While we were in Hawaii we had some great meals and foods, so I want to talk about them a little bit.
Our first four days or so were spent on the dry side of the island in a condo complex, so we were mainly self-catering, which is ok with us because we love to cook, it gives us more autonomy, and it saves us money. We did a shop at Costco and Safeway, and stocked up with most of what we needed for those few days. One of the things we purchased at Costco was a case of Big Island Organics ginger lemonade. We figured it would be a good mixer, as well as something to drink while we tooled around the island. It went well with the tasty Woodford Reserve Bourbon we also bought at Costco, and even worked well in a marinade we made (see below). By the way, buying one bottle of booze at Costco managed to last us the entire trip, and we had just enough at the end of our vacation to fill up the flask with which we always try to travel.
We did eat out twice on that side of the island. On our first day there, we ate breakfast out at Bongo Ben’s in Kona, which I wrote about on November 29th. It was mainly standard (but very tasty) breakfast fare, but the Kona coffee I had, and the bloody Mary ordered by Angie, were both greatly enjoyed.
Then, on the Saturday, after our kayaking adventure, our guide Jamal gave us a couple of recommendations for places to eat near Kealakekua, on the way back to Kona. The place that sounded most appealing to us was TK Noodle House, so we were really disappointed when we got there and found out that it was closed on Saturdays. I guess we will have to try that on our next Hawaii trip.
There was another place in the same strip mall that Jamal had also mentioned that was a more standard pub/burger joint called Annies. It was open, so we went there. It was a little chilly to sit on the lanai, since we didn’t have overshirts with us, but we made it work. Part of the appeal of this place was that their burgers are made from island-raised beef. I believe I ordered the classic burger (it’s been a couple of weeks so it’s hard to remember exactly what I had but I don’t remember disliking it at least!), while Angie pushed the envelope and tried the taro burger, which was a vegan offering. I think she thought it was interesting, but not anything she might need to make a habit of eating. I think she also felt this way when she tried the poi at the luau on Sunday!
The service was good, and friendly.
Jamal had also recommended a fruit stand to us, called Cooks Bounty. We passed it on our way to find lunch and pulled over to check it out. There was a large variety of local fruits along with some honeys and juices. We bought some starfruit and papaya, and some oranges. Angie found out later she can’t eat starfruit. I tried it and thought it was ok, but don’t think I need to make a habit out of eating them. The papaya was the strawberrry papaya variety. It was also decent but not amazing. I think I prefer mango.
We tried malasadas (Portuguese doughnuts) in Waimea on the day we hiked from Pololu Valley overlook. Having any fresh made doughnut, especially when it’s from a particular culture (in this case, Portugal), makes you never want to eat a King Soopers donut ever again. These were hot, densely doughy, and delicious. One of these was filled with a mango jam but both types were fantastic.
With regard to our own cooking, the highlight of the stay was the meal we made for ourselves on our last night in Kona. We had some left-over chicken thighs and we made a homemade teriyaki marinade for them using ginger limeade, soy sauce, some salad dressing from an Asian chicken salad, and the last of some fresh ginger. The teriyaki came out really well, given that it had been cobbled together. What’s really funny, as I write about this, is that I had completely forgotten about the meal we had on the first night in the condo, which is why we even had soy sauce and ginger in the first place! We had been at the grocery store on our first day trying to think of something to cook and had vaguely remembered a recipe that we like a lot that includes chicken, rice, bok choy, mushrooms, soy sauce, and ginger. We didn’t remember all the ingredients and didn’t want to go back to the store once we got to the condo and were able to look it up, but it was close enough, and it came out really well. The main thing that was missing I think, was that we didn’t buy enough bok choy, but we made it work!
The restaurant options in Hilo seemed to be a lot stronger than anything we found in Kona, which is quite interesting. I don’t know if it’s because the weather is wetter in Hilo so people are more discriminating about where they spend their time, having gone out of their way to be there, rather than in Kona? A lot of the options in Kona seemed to have the word grill or burger in their name and many of the places we checked out seemed to be standard sports bar fare. If we went back we might investigate more deeply and find some gems but we love to research for good restaurants and didn’t seem to find as many hits in the Kona area as we did elswhere.
On our first night in Hilo we dashed in the rain to the Hilo Bay Café, which was just down the road from our hotel. Angie had found it from her usual, efficient online research. We hadn’t made a reservation, but were able to secure a table on the lanai, which was a little chilly but manageable.
