By Bree Kessler
In my last post , I made recommendations for a foodie tour of the Big Island. Here’s part two of my suggested itinerary:
There is almost too must to try in Hilo, but your first stop should be the Hilo Lunch Shop for a Spam musubi (go early; they sell out of everything quickly). Next, head to Café 100 for a loco moco—the café isn’t the birthplace of the loco moco, but Hilo is its homeland. For the sweeter side of the palate, call ahead (or just stop in, but you’ll have to wait) to Two Ladies Kitchen for strawberry mochi. In addition to the strawberry mochi, you’ll probably just want to go ahead and order an assorted box of everything else. And what’s a trip to Hawaii without shaved ice? It’s a must. Every local has their favorite spot for this snow cone-like treat, but a good starter place is Wilson’s By the Bay, right on the Hilo Bayfront. Just a few doors down is Bayfront Coffee, Kava, and Tea, an ’awa (you may know it as kava) bar where you can try drinking this root (pounded and then mixed with water) out of a coconut shell. And of course, if you’re in town on a Wednesday or Saturday, stop by the Hilo Farmers Market. Please note that not all the produce here is actually local (or organic), but it is still a great place to visit to get a sense of what the Island has to offer.
I am sure soon enough you’ll see Baker Tom’s (in Pepeekeo, outside of Hilo) featured on the Food Network or on the Road Food website, but until then, it’s all yours. It’s a small, open-air store that sells malasadas and homemade chips. Baker Tom and his staff wake up at 4 a.m. each day and use a special recipe to make their malasadas stand out from all the rest. They are some tough competition. Just a little ways down the road on the Onomea Scenic Route you’ll come across What’s Shakin’ (also in Pepeekeo, outside of Hilo), also known as the best smoothie you’ll ever have. They use frozen bananas instead of ice, creating a thick drink made from fruits grown on their farm. Don’t laugh, but bring a sturdy straw if you can. Their smoothies are so thick that the straws they provide can’t suck them up!
On your way to Honoka’a on the Hamakua Coast, make a reservation to tour and eat lunch at the Hawaiian Vanilla Company ($25 per person for the tour), a great example of farm-to-table in Hawaii. Back on the highway, up the hill from Honoka’a town, is Tex Drive In, your final stop on the malasada tour. You can actually see the malasadas being made here through a large glass window to the kitchen. Tex has been the reigning malasada champion for quite a long time—but I’ll let you decide.
Waimea is home to Merrimans, one of the founding fathers of Hawaii Regional Cuisine. For some low-brow food and one of the top 50 hamburgers in the United States, as rated by USA Today, get yourself to Village Burger (in the Parker Ranch Center). Everything here is produced from local farms (including the meat). And yes, it is the best burger that I’ve ever tasted. Wash it down with their mamaki tea, a traditional homeopathic remedy made from the leaves of a native plant. If you happen to be in Waimea during breakfast time, I beg you to wait in the long line that may have formed outside Hawaiian Style Café. Sit on the stools around the communal counter, order the kalua pork hash, and enjoy the company surrounding you. The hash is large enough for two, but I bet you’ll finish the whole thing.
One could live at the Hamakua Macadamia Nut Company (in Kawaihae). It really has everything you need: excellent water (it’s so cold), endless free samples of mac nuts (every imaginable flavor from dark chocolate to Spam), and toffees. They also sell ice cream and coffee from O.K. Farms. (The farm is in Hilo and you can stop by there as well, if you want). In my opinion, it’s the best coffee on the Island.
If you can muster up just one more stop make it Sushi Rock (in Hawi). You must order your sushi with real wasabi; you have to ask for it and they do charge extra. The wasabi, which is white in color and not green like you’re used to, is grown in Volcano by some secret person that won’t reveal their identity lest he (or she) be inundated by people wanting wasabi. And they would want it, because it tastes so much better than the green stuff.
Moon Big Island of Hawai’i  author Bree Kessler has lived in India and Honduras, worked in Thailand, and traveled extensively throughout Latin America. She fears the continental United States and thus splits her time between Hawaii and northern Alaska. You can read stories about her life in the Arctic Circle at www.parkdispatches.com , see her photos on Instagram @bettles_alaska, and read her daily laments on Twitter @thebrooklynof.
Photo credit © Bree Kessler