Best Hawaiian Bites On The Big Island
This Best Hawaiian Bites On The Big Island list refers specifically to Hawaiian cuisine found on the Big Island. Selected items are either native to Hawaii or ones that have become a part of the daily diet for many on the islands. We went bare bones with this one, avoiding complicated concoctions of meals thrown together by the region’s (and resorts) premier chefs and opted for the basics that you can find at a mom & pop shop or road side stand, the way the locals eat. Below we have detailed popular Hawaiian foods and where to get the best of each on the island. Usually we say a list such as this is subjective, but we’re pretty sure we nailed it this time.
E ‘ai ka-ua! (Bon Appetit in Hawaiian…sort of)
Poke - Da Poke Shack
76-6246 Alii Drive, Kailua Kona, HI (Located by Kona Bali Kai)
Poke is Hawaii's answer to sushi. It typically consists of cubed Ahi (yellow fin tuna) and is marinated and spiced in a variety of ways with added condiments coming from Japanese influence.
While its no surprise that an island chain responsible for this fish dish is full of establishments that have mastered the art of poke, the general consensus is an overwhelming one in favor of Da' Poke Shack in Kailua Kona. Variety is the spice of life at Da' Poke Shack as an exquisite compilation of spices find their way into the fresh caught and subsequently cubed Ahi and eventually into your eagerly awaiting grasp. The menu reads more options (including Create Your Own) than one is accustomed to with this island favorite and no item disappoints. It is not uncommon to make several visits to sample one of each before deciding on your favorite - a difficult task but one happily undertaken by the multitude of patrons frequenting the shack.
Our Create Your Own pick involves the in-house Shack Sauce while our Island Delights choice insists upon the Signature Tako. Your's? That's for you to decide!
Spam Musubi - Kawamoto Store
784 Kilauea Ave., Hilo, HI
Spam. Spend enough time in Hawaii and you will realize that this food so often shunned on the Mainland is actually a major player in the dining landscape of the islands, Big Island included. Spam has history in Hawaii as a meal alternative for the large contingent of local lower income families impacted by the historical injustices placed upon Hawaii by the U.S. government in the past. As anyone with a financially challenged upbringing (or struggling student) knows, when you don’t have much, you tend to get creative with your meals, very creative sometimes. From time to time, this creativity results in some pretty amazing tasting makeshift meals that surprise even its creator.
Today, Spam can even be considered a delicacy (when prepared accordingly) on the islands and is found at the forefront of menus in popular eateries. Visitors to The Big Island rave about the Spam Musubi, in particular the one served at Kawamoto Store in Hilo. Stop by Kawamoto near Waiakea Pond and order this light meal known to turn even the most fickle food snob into a fan of this canned watchamacallit.
Malasadas - Punalu`u Bake Shop and Visitor Center
Route 11, Na`alehu, Hilo, HI
Malasadas are basically donuts without the holes but with much more soul than that description provides. These scrumptious fried dough treats are a gift from Portuguese origin and are the pastry of choice in Hawaii. The key to Malasadas is freshness, like their potential Mainland counterpart Krispy Kreme (original), they must be fresh from the fryer to truly convey how amazing they can be. Set up camp at Punalu'u Bake Shop in Na`alehu to be among the first through the door to sample the best dessert type delicacy on The Big Island.
For those that don't intend on venturing outside of Kona to go nab a pastry then you cannot go wrong with picking up a malasada at Tex Drive Inn (45-690 Pakalana St Hwy 19, Honokaa, Kona, HI) which also doles out one amazing donut of the kind (or should we say da' kine) and will most certainly be argued by many to be equal to or even above Punalu'u's for malasada mastery.
This would make for one fun contest to judge!
Macadamia Nuts - Hamakua Macadamia Nut Company
61-3251 Maluokalani St., Kamuela, HI US
Most visitors to the Big Island in search of a macadamia experience beyond an ABC store purchase will look into the most recognized brand name in the macadamia industry - Mauna Loa - a product that is found on the shelves of convenience stores and big box shops all over the Mainland, especially since Mauna Loa was acquired by confection giant - Hershey - in 2004. For some, this may have diluted the soul of the company rich island tradition, for others it will only enhance the attractiveness in visiting the company headquarters and plantation knowing that they will get all the "bells & whistles" when snagging their favorite island nut from the source, including posing with the lei'd and shaka throwing Mauna Loa mascot in front of the visitor center (16-701 Macadamia Road, Keaau, Hawaii). If you do go with a Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Co. product then we suggest trying the Milk Chocolate Coconut or (and!) Milk Chocolate Toffee. Fans of Hershey chocolate will be pleased with the candy coating coming from a source they are accustomed to.
However, our suggestion for one of the most popular Big Island bites and edible souvenirs that find their way into the suitcases and subsequent pantry shelves of visitors comes from Hamakua Macadamia Nut Company which rightfully boasts 100% PURE Hawaiian Macadamia Nuts (zero outsourcing) and quite possibly the creamiest and most scrumptious variety in the world. We have yet to find better. Purchasing Hamakua Macadamias not only does the right thing as far as your taste buds are concerned but ensures that the island's workers, growers and families continue to thrive in providing this truly indigenous treat to those that appreciate history, quality and flavor. Self guided tours of the Hamakua Factory can also be taken while on location where not only do you gain first-hand knowledge about the process, you get to indulge in free samples.
Given Hamakua's perfection of the Macadamia nut you would do yourself an injustice by not picking up a tin, bag or box of the most pure variety - Roasted Unsalted - to taste the true essence of the Macadamia. For those with an even sweeter tooth then add the Glazed or Macadamia Nut Brittle to your shopping cart and for variety go with the Chili Peppah, Hula Jalapeno or Wasabi. Finally, you pretty much have no choice if not out of pure curiosity to grab a tin of the 4.5 Oz SPAM flavored variety which also serves as a most unique gift item for friends and family back at home.
Shave Ice - Scandanavian Shave Ice (Kona)
75-5699 Ali’i Dr., Kailua-Kona, HI.
When you mention shaved ice in Oahu you hear the name Matsumoto, when you do the same for Maui you hear Ululanis. For the Big Island it's Scandanavian Shave Ice for Kona (address above) and Itsu's in Hilo (810 Piilani Street, Hilo, Hi). We’re going to try to organize a battle between the four, but for now we can’t think of a better hot and sunny day treat to compare in Hawaii than the good old fashioned shave ice.
You shouldn’t need too many details here as quality shave ice is all about the fulfilling the basics: Is it big? Do they have a large variety of flavors? Does the syrup last from top to bottom? Does the ice refrain from melting before you get to fully enjoy it? Is the price reasonable? Both Scandanavian Shave Ice and Itsu's answer with a resounding “YES!” to all of the above.
Loco Moco - Big Island Grill
75-5702 Kuakini Hwy, Kailua Kona, HI
The Loco Moco - hamburger steak and egg over rice, covered in gravy - is a big kamaaina (local) favorite. Its the blue collar (well...hibiscus patterned aloha shirt collar) meal of choice on the islands and an absolute must try for visitors The Big Island Grill in Kona is an eatery destination point for everyone in the area and very popular with tourists as well. Practically ever item on the menu at Big Island Grill will fill your belly with aloha but the Loco Moco is often a first choice and often repeat contender on all future orders.