The restaurant was pretty hip, sitting on stilts in the bay. The menu was eclectic (I asked Angie for that word because I was having a hard time capturing the essence of the restaurant) with a stress on Hawaiian/Japanese seafood and some interesting down-home twists. They had an attractive cocktail menu and it took us a while to decide what we wanted. Angie picked the strawberry guava mojito, and I opted for one called the Hilo Town. It was made with Maker’s Mark, Chambers Muscat (an Australian wine from a winery that has been around since 1858), walnut bitters, and Bordeaux cherry. They were both outstanding. I could really taste the walnut in the drink.
For the food, we started with some tasty house-made bread and grilled cauliflower, which was probably the best of the food, prepared with black garlic aioli, parmesan, Hawaiian salt, and olive oil.
Angie tried the soup du jour, which was a peculiar mushroom soup, and the spicy lava roll, made with hamachi belly, jalapeño, and tobiko. She said it was decent but not awesome. I had a chicken pot pie with mushroom yellow curry filling. It was good, but it was one of those dishes where when you start it you think it’s very cool, the more of it you have, the less you love it.
We did enjoy the meal but mainly because of the drinks and the cauliflower.
The next meal in Hilo was the hotel breakfast. As I believe I’ve already mentioned, we expected it to be overpriced for what we got and it was, so I can’t say much more about it than I already did. Let’s just say we were happy to find alternatives for breakfast for the remainder of our stay.
The two absolute high points of our stay, when it comes to dining, were so great, we visited them twice!
The first of these was Miyo’s, a Japanese place that was recommended by Gwen, our driver on the bike tour at Volcanoes National Park. She told us it was quite popular, so we decided on our second night in town to go early to see if we could squeeze in before it got busy. We were seated right away.
When you sit down the server brings a plate of pickles to nosh on while you are ordering. They were a little odd but we appreciated the touch. Angie ordered the Combination Special Bento. She was able to select two proteins, and picked tofu and chicken katsu. It also came with shrimp and vegetable tempura, sashimi, rice and miso soup.
I opted for one of the specials, butterfish, which also came with miso soup and salad. I’m not usually a miso fan, but this was REALLY good. I think I also had vegetable tempura with my entrée. Everything was so tasty, and there was so much food, I was able to save some of the butterfish and rice for breakfast the next morning. Angie did the same with her food, which saved us from either trying to find somewhere to go to breakfast or having to experience the hotel’s sad buffet again the next morning.
The service was friendly and the food was fantastic. We decided to go back on Friday evening, but this time made a reservation so that we didn’t feel that we had to be there at 5:30 when the restaurant opened for dinner.
On the second evening we went to Miyo’s, we sat in the main dining room and it was pretty full. Like the first evening we were there, there was a guitar player, though I think it was a different person from the gentleman who had played on the first night we were there. I paid more attention to this fellow and really enjoyed his playing.
For dinner on the second evening, I had wanted to try the beef udon in broth but was concerned that it would not be enough food, so I also ordered a sashimi appetizer. It was tuna and it was really good, but there was a ton of it, so we saved some of it for breakfast. Angie ordered one of the two-way combinations of sesame chicken and sashimi. So we had a lot of sashimi! It was all really good. And it was great for breakfast on Saturday morning too. I really enjoyed the beef udon too.
One note about Miyo’s: they have no booze license, but they allow byob.
The second great find was Moonstruck Café, which we first visited before the drive to Akaka Falls. We found it when we were googling for somewhere to get good coffee, but I think I was attracted by the photos of the pastries on their website. As I mentioned on a previous post, we took some pastries to go on our first visit. We tried a chocolate croissant and a lilikoi lattice pastry. They were melt-in-your-mouth delicious. When we went back the second time on our final morning in town, after having left over sashimi for breakfast, we ate in. We ordered a pot of the French press coffee, which was delicious. Angie really wanted to try the cheese Danish, and I wanted to have the lilikoi pastry again, so we ordered them to eat with our coffee but also bought another chocolate croissant for a snack later in the day. Everything was super, and the owner remembered us and was quite friendly.
Uncle George’s at Volcanoes National Park is the last food highlight to mention. I actually wrote about it in the blog Rainy Days and Thursdays. The food was very good. As I mentioned, the coconut porter battered fish and chips and wings were really tasty, the service was good, but the biggest selling point was the view. Food always tastes better with an amazing view.