The Big Island of Hawaii Food Guide

fresh poke bowl hawaii
Credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Heather Goodman

You can’t visit the Big Island of Hawaii without tasting all of the delicious Hawaiian food, and local style comfort foods this unique region has to offer.

With the influence of plantation workers coming from around the world to Hawaii to find a better future and sharing their lunch meals with others around the farm, many local food favorites were incorporated into the Hawaiian comfort food vernacular.

Discover some of the specialty foods, local dishes, restaurants, and artisan producers that encompass the best of the Big Island of Hawaii with our full regional food guide below.

lava lava restaurant hawaii food guide
Lava Lava Restaurant


A popular Hawaiian snack or pupu or can be made into a plate lunch for a combination of other choices, poke is served everywhere from mom-and-pop shops, deli counters to even fine dining venues with their own presentation style and ingredients.

Probably the best poke shops you’ll enjoy on the islands surprisingly come from the Grocery stores served fresh daily at Foodland’s seafood counter or in Hilo at Suisan’s Fish Market. If you’re looking into specialty presentations of Poke, consider trying the poke dish at Da Poke Shack on Ali’I Drive in Kona or in Hilo at Poke to Your Taste.

Canoe House outdoor dining

Shave Ice

If you’re looking for soothing and cool icy dessert then you’ll probably know that shave ice on the islands is a favorite local ice treat that everyone craves regularly here.

Holding halo halo and shave ice
Credit: Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau (IHVB) / @HungryHipsters

Most shaved ice places create their own specialty juices. They use organic ingredients and use machines that make extra fine ice (almost like snow). The ingredients are then combined with delicious tropical flavors like coconut, pineapple, mango, passionfruit and guava. Lastly, choose your favorite toppings and even a nice scoop of local ice cream to make it an even more decadent to enjoy.

The two most well-known and popular local shave ice places in Hilo are at Wilson’s by the Bay Original Shave Ice in Waikoloa, and in Kona at Scandinavian Shave Ice. A visit to Scandinavian Shave Ice is one of the most popular things to do in Kona! This shave ice and coffee shop is located in the heart of Kailua Village and has been in business since 1991. Their colorful shave ice and ice cream treats are also very Instagrammable.


Delicious Tex Malasadas
Credit: Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau (IHVB) / Kirk Lee Aeder

Portuguese malasadas or donut style with no holes have come into their own in Hawaii. The Hawaiian versions offer different takes on the basic fried donuts and filling the insides with delicious local flavors like passionfruit jelly, mango creams, coconut and guava inspired centers that make malasadas the must go to snack on the islands.

Best served hot when they are just taken out and then filled with some delicious center, it is almost as hard choosing a favorite so many sure to order a variety of different items to try out.

If you’re ready to go dig into these tasty treats, then the head over to Punalu’u Bake Shop in Na’alehu or to Tex Drive Inn at Honoka’a on the Hamakua coast.

Malasadas, a sugar coated Portuguese donut
Credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

Delicious Kalua Pork

You can’t go to any luau in Hawaii without trying some traditional Hawaiian food with Kalua pork. You’ll find Kalua pork dishes offered as a mixed plate combo at mom and pop take out shops, deli stands at grocery stores to fine dining venues around the island that create their own elevated dish and presentation of Kalua pork.

Hawaiian food plate lunch of kalua pork, lau lau
Credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

One of the best ways to actually sample this is as a pupu dish and the best kalua pork pupu you can enjoy is at Jackie Rey’s restaurants in Kona or Hilo locations. Their pupu/appetizer Kalua Pork Quesadilla offered during their happy hour or regular happy hour time frame.

Check out the Jackie Rey’s Menu’s here for inspiration on what they are serving fresh from the island to you.

Best Farm to Table Experience

Chef Peter Merriman was one of the founders of the farm to table experience in Hawaii. The movement originally started in Waimea. He sources the freshest local ingredients from fruits and vegetables and local fish to meat and chickens from around the island and prepared fresh everyday with inventive and tasty local styles and ingredients.

This food concept spread to all the other islands and now Merriman’s has outlets in most of the other Hawaiian Islands that also draw from the same concept of sourcing local ingredients to prepared and served to local and visitors to the islands.

Check out the original Merriman’s location in Waimea town here for their menu and booking a reservation.

Best Big Island Ocean Dining Experience

You can’t have a complete Hawaii dining experience without being oceanfront on island.

Splurge with oceanfront dining, magical sunsets on the beach and exceptional service at the Kohala side of the island at CanoeHouse at Mauna Lani, Auberge Resorts Collection. Guests will experience five-star dining food and service. Sip artisan cocktail drinks with inventive mixes and friendly service.

Sunsets for outdoor dining, the sounds of the ocean and the stars lighting up the dark skies really makes this a complete experience on the Kohala coastline of the Big Island.

lava lava restaurant big island hawaii
Lava Lava Restaurant. Images courtesy of Noel Morata

Best appetizer/pupu happy hour experience on the Big Island

Happy Hour or Pau Hana as it is called on the islands is a favorite time to relax and unwind with some friends and have some delicious local brews and pupu’s or appetizers. With so many eateries and bars offering their special Happy Hour menu, you’ll have plenty of choices to try around the island.

If you want to rare experience to have Happy Hour on a sandy oceanfront beach, then head out to the Waikoloa side of the island at Lava Lava Beach Club. A popular local favorite hangout spot with perfect beach and ocean views, you’ll enjoy the cocktails, appetizers, live music, and of course a perfect sunset.

Additional Resources

Learn more about traveling to Hawaii and discover many more local food spots and experiences to remember across the Big Island.

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Noel Morata
Noel Morata is a photographer, editor and freelance writer who also runs This Hawaii Life. The Hawaii Life shares the best of Hawaii travel, food, adventure and lifestyle on the islands. If you are planning a visit to Hawaii, visit the website for inspiration and information on attractions, fantastic places to eat, adventure tours, and much more.