· · · · · · ·

Big Island dining experiences

The Big Island of Hawaii is renowned for beaches and the Volcanoes National Park. However, with visitors from all over the world for these two facets of the island, you can be sure that food has some unique takes on Hawaiian influence that you have not likely tasted before. These dining experiences are sure to provide an elegant and palate-pleasing dinner experience. Rebel Kitchen About 15 minutes up the hill from Kona, Rebel Kitchen is where casual fair gets perfect cooking with an added twist. RK started growing local vegetables, then concocting those into interesting sauces to add to their dishes. The Manka Mustard, Fire Sauce and Kona Ketchup became so popular, packaging for shipment home for visitors became a necessary step. Whether it is the chicken wings or chicken sandwich, every entree is paired with one of the sauces, and then you are free to add more. From the taste, it is a really good idea to try all three on a dish. Red Water Cafe The Red Water Cafe is the embodiment of local legend Chef David Abrahams. He is a sushi master, culinary Einstein, cacao grower, chocolate maker and has even built large tree houses. Soon to be on the national register of historic places, the restaurant building has character. A perfect hot plate landing for Abrams starting with wild cocktails; featuring the Love Libation, a mix of green chile vodka, lime, cilantro, and serrano. The food is over the flavor summit tastes with the beet salad, the Fuji roll, and the massive Berkshire pork chop with local vegetables. He is the farm, makes the tables and whips up unique creations. The Bob Dylan of chefs? Brown’s Beach House One of the most romantic and idyllic spots is Brown’s Beach House, at the Fairmont Orchid. Here, the tables are as close as they can be to the beach, the setting sun, and red-flash sunsets. Starting with the house made pineapple bread and honey butter, the crafting of each dish is thoughtfully detailed. Maui onion soup will change your mind about where you consume this, and the surf and turf combo is the star of the beach dining show. Island Lava Java Starting with their location in downtown Kona, this eatery has grown by taking staples and giving them gourmet twists, some local ingredients, with a great view of the bay. Besides an upstairs and downstairs bar, ILJ gets the vegetarian train rolling with hummus and plantain chips. Follow up with a local beet salad with goat cheese, this will be a good stop for anyone eating vegetarian. On the more conventional side, they have three or more local fish dishes that are stiff competition for any specialty seafood restaurant in the area. If something land-based is desired, the ribs with pineapple slaw are a favorite. And they make unique deserts like the gluten free, lilikoi and mac-nut cheesecake tower. Ola Brew In Hawaii you want a kick-back venue with unique suds and simple fare that is a notch up. Welcome to Ola Brew, where you can trudge in wearing slippa’s’ and go island with any of their local brew or cider creations. While this is Kona, the brew master has German training, so those old-world options are here as well. The unique Dragon Fruit Lychee Cider and Ma’a Island Lager are the cool down tickets on a hot day. Food appears to be basic, but that is only the menu description as these are staple items which have surprising flavor and touch. Possibly the best combination is the local beet and onion salad followed by the crunchy chicken tacos. Kuleana Rum Works Hawaii historically has been a sugar cane producer, so no surprise that Kuleana took that unique sugar cane and made award-winning rums. The rum sampler is the best way to get started by sampling four varieties. The 74-proof star of the show, the Agricole, is made right on the Big Island with hand-cut sugar cane combined with yeast in a special copper pot. Food gets great creativity with the tempura shrimp appetizer and the roast duck with local spuds in corner location that is easy in and out. Magics Beach Grill Grab a number of the culinary stars that put Kona on the edible map, place them in a location where every table has a seaside view, and surf is up with your dining experience. Built originally in 1964 at the edge of Magics Beach, every table has a great sunset view. There is also old Hawaiian history here as the location of an old fishing stone. It is not all about location as the food is exceptional staring with the roasted beet poke’, a surprising array of additional vegetarian dishes, and the grilled ahi steak or fish & chips. Tommy Bahama & Marlin Bar They have numerous locations, and all are busy all the time which means that quality and offerings are well thought out and monitored. Their location in Waikoloa is no exception as the bar is a scene right out of a Boggart movie, and the food and drinks are just as picturesque. A nice afternoon into the evening with the large ceiling fans and open windows gets a culinary on-ramp with the goat cheese and mango salsa on flatbread. They always have a fish special or two, and anything like the mac-nut crusted ono with rice and mushrooms, is swimming in the right direction.

Neil Wolkodoff

Neil Wolkodoff is a golf and travel writer from Denver, Colorado. He covers golf, dining, activities and accommodations from the luxury and unique perspective. He has even been golfing with goats.

Did you enjoy this article?

Receive similar content direct to your inbox.


  1. Couple of years since I was last in Hawaii. I’ll try some of these recommendations when I next make it out there.

    1. Jim, likely these will all be there in so form when you go back. The BI has no shortage of dining options, just depends upon taste. Safe and tasty travels!

  2. One man’s volcanic Fire Sauce is another man’s mild mayo. Everything’s relative. I like ‘em hot, so I usually pour them out, add extra spice and rebottle.

    1. Ed, I like them on the hot side myself. Their Fire Sauce was interesting in that first bit, not so hot, 20 seconds later, 4 alarm fire. I liked the idea of rotating bites with the three sauces so it was tangy, hot, then cool.

  3. Over here in the U.K., Hawaii to us is just another paradise destination that’s a long way from home.

    But I know it’s different on the other side of the Atlantic. I’ve stayed with friends in the States and for them Hawaii really is always at the back of their mind, the dream escape. Once they’ve got a few thousand dollars in the travel budget Hawaii is where they head. And with food around like this who can blame them?

    1. James, it is a long way. Part of the food attraction is locale, and part of it is unique local ingredients. Anything with macademia nuts or lilikoi in a beach or close to beach setting is going to taste exceptional.

    1. Kasper, thanks for the comment. I am not sure “catered” to is a good description of our experience. First, we know the Big Island pretty well, so picked venues based upon our previous experiences visiting. We go at normal times and just order normal things, no special treatment. When we go back, these are places we will frequent again. Regards…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *