Assorted poke from Da Poke Shack.

Photo By Jack Wolford

How to eat like a local: Big Island

From the tastiest poke to the crispiest Chinese fried chicken, these Big Island faves will keep you satisfied.

From addictively ono Hawaiian poke to the most oishi strawberry mochi to the crispiest Chinese fried chicken, these Big Island faves will keep you satisfied.

Hana Hou Restaurant

A hand-painted sign at the entrance of Hana Hou Restaurant in Naalehu reads, “Drake and Patty Fujimoto proudly welcome you to the southernmost restaurant in the USA!” The menu serves ono local fare but the homemade pies (get the macadamia-nut cream pie!) and baked goods, alone, are worth the visit. The tropical décor and vintage Formica tables create a fun, nostalgic vibe. 95-1148 Naalehu Spur Rd., Naalehu , Hawaii Island, hanahourestaurant.com.

 Kaleo’s Bar and Grill

The old plantation building that Kaleo’s Bar and Grill occupies belies the fantastic fare and aloha vibes (especially at dinner) within. There are tons of reasons to visit the eclectic town of Pahoa, but spending a night eating, drinking and grooving to live local music at Kaleo’s is all the reason you need. 15-2969 Pahoa Village Rd., Hawaii Island, (808) 965-5600, kaleoshawaii.com.

Two Ladies Kitchen

two ladies
The famous strawberry mochi from Two Ladies Kitchen.
Photo: James Rubio

Two Ladies Kitchen is a must stop for anyone and everyone who visits Hilo. Though known for its strawberry mochi (uhh-may-zing), everything Two Ladies makes is super oishi (delicious). The only downside is the cash-only policy. Beware though: Some mochi may not survive long flights, in case you wanted to take omiyage (gifts) back to family and friends. 274 Kilauea Ave, Hilo, Hawaii Island, (808) 961-4766.

Da Poke Shack

We appreciate that this popular Kona poke shop has stuck to its “always fresh, never frozen” motto even when seafood prices (especially for popular ahi) rise. Customers understand the worth of paying a bit more for the luxuriously clean tasting, sweetly briny “sea candy” Da Poke Shack uses in its takeout poke and poke bowls—your choice of multiple daily varieties, served with rice and a kimchee or veg side. Two locations on Hawaii Island, dapokeshack.com.

Teshima’s Restaurant

Sukiyaki, sashimi and tempura teishoku meal at Teshima's.
Photo: Jack Wolford

A Kona institution, founded in 1957, this family-style restaurant’s menu is rich with homestyle Japanese cooking that’s tasty and plentiful. Teshima’s savory pork sukiyaki, served in a kettle, is as plantation-era charming as it is delicious. And when we dream of Japanese comfort food, it’s Teshima’s oyako donburi and sashimi combo that comes to mind. 79-7251 Mamalahoa Highway, Hawaii Island, (808) 322-9140, teshimarestaurant.com.

Pho Viet

Tucked away on an all-but-hidden side street in old downtown Hilo, this homey, family-run restaurant serves up flavorful Vietnamese food in portions belying its very compact interiors. The menu selection may be a bit limited for some (basically soups, pho, stews and summer and spring rolls), but Pho Viet makes up for that in presentation, freshness of ingredients and taste. 80 Kilauea Ave., Hawaii Island, (808) 935-1080.

Ling’s Chop Suey House

Crispy chicken with lemon sauce and fried rice plate lunch from Ling's Chop Suey House.
Photo: Cody Kawamoto

Two dishes put this otherwise simply satisfactory Hilo Chinese restaurant on this list of local faves. First, a breathtakingly monstrous, umami-rich crispy chicken with oyster sauce over fried rice plate lunch found nowhere else this good. Second, a twice-cooked—first roasted then deep-fried—version of crispy Chinese roast pork so sinful, eating it feels like a criminal act. Puainako Town Center, 2100 Kanoelehua Ave., Hawaii Island, (808) 981-1689.

Lucy’s Taqueria

This downtown Hilo restaurant is known for its large selection of meat choices for your burrito, taco or whatever—everything from beef and chicken to tripe, tongue and beef cheek. Lucy’s menu as a whole wins a spot here for somehow managing to be huge and wide-ranging yet sticking to the simple flavors and ingredients of the best homestyle Mexican food. 194 Kilauea Ave., Hawaii Island, (808) 315-8246, lucystaqueria.com.