Whenever we go to a new destination one of our first thoughts is “where are the best restaurants?”  Oh sure, we try the usual web sites, like Fodor’s and Zagat’s, but on those web sites there is often little information about Hawaii, The Big Island.  So, here are our picks for great food at unusual restaurants that are off the beaten path.  They are listed in no particular order, but each restaurant is definitely a repeat – we would go back, again and again.  This list does not include the standard and average restaurants in and around Kailua-Kona, like Outback, Bubba Gumps, etc.


The Coffee Shack:  About 20 minutes (11.4 miles) south on Hwy 11.  Not only is the view from their lanai breathtaking, but also their sandwiches and specials are reasonably priced and delicious.  Breakfast is great and so are their baked goods.  Expect a short wait for a table.


Keei Café: About a 12-minute drive (6.5 miles) south on Hwy 11.  Located about 1 mile past the Aloha Theater on the left-hand side of Hwy 11.  This eatery serves up the best Ahi around (get the nightly special), but there are plenty of other choices.  For dessert, try the bread pudding with ice cream or chocolate cake.  Dinner average is $24, bottle of wine $25.  They make the best Caiparhina, a Brazillian rum drink!  No credit cards.  Must call for reservations. 322-9992


Holuakoa Gardens and Café is a “slow-food” (all local food, freshly prepared) restaurant high above the Pacific along the Mamaloa Hwy.  Nice menu that depends on what is available from the local growers, farmers, fisherman (which means pretty much anything!!) and a good wine selection.  The tables are set in the garden.  They like to know you are coming:  (808) 322-2233


Kona Brew Pub:  For well-prepared sandwiches, salads and great pizza, this place is the tops for lunch, late lunch, or early dinner.  Fire Rock Ale is a favorite but try their sampler.   The best beer on the island - take home a growler.  Eat on the patio, not inside.   To get to the entrance, you can take Kuakini Hwy south, turn right on Kawai St, then right on Pawai Place.


Kilauea Lodge:  This mountain retreat is located in Volcano near the Kilauea National Volcano Park.  The setting is beautiful and the food is very good.  Expect about $25+ per entrée.  Reservations are required. 967-7366


Merriman’s:  In Waimea/Kamuela this is wonderful fine dining experience.  Gourmet presentations, a full wine list, cloth napkins and attentive service make this a memorable night.  About $75 for dinner for two.  They are also open for lunch. Reservations recommended. 885-6822


Sam Choy’s.  Right above the Keauhou Shopping Center with spectacular views of the Pacific and the sunsets.  They have a wonderful Hawaiian and Asian Pacific menu for either lunch or dinner.  A limited breakfast menu is also available.  Cocktails have a Hawaiian twist (try the Black Lava Margarita).  During busy times, it’s best to have a reservation.  333-3434


Royal Thai Café:  Located in the Keauhou Shopping Center just up the road from Surf and Racquet, is a great restaurant featuring Thai cuisine.  The food is always good and the menu is huge.  The Tom Kah Kai soup is wonderful – try a small cup or share a bowl. 


Habaneros:  Located in the Keauhou Shopping Center.  A fast food type of Mexican restaurant, but locally owned.  We like to bring back their great food to eat on the lanai as the sun is setting.


Kenichi’s:  Located in the Keauhou Shopping Center.   Sushi/Japanese restaurant with an eclectic menu.   Their Happy Hour sushi roll special (1/2 price) is the best deal in town, so get there early.


Bamboo Café:  In Hawi, there are several places to eat, but do not miss the Bamboo Café – the food is great and they really know how to make a (passion fruit served in a coconut shell) Margarita.  Be sure to check out the gallery on the 2nd floor.  Lunch or dinner around $18 per person.


Tex Drive In:  There are a couple of places on the Island where you can find local food.  Buns-In-The-Sun in Kailua-Kona is one of them.  But some of best local food is at the Tex Drive In located in Honoka’a.  Part way between Waimea and Akaka Falls. 


La Bourgogne French Restaurant:   French cuisine in Kona?  Food is excellent and you’ll be served by the owners.  Sourdough bread flown in from San Francisco.  No view and not a hint of Hawaii.  Reservations 329-6711.


Jackie Reys:  A locally owned restaurant that is frequented by locals.  It’s along the Kuakini Hwy at the Pottery Terrace so you probably wouldn’t find it on your own.  The cuisine is Hawaiian.  Go on “wino Wednesday” – bottles of wine are half price with two entrees. (808) 327-0209.


Lava Java:  On Ali’i Drive across from the shore.  A great choice for breakfast.


Café Pesto:  This great restaurant has two locations, Hilo and the Kawaihae Harbor in North Kohala.  Both places have wonderful chefs with an interesting menu.    882-1071


Speaking of Kohala - - the major resorts on the Kohala coast all have very good restaurants with great chefs.  We have eaten at most of the Hilton’s restaurants and at several other major hotels - - in general, they are all very good.  Over the top is The Canoe House in the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel, big bucks but a nice experience. Reservations 885-6622.


Please help with this list.  If you find a great restaurant, or have a negative comment on any of the above, please let us know.

Mahalo and bon appetit !