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Big Island Restaurants

Big Island Candies
585 Hinano Street
Hilo , Hawaii
Tel: 800 935 5510 (toll-free)
Tel: 808 935 8890

Everything is just right in this happy place—the production area is clean and pristine, the goods are beautifully packaged, and most important, the high-quality candies, cookies, coffee, brownies, nuts, etc. (some even sugar-free!), are delicious. Their confections are much imitated but not sold anywhere outside of the factory and the official Web site.

Open daily 8:30 am to 5 pm.

Daniel Thiebaut
65–1259 Kawaihae Road
Waimea , Hawaii
Tel: 808 887 2200

Formerly a general store and feeding stop for local ranch families, this unlikely venue is one of Waimea's top tables (the other is Merriman's). Just as chef Daniel Thiebaut renovated this country house with antique furniture and Sig Zane tropical prints, a decade of island life has transformed the chef—Thiebaut's heavily Asian-flavored dishes belie his French roots only in structure and presentation. He might wok-fry sea scallops then sauce them in a warm coconut crab dressing; or spice up bacon-wrapped beef tenderloin and herb spaetzle with a Thai curry. The heartiness of the menu pairs well with the area's crisp, often wet, days and misty nights, and it's worth the drive to sample it—even if you're staying an hour away in Kailua-Kona.

Open Mondays through Saturdays 11:30 am to 9 pm, Sundays 10 am to 9 pm.

Hilo Bay Café
315 Makaala Street
Hilo , Hawaii
Tel: 808 935 4939

This is Hawaii regional cuisine at its most accessible, familiar enough to appeal to locals (the vast majority of diners at Hilo restaurants), and yet inspiring enough for visitors. So, what's an ambitious restaurant doing in a hideous mini-mall? When owner Kim Snuggerud opened it in 2003, she wanted it near her health food store, Island Naturals. Self-taught chef Joshua Kettner's blackened ahi Caesar salad, slow-cooked pork ribs, and molten chocolate "lava" cake keep patrons in shorts and flip-flops happy. So do the reasonable prices.

Open Mondays through Saturdays 11 am to 9 pm, Sundays 5 to 9 pm.

Hilo Farmer's Market
Corner of Mamo Street and Kamehameha Avenue
Hilo , Hawaii
Tel: 808 933 1000

This bustling little scene of local vendors is a great place to stop and get cheap, tasty snacks such as tamales, Vietnamese spring rolls, bento boxes, and fresh juices. The best days to visit are Wednesdays and Saturdays, when about 250 stalls are open for business; a handful of vendors set up shop on other days as well. Things get pretty picked over by noon, even though some sellers stay as late as 4 pm.

Open Wednesdays, Saturdays, and occasional weekdays from 6 am to 4 pm.

Java on the Rock
75–5828 Kahakai Road
Kailua-Kona , Hawaii
Tel: 808 329 9262

Alii Drive is pretty insufferable, especially at night when hordes of spring breakers are on the prowl. That's why it's best to experience Kona's oceanfront main drag in the morning. Java is pricey for what it serves—simple breakfast foods like bagels, eggs, and fruit salad—and the service is slow, but there are great views and an opportunity to imagine what a special spot this once was. The place turns into Huggo's on the Rock, a fine lunch and dinner option on the strip, after 11:30 am.

Open daily 6 to 11 am.

Kona Inn Restaurant
75–5744 Alii Drive
Kona Inn Shopping Village
Kailua-Kona , Hawaii
Tel: 808 329 4455

All that's left of the historic hotel built in the early 1900s is this popular open-air oceanfront bar, grill, and restaurant. Adorned with old black-and-white photographs, this is the spot for a classic Hawaiian sunset with a mai tai in hand. The main restaurant has near-perfect macadamia nut–crusted mahimahi, so park yourself in a high-back wicker chair for a leisurely meal. The Café Grill, on the patio, is quicker and less expensive.

Open daily 11:30 am to 9:30 pm.

Luquin's Mexican Restaurant
15–2942 Pahoa Village Road
Pahoa , Hawaii
Tel: 808 965 9990

Located in Pahoa town—a hippie strip about a 20-minute drive from Hilo—this popular hangout is still a little feral on the edges but wins people over every time. The standard West Coast–style Mexican dishes (fish tacos, burritos, enchiladas) and margaritas are good, but it's really the cantinalike festive scene that makes this place so unique. The chicken and beef usually come from the owners' farm.

Open daily 7 am to 9 pm.

65–1227 Opelo Road
Waimea , Hawaii
Tel: 808 885 6822

It feels like a little place you've discovered, but many have already raved about Peter Merriman, one of 11 top chefs in the state who spearheaded the Hawaii regional cuisine phenomenon. The basic philosophy? Take the freshest local ingredients and prepare each dish to order. As that might imply, this is not a quick or cheap meal (dinner entrées are in the $20–$40 range). Merriman delivers a little bit of the familiar blended with local flavors (e.g., kalua pig and sweet onion quesadilla). His version of the "mixed plate," a taste of three signature dishes (ponzu mahimahi, fillet steak with hamakua mushrooms, and wok-charred ahi), is especially worthy. The restaurant also participates in "Behind the Scenes of Hawaii regional cuisine" farm tours, twice-monthly events hosted by the Hawaii Forest and Trail Service that each culminate in a four-course meal.

Open Mondays through Fridays 11:30 am to 1:30 pm and 5:30 to 9 pm, Saturdays and Sundays 5:30 to 9 pm.

Roy's Waikoloa Bar & Grill
250 Waikoloa Beach Drive
Waikoloa , Hawaii
Tel: 808 886 4321

In the wake of Nobu and Morimoto, fresh seafood punched up with bold Asian flavors and plated in ornamental Japanese style can sound a bit commonplace, but chef Roy Yamaguchi's Hawaiian fusion is ideal fare for a beach vacation. Yamaguchi's classic preparations include an exotic roll of snow crab, asparagus tempura, and avocado wrapped in seared Kobe; and a trio of hibachi-grilled salmon, blackened ahi, and misoyaki butterfish. Reservations are recommended, but you can show up at this casual, dark-wood, open-air venue in a Waikoloa mini-mall in shorts and flip-flops without a problem.

Open daily 5:30 to 10 pm.

Tex's Drive-In
45–690 Highway 19/Pakalana Street
Honokaa , Hawaii
Tel: 808 775 0598

It was a tiny shack that put the little town of Honokaa on the map with its irresistible malassadas (fried dough balls rolled in sugar). Now it's a factory and full-on tourist trap complete with a visitors center and garden center, but the supersize malassadas (you now have the option of enhancements like Bavarian cream or guava jam on the inside) are still worth their weight in gold. One word for the rest of the menu: Don't. It's an ideal place to stop when driving along the Hamakua Coast from one side of the island to the other.

Open daily 6:30 am to 8 pm.

Two Ladies Kitchen
274 Kilauea Avenue
Hilo , Hawaii
Tel: 808 961 4766

Hilo native Nora Uchida and her family apply themselves to making Japanese dessert pastries, and making them very well. Mochi (soft pounded-rice balls) and manju (flaky pastry balls) are traditionally filled with sweet red or white beans. But here, mochi are also stuffed with white chocolate, passion fruit, peanut butter, and even whole fresh strawberries. Manju come in fewer varieties, but the purple sweet potato sprinkled with cinnamon is not to be missed. They last a good three days without refrigeration (except for those filled with fresh strawberry), so the colorful confections make great gifts to tote home.

Open Wednesdays through Saturdays 10 am to 5 pm.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.