Review of the Big Island, Hawai’i – Part 1

Trip Date: March 11th – 17th, 2017

Here’s the first part of a longer review of the Big Island and the various activities that we did on it.  Everything from good eats to majestic views!  First off, I’m going to talk about the towns we spent time in and the notable dining experiences we had on the Big Island.

Cities and towns

Hilo, HI

This is the largest city on the Big Island and located on the eastern side of it.  We stayed here for the first half of the week, and after being in Kona the last half, we liked being in Hilo more than Kona.  The main reason why we liked Hilo over Kona was because it was less touristy and more relaxing.  I felt we were able to interact with more of the locals here than we did at Kona, especially at the beach parks.  We stayed at the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel, which is on the Hilo Bay and within walking distance of Coconut Island.  The hotel is on Waiakea Peninsula where there are other hotels around it too. The Banyans Golf Club course is across the street from the hotels, if you’re a golfer.  As you walk out of the hotel out to the back of it, you get to see awesome views of Hilo Bay. On a clear day, you can even see Mauna Kea in the distance.  If you’re planning on visiting the many nature spots on the Big Island, being in Hilo, HI would put you in an advantage v.s. being Kona, especially if you’re renting a car.

Kailua-Kona, HI

This city is on the western side of the island and also the one where you’ll find the majority of tourists.  Most people coming to the Big Island will fly into and out of the airport here making it busy sometimes.  We stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott which was right at the start of Ali’i Drive, a small street with many surf shops, bars, restaurants, and gift shops.  The city does seem to be a bit busier than Hilo, but I assume it’s due to the concentration of tourists who were there.

Honokaa, HI

This small little town is in the northern part of the island along Highway 19.  This is also where BJ Penn has his poke shop he opened up. You can also head out a bit to the east to check out the Waipi’o Valley.  The town has various shops that are usually filled with tourists and locals.  We didn’t plan on stopping in Honokaa. But we were sure glad we took the detour because the guys are big fans of BJ Penn too! We were able to grab some poke and a picture with the man himself.

 

Dining

Suisan Fish Market, Hilo, HI

We ate here a few times during our stay in Hilo.  Not only was it close to our hotel, but if you’re a fan of poke, there’s a huge selection that they make fresh every morning.  It’s best to get there early in the morning around 8 or 9 AM because after that, it gets VERY busy until the place closes.  I recommend eating at least the lobster poke if you’re going to eat there once.   If you plan to cook your own seafood, this place also sells fresh-caught fish and other seafood too.  The servings, especially the “2 poke choice” bowls, are pretty big so it’s shareable and great as leftover too. Loved this place!  

 

Don’s Grill, Hilo, HI

We stopped at Don’s Grill on the second night for dinner and it was fairly packed with customers.  I thought the food here was good.  I had ordered both the loco moco and the saimin dishes here, AND finished them both.  The restaurant wasn’t fancy or anything, which was good since we just wanted to grab a bite after a long day of walking and driving around.  The staff was very courteous and attentive.  The service was pretty quick too from when we ordered to when we got our food.  Definitely a diner to check out while in Hilo.

Ken’s House of Pancakes

This was an awesome place to grab a bite!  The menu is HUGE!  There were so many selections for good eats, but I decided to just get the loco moco and blood sausage.  The blood sausage tasted great.  If you’re not an adventurous eater and ate the blood sausage here without anyone telling you what it was, you would love it.  The loco moco was ON POINT!  The portion size was just right, especially to help begin the day of exploring.  The service was pretty quick and the waitresses were very friendly.  

Cafe Pesto, Hilo, HI

The dining experience here was okay.  The place was packed, even at the bar.  We sat next to the entrance with two plants right next to our table.  The menu was a bit pricier, but things looked good.  I didn’t mind the price at all but some of the guys were traveling on a budget.  I ordered a shrimp pasta dish, which I thought was pretty good.  It wasn’t too heavy of a meal and was just about the right portion too since I wasn’t all that hungry that night.  One of the guys ordered salmon and was disappointed by it because he thought it was too salty.  If we went back to Hilo, I don’t think we would stop at this restaurant again.  The experience was not bad, but it wasn’t great either.  

 

Kona Brewery, Kailua-Kona, HI

Largest brewery in Hawaii I think?  The brewpub had both an outside and inside dining area.  The outside being larger than the inside since the inside also featured a couple of bar areas.  It was nice day out so we sat outside.  Grabbed some pupus (shareable appetizers) and a few drinks while waiting to drop off the rental car and get into the airport.   Decently priced drinks and food.  The staff were attentive and knowledgeable too.  Definitely a must-visit even if you don’t drink alcohol or just beer.  The food wasn’t your usual bar food and came in generous portions.

 

TJ’s BBQ By the Beach, Kailua-Kona, HI

One of the guys found this place near where we were staying in Kona.  The place is located in an open market that you would have to drive to that’s east of Ali’i Drive.  The volcano burgers and ribs were great!  The two people running the stand were very down-to-earth.  The husband has been running the BBQ joint for over 30 years so you could definitely feel the love that these two had for what they do.  This is a must-see, must-eat place if you’re in Kona.  

Bale, Kailua-Kona, HI

We somehow had high expectations for this place, thinking it was going to be the same as the Bale restaurant in Chicago, but we weren’t too disappointed.  This was a small restaurant in a strip mall nearby where we stayed in Kona.  We ordered bahn mi sandwiches to go, which weren’t too bad, and some papaya salad to go too.  If you take a look at the picture above, that would be a picture of the papaya salad I ordered.  I didn’t bother to check it first until we got to the hotel and I was going to eat it.  Maybe this was the Hawaiian version of it? Definitely not what I was expecting.  Sorely disappointed, I just picked off the shrimp on top to eat.  The guys and I had a good laugh though because it was just so weird and it was also the first time we ever saw a papaya salad like this.  We also ate pho and saimin at the restaurant.  The pho broth was pretty good without any condiments in it.  I’m not sure about the saimin since I didn’t get a chance to taste it but the guys who got it liked it.