
Tuesday – Sunday: 5:30 – 9:00 PM (dinner only)
What we ordered: Mushroom Pappardelle with Hamakua mushrooms and truffle oil
Smoky sashimi marlin (OH MY GOD)
Garlic Ponzu Ahi Belly
What we spent: (1 main, 2 sides, 1 cocktail + 20% tip): $77.00 for two people.
3) Poke ‘N Sides
Located right next to the farmer’s market, this casual stop-in joint has outdoor seating, but runs out of food by mid-afternoon! The concept is simple: order your selection of poke (choose from various styles of ahi (raw tuna), salmon, or pipikau’ula (Hawaiian beef), and then select your sides (variety depends on the day, but they usually have kimchi cucumbers, lomi lomi salmon, and purple Okinawan sweet potato)
Address: 57 Mamo Street
Hours: Closed Mondays
Tuesday, Thursday, Friday: 10:00 AM – 3:00 PM
Wednesday & Saturday: 9:00 AM – 3:00 PM
What we Spent: 1 poke bowl + “poke bomb” (similar to a small hand roll with rice and spicy ahi) = $13.50
4) Cafe Pesto
A long running staple of Hilo, Cafe Pesto specializes in pizza. My opinion is wildly biased after having traveled through Italy for one month, but you can’t go too wrong with pizza.
Address: 308 Kamehameha Highway
Hours: Monday – Friday: 8:00 AM – 9:00 PM
Saturday: 10:30 AM – 10:00 PM
Sunday: 10:30 AM – 9:00 PM
What we spent: 1 pizzas + tip (lunch) = $27
5) Lucy’s Taqueria
This casual bus-your-own-table restaurant is big, noisy and overly stimulating. The bartender was rude, the music was too loud, and the interior of the restaurant was freezing and smelled like bleach. Fully knowing all of this, we decided to proceeded anyway and ordered a burrito after a long day of hiking in Volcanoes National Park (hey, when you’re that hungry and you’re craving Mexican, pickiness goes out the door.) The prices are a good deal for how much food you get, and you’ll be nice and full when you’re finished. The food quality was not good, but their saving grace was their home made salsas at the help yourself salsa bar. Drench your burrito in salsa and it should be good enough.
Address: 194 Kilauea Avenue
Hours: Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday: 10:30 AM – 9:00 PM
Friday/Saturday: 10:30 AM – 10:00 PM
How Much we Spent: 2 burritos = $22.00
6) Ken’s House of Pancakes
I’m of the opinion that anything open 24 hours is probably not going to be the best quality of food, but Ken’s is simply a local favorite and too famous to not include here. We inadvertently ate there twice during our trip, simply because our flight arrived at 9:00 PM on a Thursday, and this was the only thing open in all of Hilo at the time. There are 100 items on the menu (another sign of the quality of food to expect), and they have been going strong since 1971. The reason we ate here a second time is because it is included in one of the tours we took to the volcano (hey, can’t pass up a free meal!) I will say that after hiking 10.5 miles round trip to active lava over uneven glass-like terrain, that won ton saimin tasted damn good!
Address: 1730 Kamehameha Highway
Hours: 24 hours, 7 days a week
What we ordered: Won Ton Saimin (their most popular dish)
What we spent: 2 mains + tip = $20.00
THE SWEET STUFF
Yessss, my favorite part. Hilo has an interesting mixture of the long time running local businesses that have become a staple of the town, as well as the newer healthier rustic bakeries using fresh ingredients.
7) Two Ladies Kitchen
This place usually has a line out the door and operates with one person at the register and 1 – 2 people in the back, preparing. Their specialty is mochi (Japanese rice cake), stuffed with various fillings such as strawberries, shortcake, etc. They do use unnatural food dyes in their products, which is typically something we avoid, but because of their reputation, we had to try just two! Sometimes they come around with samples for the folks waiting outside. Even though we only ordered two mochi, we waited for ten minutes for our order.
Address: 274 Kilauea Ave
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday: 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
What we ordered: 1 adzuki bean mochi + 1 purple Okinawan sweet potato mochi
What we spent: $1.18
8) Papa’a Palaoa Bakery
A good ole fashioned rustic bakery whipping up cookies, breads of all kind, natural power fruit and nut bars (perfect for a takeaway snack before heading to Volcanoes National Park for a day of hiking), and the most delicious muffin we’ve ever had, filled with chocolate chips, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and orange zest. Yum!
Address: 187 Kilauea Ave
Hours: Monday – Saturday: 7:00 AM – 5:00 PM
What we ordered: 1 muffin + 1 fruit and nut bar
What we spent: $7.00
9) Moonstruck Patisserie
A solid French patisserie run by a lady from Singapore. Simple, classy and classic.
Address: 16 Furneaux Lane (how fitting that a French patisserie would be on a French-named street!)
Hours: Wednesday/Saturday: 8:30 AM – 3:00 PM
Thursday/Friday: 9:15 AM – 3:00 PM (boy, I wish I could work these hours!)
What we ordered: chocolate mousse cake
What we spent: $7.00
Most places are closed on Sundays, or close quite early, as Hilo is a very sleepy town. I hope this little guide will help you scope out the best places to eat in Hilo, Hawaii!
A hui ho! (Until next time)