Hawaii Island: Top Tastes


I was introduced to Cody through a fellow Hawaii expat, who insured me that if anyone knows where to go on the Big Island, Cody is my guy.  And he was right. Cody’s curiosity and deep appreciation of Hawaii’s food culture started when he was a child in Pahoa, hanging out with his grandmother. “I miss her a lot and often think of her,” he says. “She would be so thrilled to see our Instagram feeds full of food pictures, and it would have been fun to take her to some of the new places I’ve discovered.” Here are his picks:  

Authentic Hawaii Experience “I would say Merriman’s, opened by Peter Merriman, one of the original Hawaii Regional Cuisine chefs in Waimea, would be my first choice. This was his first restaurant of many throughout the islands, and it’s nice to see his high standards started from the beginning. I always love seeing what the restaurant is serving for the daily fish specials, what the fisherman caught and the creative use of locally sourced produce featured as the ingredient of the day.”

Favorite Hotel Dining “With its beautiful setting, Brown’s Beach House at the Fairmont Orchid is one of my favorites. I really like how chef Matthew Schaefer adds a twist to local dishes and uses island-sourced seafood, meats and boar.”

Malasadas Go-To “If you are driving to the volcano from Waimea or a hotel in Kohala, Tex’s Drive-in along the Hamakua Coast is great. Tex’s serves up a more doughy malasada, which I prefer — a great grab-and-go.”

Sushi “My favorite is Sensei Sushi and Seafoodin the Queens MarketPlace. Besides the fact my brother Cole works there, (I like that) they have a great selection and good prices — especially the early-bird specials. I really like the panko-crusted ahi sashimi roll — the roll is deep-fried; you have the crunch of the panko with the smooth texture of the ahi. They also have an entrée menu, but sometimes I don’t make it past the sushi.”

Luau or Event Dining “The Mauna Kea Beach Hotelhas been doing a luau for decades — they’ve got it down. One of the best parts for me is talking to the longtime staffers who have been there for years — it’s amazing how they can remember returning guests.”

Lunch Spot Between the Airport and Kohala Coast “Local comfort food at its finest can be found at the Hawaiian Style Cafeat either of its two locations in Waimea or Hilo. They have all kinds of plate lunch options: Korean chicken, kalbi ribs, hamburger steak, or for the person who can’t decide, they offer a make-your-own mixed plate. Personally, I love the extensive breakfast menu because I love to sleep in and eat breakfast for lunch. I order the corned beef hash, two eggs and fried rice and a side of pancakes. The pancakes are huge; be prepared to take a nap after.

Lunch Spot on the Way to the Volcano “No question, Kawamoto Store on Kilauea Avenue. I think we have the best local okazuya restaurants here on the Big Island, and this one is my favorite. You really can’t go wrong; nori maki sushi, shrimp and vegetable tempura and nori chicken are a few favorites. I would recommend going early; the restaurant is almost wiped out by noon.”

Favorite Mom-and-Pop Spot “Two Ladies Kitchen in Hilo has possibly the best mochi in the islands — the strawberry mochi is the best (large fresh juicy strawberry coated with azuki bean and wrapped in mocha). I would call ahead and preorder. And at the Manago Hotel just south of Kona, it feels like you are eating in your grandparents’ dining room. They cook pork chops in these 80-plus-year-old cast-iron skillets.”

It’s a Chain That’s Actually Really Good “Who doesn’t like Zippy’s? The zip-pac bento and the zipmin, their version of a wonton min, are great when you’re in need of local comfort food. And Roy’s is where you would take someone out for a special occasion. The menu varies from location to location; the sushi and fish dishes are excellent, but I believe every location has the chocolate soufflé, such a classic.”

Sunset Meal “So many choices. Lava Lava Beach Club, right on the sand, is pretty nice, but then Kona has great poke places like Umeke’soff Alii Drive or da Poke Shack. Pick up a pound and sit on the beach.”

Up-and-Coming Chefs “I really like what brothers Mark and Tedd Pomaski, chefs/owners of Moon and Turtle, are doing in Hilo — smoky sashimi, eggplant pork belly and homemade egg noodles. And then chef Ippy Aiona of Three Fat Pigs, a gastropub, specializes in pork dishes like the 40-hour pork belly.”

Favorite Island Ingredient “My grandmother introduced me to sashimi at an early age. There’s nothing better than fresh Big Island–caught ahi, sashimi, poke or even pan-fried fish. I love the summer and lychee and mango season. My neighbors and relatives were always willing to share lychee and mangos; they are so sweet and tasty on a hot summer day. I’ve also noticed the rise of local farmers’ markets like Waimea Town Market and Hilo’s Farmers Market.”