While it may have seemed like the world came to a standstill for a little while this year (especially so in Hawaii), some things kept on moving along while we were all hunkered down at home babysitting our sourdough starters and dodging zoom calls with distant relatives. A few brave souls here in Kona took a leap of faith and opened new eateries in the midst of quarantine, at a time when their prospects were still very uncertain. A few long-established restaurants in Kona had recently closed for good, tourism had all but ground to a halt, and locals were mostly staying home. And yet, in spite of the odds, these new eateries seem to have not only pulled through; they have proven themselves to be among the best mid-tier dining options in Kona.
Holualoa Village suffered a huge loss with the closure of Holuakoa Gardens & Cafe earlier this year (you will be missed!). Fortunately, in the wake of Holuakoa’s closure a new food truck opened up shop right in the heart of the village. While it does not share Holuakoa’s…ambience, the Hualalai BBQ food truck serves top-quality food at reasonable prices. Sure it’s a no-frills experience and essentially take-out only. Who cares? Do they serve the best brisket I’ve ever eaten? They absolutely do. Their menu also includes pulled pork, burgers, hot dogs, spare ribs, locally-made hot links, and weekly specials with a variety of classic BBQ sides. Everything on the menu is expertly prepared and absolutely delicious. Next time you stay at Holualoa Inn treat yourself to some takeout from Hualalai BBQ and bring it back down to the poolside for a laid-back evening in.
Willie’s Hot Chicken is the place to go for…you guessed it…hot chicken. While I had heard of the Nashville Hot Chicken phenomenon online, I had never experienced it for myself until Willie’s moved into the Brewery Block. May I say, it is delicious. WIllie’s offers seven spice levels to choose from; from no heat all the way up to something they call “Like Lava.” Personally I find the “Nashville Hot” to be absolutely perfect, with plenty of heat paired with plenty of flavor. The menu at Willie’s is basic, but everything is perfectly executed. The chicken and fries are always crispy and hot, the mac and cheese is melty and delicious, and all of their house-made dipping sauces are fantastic. Wille’s offers both indoor and outdoor dining. I have so far opted to eat outdoors every time, but if you choose to dine indoors you can expect a fun, casual sports bar atmosphere with good music and cold beer on tap.
I was so excited when I heard that one of the most excellent and authentic sushi restaurants in Kona was going to open an izakaya right here in town. For those unfamiliar with this type of eatery, an izakaya is a type of bar in Japan that serves a variety of foods, usually in small portions. It is a fun place to gather with friends to eat and drink, akin to a tapas bar. Instead of ordering one entree per person, you can order lots of small plates for the table and try a whole bunch of things off the menu. Izakaya Shiono’s offerings include an array of authentic Japanese dishes like gyoza, kushikatsu, tempura, cold tofu salads, Japanese curry, and ramen. In addition, they serve Japanese beers on tap and they have a full selection of sake to choose from. On both of my visits I was very impressed with the authenticity and the quality of everything we ate. While izakayas are all over the place in Japan, Izakaya Shiono is one of a kind dining experience on the Big Island.
I was inclined to like this place from the get go, since it is the only soft-serve ice cream in Kona, and I love soft serve. Sure enough, it’s excellent. Their soft serve is smooth, creamy, and not overly sweet. They also make all of their toppings and whipped cream in house. And would you believe everything is 100% vegan? All of their soft serve is made from 100% Big Island-grown macadamia nut milk flavored with local vanilla and local chocolate. The caramel? Made from coconut milk. The whipped cream? Coconut cream. The peanut butter cups? All plant-based. All of it is so good. And yes, this is coming from the same guy who loves brisket, hot chicken and sushi. If you are unsure about vegan food, this is a great place to dip your toes in. If you are vegan, or you love good vegan food, this is a great place to go wild. Sweet Journey recently completed the second phase of their opening with a cafe next to the ice cream shop. Again everything is vegan, but if the menu offerings from their soft opening hint at what’s to come, you can expect some highly-innovative and absolutely decadent plant-based food from the new Sweet Journey Cafe.
While there are plenty of great poke places in and around Kona, I always felt that the best poke was the kind that you had made fresh at family gatherings. The closest thing I have tried to that is at Honaunau Poke Shop. This small, family-owned and run poke shop opened earlier this summer and was already thriving on local business by the time quarantine was lifted. They serve around a dozen varieties of ahi poke, as well as sashimi, poke bowls, and a variety of side dishes. I am partial to their poke bombs topped with spicy ahi (try them out!). Their poke is always super fresh, expertly cut, and reasonably priced. Their rice is also always cooked just right, and if you ask any local they will tell you that that is just as important as the fish. Located right off the highway in Honaunau, this poke shop is the perfect place to stop for lunch on the way to or from Two Step.
Should you prefer to “stay in” for dinner, you might consider these delivery options:
- Queen’s Table Catering – Chef Bonita Lao delivers family-style meals using locally-grown, high quality ingredients.
- Doordash – Featuring selections from 25 local restaurants.
We are delighted to be open for business again
and look forward to welcoming you home
to our Big Island Bed and Breakfast this winter.