Pizza and Poke – Savory Eats on the Big Island
Hawaii's Big Island has so many unique flavors to offer thanks to its large East Asian and South Asian populations. As much as Brandon and I enjoy authentic Hawaiian food, like Kalua pork and macaroni salad (but not poi, sorry), we had no intention of eating it for three meals a day when we visited earlier this summer.
Instead, we tasted our way through other charming culinary options like masala dosas and Asian fusion burritos, crispy Thai duck and rich lamb vindaloo, fresh sushi and steamy pho soup, with malasada donuts and mochi for dessert. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
When we were not munching on Asian delicacies, island versions of classic "American food" filled our bellies, like beef sliders on purple taro buns and lilikoi (passionfruit) cheesecake.
If you're looking to try a little bit of every flavor on Hawaii's Big Island, here is your go-to guide for navigating the savory culinary scene from Kona to Hilo and back.
And if you're looking for a hint of something sweet to tame your taste buds, click here to read my blog post about our favorite sugar shops in Hawaii called "Mochi and Malasadas - Exotic Sweets on the Big Island."
You'll notice I've rated our dining experiences in the paragraphs below. Not something I typically do, but it seemed appropriate for this long list, which is ten days worth of eating. None of the ratings go below 7/10, mostly because I'm too nice, but also because all the food on the island was truly wonderful. I would be honest with you if anything was inedible. I've supplemented this post with some photos from Unsplash and Pixabay for those times when we were so busy savoring the food, I forgot to take pictures! After all, this was a #selfietrip.
This place came highly recommended from a local tour guide so we checked it out. I must say, I've never eaten cuter sushi. They went above and beyond to decorate each plate with little garnishes and faux flowers to enhance the experience, already wonderful with fresh ingredients and zesty sauces. 9/10
We enjoyed this warehouse-district restaurant and craft brewhouse so much, we ate there twice. The ambiance was industrial, but with a breezy island flare. Their mix and match craft beer flight allowed us to sip a few different ales before choosing favorites. I was smackin' my lips for the Hula Hefeweizen, which had fruity banana and apple undertones, and the full-bodied Cacao Brown, made with real chocolate. We're not big beer drinkers, but when we grab a pint, it better have big flavor. Ordering mainly from the appetizer menu, we sampled the well-seasoned Kalua pork bao buns, hand-tossed mushroom pizza, ground beef sliders on purple taro bread buns, and amazing kale and cranberry salad, with the haupia sweet potato pie for dessert. 10/10
Pretty good New York style thin crust pizza you can order by the slice or call in advance for a whole pie. We enjoyed the Manhattan Supreme, loaded with spicy meats, and the Belmont, with spinach and chicken. This place gets the job done when you're hankerin' for pizza but only need a slice or two. 8/10
Have you ever had a dosa? They are like thin, crispy crepes that you dip into savory vegetarian curries and chutneys. At Swami's, we ordered the masala dosa, a cheese dosa (like an Indian quesadilla), several potato samosas, and idli, which is a soft, fluffy steamed roll that you also dip into the dosa sauces. For a food truck, the dosas were a bit pricey and not super filling, but were very tasty, no contest there. We found their truck at the Ali'i Garden Marketplace. 7/10
On the Hawaiian islands, Costco sells big containers of fresh poke, marinated in shoyu (like soy sauce) or wasabi sauce, at a very reasonable rate, considering how much the same amount of raw fish would cost at the restaurant down the street. It's no frills, no rice, no toppings, just the fish, but if you have a membership at Costco, you can't beat the price! 9/10
Very flavorful Indian food. We ate here twice because it was so delicious and scarfed down dishes like Aloo Matar (peas and potato curry), Lamb Vindaloo, and Chicken Biryani (aromatic rice), with garlic Naan flatbread on the side. 10/10
I counted more Thai restaurants on the Big Island than any other type of cuisine, so we couldn't leave without trying at least one. The spicy fried duck and mixed seafood panang curry satisfied us with tender proteins and bold sauces. The portion sizes were a bit small, but we enjoyed sharing a few plates to explore the menu while sipping bright orange Thai tea. 8/10
A hole-in-the-wall sushi joint down an alley, hidden but just steps away from the main tourist drag. Cheap rolls to fill that sushi-shaped hole in your heart, minus the expensive sit-down experience. We recommend the Spicy Rock 'N Roll and the Mauna Poke Roll. 7/10
Don't judge! Sometimes you just need a really meaty piece of fried chicken to make the hunger go away. Willie's did the trick. 8/10
Excellent beef pho and fried spring rolls. We ate this steaming noodle soup when it was 90 degrees outside, but didn't care because it was so good. Lean into the sweat! Our meals came with all the traditional pho fixings, like fresh basil leaves, jalapenos, bean sprouts and limes. I prefer lots of hoisin and chili sauces in my soup to bring it to the sweet and spicy side. How do you season your pho? 10/10
Nothing special here, the typical "Americanized" Chinese food and spam musubi were fine, a bit heavy on the rice. We tried their iced boba drinks, green bean chicken, and fried duck with hoisin sauce. 7/10
A popular roadside meat cooking operation with an impressive selection of smoked protein like pork ribs, rotisserie chicken, brisket and pulled pork. It moves locations throughout the week, so make sure to look up the current address before venturing out. No bathrooms, no buildings, just picnic tables and homemade barbeque sauce. 8/10
This tiny potato chip shop had that fun roadtrip vibe because of signs on the highway leading up to the building saying, "Fresh potato chips, 300 feet!" then "100 feet!" then "Right here!" With advertising like that, we had to check it out. From among other snacks, we chose the furikake potato chips and starchy taro chips, both delicious in their own way. Furikake is a Japanese seasoning typically made with toasted sesame seeds, nori seaweed, salt and sugar. 10/10
For context, "shaka" is a Hawaiian hand sign used among surfers and locals, also known as "hang loose," where the pinky finger and thumb are extended and the three middle fingers are bent down. It's a friendly hand signal that pedestrians would wave at us when crossing the street in front of our car.
Shaka Tacoz is a popular food truck-turned-restaurant serving the weirdest fusion burrito I've ever eaten. It contained rice, beans, salsa, and meat (ok normal so far), but also cheese, coleslaw, lettuce and crema sauce, topped with a VERY spicy mango hot sauce. Since I ordered the pork version, it tasted like eating a burrito mixed with a coleslaw pulled pork sandwich, plus cheese, which you never find on traditional Mexican tacos or burritos. Don't get confused, I ate the whole thing. I just didn't know what to think about it. 7/10
Local breakfast joint that serves haupia pancakes that are bigger than my head! Makes sense considering their motto is "Quality homemade Hawaiian food, served in Hawaiian portions." Haupia is coconut pudding we spooned over the pancakes instead of syrup. Mmmm. And to balance out the sweetness, we ordered The Big Mok (Loco Moco); a comfort food dish of Spam, Portuguese sausage, link sausage, eggs, and brown gravy over rice. You can't leave Hawaii without trying a Loco Moco! 9/10
Keep this list of amazing places to eat handy on your next Big Island adventure, and let me know about any other tasty restaurants you discover; I want to try them too!
Craving something sweet? Click here to read my blog post about the best dessert stops on Hawaii, called "Mochi and Malasadas – Exotic Sweets on the Big Island."
And if you're wondering what we did for 10 days besides eat, click here read about all the farm tours we experienced - "5 Farm Tours Across Hawaii’s Big Island + Bonus Activities!"