Local grinds, fresh ingredients and old-school charm. Hilo sounds pretty delicious, doesn’t it? Hilo’s blend of history and culture translate into amazing, unique food—unpretentious and fresh. Here are a few must-try spots for food lovers, the next time you’re in east Hawaii.
Moon and Turtle
Run by Hilo-raised, mainland-trained Tedd and Mark Pomaski, and Mark’s wife, Soni, the restaurant uses local ingredients and immediately captured the hearts of local diners. The menu features simple, quality food, like Hawaii Island caught fish, greens from Kekela Farms and whatever’s fresh at the Hilo Farmers’ Market, then elevates it into dishes that dazzle with contemporary techniques and presentations. 51 Kalakaua St., (808) 961-0599.
Nori’s Saimin and Snacks
This casual hole-in-the-wall has something for everyone, from Korean hot pots to saimin soup, desserts, locally-grown coffee, Shrimp Krackas and, yes, Hello Kitty items. Nori’s has to-die-for chocolate mochi cake and cookies, as well as good traveling snacks like beef jerky. The more substantial entrées—teri beef sandwich and calamari steak—are pretty great, too. 688 Kinoole St., (808) 935-9133, norishilo.com.
Cafe 100 has been part of Hilo history since 1946, and lost two restaurants to tsunamis before persisting in its current location. In addition to the inexpensive and very filling food, it’s worth visiting for the Loco Moco. This local favorite is a hearty plate of rice, with a hamburger patty, fried egg and gravy. We’re saying “plate” because you can eat loco moco for breakfast, lunch or dinner. There are 30 varieties on the menu, including twists like Korean Teriyaki Pork Loco, the Double Loco and the Salmon Loco. It’s also a great spot to pick up a bento for lunch on your way to other adventures. 969 Kilauea Ave., (808) 935-8683, cafe100.com.
Locals line up early to grab breakfast or boxed-lunch options at this 70-year-old treasure. The store offers Hawaiian, Japanese, Chinese and Filipino cuisines, so no matter what mood you’re in, they’ve got the food to match. Try the nori chicken, tempura, cone sushi, and manju (a Japanese pastry). Expect a very low-key, takeout environment and an equally low bill. You can feed two people for less than $20.
Tip: Arrive in the morning, before it sells out of food around noon. 784 Kilauea Ave., (808) 935-8209, kawamotostore.com.
Ken’s House of Pancakes
Unlike most of Hilo, Ken’s is open 24 hours a day. So if you want oxtail soup at 7 a.m., or French toast at 3 p.m., no worries. Still, it would be a shame to not start the day at Ken’s at some point, indulging in the irresistible omelets or macadamia-nut pancakes that have led to multiple “best breakfast on the Big Island” awards. 1730 Kamehameha Ave., (808) 935-8711, kenshouseofpancakes.com.
The chef/owner/namesake of this restaurant, Miyo Harumi, grew up in Tokyo. She’s been running her place since 1987, though she did change locations a few years ago, to the Manono Marketplace. You’ll find lunch, dinner and bento options, all featuring her signature home-style cooking, and a BYOB policy. Reservations—and patience—are recommended. 564 Hīnano St., (808) 935-2273, miyosrestaurant.com.
Two Ladies Kitchen
An unassuming confectionery shop, Two Ladies Kitchen is famous statewide for its mochi (a chewy Japanese dessert made from rice paste). The enormous strawberry mochi—the headlining flavor—features a fresh berry, covered in a layer of sweet bean paste and then wrapped in silky mochi. But you might as well try some of the other flavors, too, such as grape, peanut butter and brownie. Hawai‘i residents from other parts of the Islands will stop here when they are passing through Hilo so they can bring home omiyage (little souvenirs) for friends and family.
Word to the wise: Pre-order your mochi, because the shop often sells out. 274 Kīlauea Ave., (808) 961-4766.
Owner Jackie Tan-DeWitt has studied pastry techniques from all around the world, including Swiss, French, Singaporean and Lebanese concepts. Belgian chocolate cheesecake? Yes, please. Try the Soprano cake, a three-layered confection suffused with chocolate. Moonstruck also carries savory pastries, such as curry puffs with ground beef, potatoes and vegetables, and ham and cheese croissants. 16 Furneaux Ln., (808) 933-6868, moonstruckpatisserie.com.