10 Best Restaurants in Hilo, Hawaii’s Hidden Culinary Gem
Hilo’s food scene packs a big punch. Don’t pass by the small town en route to Volcanoes National Park without digging in
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Hilo’s Standout Cuisine
The produce is vibrant. The fish is as fresh as it gets. And even the meat is succulent. “Hawaii in general is so special because there is such a strong and unique food culture based on the rich history of immigrants coming here to work on the plantations—and over time their languages and food merging together to make something amazing,” says Soni Pomaski, co-owner and mixologist at Moon and Turtle. Hilo itself is seeing a resurrection because it has room to grow. “There is the opportunity to stand out and it’s appealing to entrepreneurs looking to create something different.”
Stop in town for the day, or better yet, carve out an entire eating agenda in Hilo and post up at The Bay House for a sound night’s sleep (and the ultimate homemade breakfast).
Here’s where you should eat right now.
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Moon and Turtle
Hilo native, chef Mark Pomaski, can be credited for drawing attention to the town by way of Moon and Turtle, a Pacific seafood-centric spot serving up some of Hawaii's most hyper-local and vibrant bites—with a “less is more” mentality. Chef’s Smoky Sashimi is so satisfying, diners have been known to order it for dessert, while Salty Fish Fried Rice with Hilo farmers’ market vegetables and anything with heart of palm (sourced from OK Farms, a mere two miles down the street) should not be missed. End with the lilikoi pie from Papa'a Palaoa Bakery and you'll leave a happy camper. It’s like Hawaii’s version of key lime pie. 51 Kalakaua St., 808/961-0599.
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Here, sushi is almost too beautiful to eat. “[I] love Poke Market for high-quality, awesome poke and they also have beautiful sushi cakes,” neighboring chef Mark Pomaski says. Poke Market chef Ernie Gray, a surfboard artist-meets-talented-sushi-chef, aims to bring back the traditions of his heritage while offering the island’s freshest, most striking bites. The Hawaiian-style poke bowl with sweet potato salad and crab salad is a fan favorite, but it should be noted to arrive early or risk leaving empty handed. 41 Waianuenue Ave; 808/961-5915.
4 of 11 Jourdyn Kaare
The hardest dinner reservation to come by in all of Hawaii is Takenoko Sushi, an unassuming, 8-seat sushi spot tucked away in downtown Hilo (we’re talking upwards of almost a year to get in). Fish is shipped in on the regular from Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo and diners consistently tout the experience as some of the best sushi and sashimi they’ve ever had. Omakase, the chef’s choice menu, is the way to go, as Chef Igarashi won’t lead you wrong. Unagi and broiled yellowtail collar are worth seeking out, too. Tip: Lunch seating is slightly more attainable. 578 Hinano St.; 808/933-3939.
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Hilo Farmers’ Market
Operating daily, Hilo Farmers’ Market is a must-stop food wonderland. Wednesdays and Saturdays are “big market” days, bringing over 200 venders into the downtown space. Within walking distance to many restaurants, chefs and mixologists turn to the market for inspiration. “I love that itʻs a historic town with an interesting past and well preserved buildings,” says Pomaski. Stock up on island-grown apple bananas, rambutan, avocados the size of your head, pohole ferns, taro, macadamia nuts, and more, snacking along the way. Mochi donuts on a stick, musubi, green papaya salad, ahi croquettes, shrimp and avocado rolls, and many more tempting creations are worth the calories consumed. Corner of Mamo Street and Kamehameha Ave; open daily, year-round; 808/933-1000.
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Two Ladies Kitchen
There’s always a line at Two Ladies Kitchen and for good reason: since 1993, owner Nora Uchida, along with her family, have been making the most delicious mochi in Hawaii. Pre-order to ensure favorite flavors are in stock that day or queue up and wait to see what’s left. Strawberry, adzuki bean, lilikoi and grape, and sweet potato are popular choices, but you really can’t go wrong. “I have a few favorites depending on my mood,” says Uchida. 274 Kilauea Ave., 808/961-4766.
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A staple since 1946, Cafe 100, birthplace of Hawaii’s traditional loco moco—white rice topped with a hamburger patty, fried egg, and brown gravy—offers over 30 different varieties of the savory dish. We recommend ordering the O.G. loco moco. It’s no-frills and savory in all the right ways. Then go back again with a few friends in tow and branch out to more innovative versions like the ahi and Portuguese sausage. At $5 a pop, it still proves to be one of the cheapest (and most filling) eats on the island. 969 Kilauea Ave., 808/835-8683.
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A hidden gem in Hilo, Kawamoto Store features a tempting glass case filled with the best Japanese, Chinese, Hawaiian, and Filipino bites. Satisfy taste buds to the max by filling up a custom bento box with vegetable, shrimp, and ono tempura (the saltiest, crispiest batter on-island), spam musubi, cone sushi, Korean fried chicken, and more. It’s a local favorite for lunch grub, but also makes for one of the best beach meals you’ll ever experience. 784 Kilauea Ave., 808/935-8209.
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Pastry chef Jackie Tan-DeWitt brings a taste of France to Hawaii by way of the small, charming French-style Moonstruck Patisserie. Classic pastries, fruit tarts, cheesecakes, and dreamy quiches grace the glass case. With 20+ years of experience around the globe, Tan-DeWitt’s confections reflect a journey in each bite. The frangipane croissant, creamy lilikoi cheesecake swirled with passionfruit curd, and quiche of the day make for perfect road trip snacks. 16 Furneaux Lane; 808/933-6868.
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Hilo Bay Cafe
A staple since 2003, Hilo Bay Cafe highlights Pacific Rim cuisine with an edge. And with executive chef Joshua Ketner back at the helm, the menu features palatable dishes that showcase some of Hawaii’s best farmers, fisherman, and purveyors. The pastrami-cured pork chop is always a good idea when paired alongside the Big Island Chop (with delicious house made spam strips and locally grown hearts of palm) and a side of crispy Oahu onion rings. Satisfy sushi cravings with chef Roy Kaneko’s exceptional menu of specialty rolls made with island ingredients. 123 Lihiwai St., 808/935-4939.
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Puka Puka Kitchen
A magical combination of Hawaii, Japan, Indian and Middle Eastern influence make Puka Puka Kitchen worth the stop. Memorable bites of ahi don, overstuffed falafel pitas, perfectly crisped chicken katsu, and garlic curry will leave you feeling joyfully satiated in aloha land. 270 Kamehameha Ave., 808/933-2121