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Hawaii (Big) Island
Article Source: Copyright © 2012 by Fodor’s Travel, a division of Random House Inc. All rights reserved.
Perched on the bluff above Keauhou Shopping Center, the relatively new Sam Choy's Kai Lanai is already a Kona classic. Celebrity-chef Sam Choy has transformed an old Wendy's into a beautiful open-air restaurant complete with a bar, The Short Bait, designed to look like a charter-fishing boat. Granite-topped tables offer ocean views from every seat in the house. Open for lunch and dinner (and breakfast on weekends only), the venue presents reasonably priced entrées, highlighted by the macadamia-nut-crusted chicken, Oriental lamb chops, or Sam's trio of fish served with shiitake-mushroom cream sauce. The ahi salad (served in a deep-fried flour tortilla bowl) is a great deal for $14. Keiki (children's) menus accommodate families. Parking is at a premium, so you might have to park in the shopping center below. The restaurant can be noisy. Arrive at 5 pm to nab the best patio seating. www.samchoy.com.
It figures that the best laulau (meat wrapped in taro leaves and ti) in West Hawaii can be found at a roadside hole-in-the-wall rather than at an expensive resort luau. In fact, this humble family-run eatery was featured on the Food Network's "The Best Thing I Ever Ate." Plate lunches to go include tender chicken or pork laulau, steamed for up to 10 hours. The kalua pig and cabbage is delicious, and the lomilomi salmon features vine-ripened tomatoes. Proprietors John and Janice Kaaloa also grind their own poi. No credit cards.
Lava rock may not seem like ideal soil for the cultivation of grapes, but that hasn't stopped the Volcano Winery from producing some interesting wines. The Macadamia Nut Honey wine is a nutty, very sweet after-dinner drink; the new Infusion wine steeps Hawaiian-grown black tea—a new industry for the winery—with Macademia Nut wine for an alcohol-caffine kick. This is not Napa Valley, but these vintners take their wine seriously. If you're feeling adventerous, it's worth a stop. The tasting-room staff is friendly and knowledgeable; the gift store has a selection of local crafts and goods. Tours are available at 10 am or by appointment. It's located just past the entrance to Volcanoes National Park. www.volcanowinery.com. COST: Free tasting. OPEN: Daily 10--5:30.
Amid the sea of expensive resort restaurants on the Kohala Coast, this is an affordable alternative, a best-kept secret in the Waikoloa Beach Resort area. Its location on the 14th tee near the Marriott offers casual, fine dining with a menu that's a throwback to Hawaii's retro steak houses of the 1960s. Decor is simple, and so is the concept. Legendary restaurateur Dickie Furtado boasts many signature dishes, highlighted by the delicious calamari steak cooked with lemon butter and capers in a delicate panko crust. (Don't miss it; it's probably the best calamari you'll ever eat.) Generous-size steaks include the kiawe-grilled rib eye and the giant 14-oz. porterhouse. No watered-down cocktails here—the restaurant offers an excellent happy hour with free pupus, while the well-stocked salad bar features more than 30 items.
A tiny place hidden in the back of the Coconut Plaza on Alii Drive, Wasabi's features indoor and outdoor seating. Prices may seem steep, but the fish is of the highest quality, highlighted by a large selection of rolls and authentic Japanese offerings, along with a few unique inventions. And for those who prefer their seafood cooked, teriyaki, udon, and sukiyaki options abound. www.wasabishawaii.com. Credit cards accepted.
This restaurant doesn't feel much like a country club—it's simple and not at all fancy, with oak tables filled with local old-timers talking story and chowing down on greasy local favorites. Locals love this spot on Sunday for its large portions and classic breakfasts: ordering the breakfast burger (with fried egg, cheese, and your choice of meat) and a cup of Kona coffee is the way to go. If it's lunchtime, you can't beat the burgers and salads. Breakfast is only served on Sunday. Credit cards accepted. No dinner.
This little eatery brings a whole new meaning to gourmet hamburgers. Village Burger in Parker Ranch Center serves up locally raised, grass-fed, hormone-free beef that is ground fresh, hand-shaped daily at their restaurant, and grilled to perfection right before your eyes. Top your burger (be it ahi, veal, Kahua Ranch wagyu beef, Hamakua mushroom, or Waipio taro) with everything from local avocados, baby greens, and chipotle goat cheese to tomato marmalade. Even the ice cream for their milkshakes is made right in Waimea, and the delicious brioche buns that house these juicy burgers are baked fresh in nearby Hawi. At this place, you really can taste the difference. villageburgerwaimea.com. Credit cards accepted.
Verna's is a favorite among locals who come for the moist homemade burgers and filling plate lunches. The price is right with a burger combo that includes fries and a drink for just $5. If you're hungry for more, try the traditional Hawaiian plate with laulau, beef stew, chicken long rice, lomilomi salmon; or the smoked meat plate (a local specialty) smothered in onions and served with rice and macaroni salad. Whatever you choose, you won't leave hungry. Late-night revelers take note: Verna's is one of the only joints in Hilo that's open 24 hours every day. Credit cards accepted.
Located in the Sports Authority shopping complex (Kona Commons), this excellent burger joint may look like a chain, but it's an independent, locally owned and operated eatery that serves 100% organic, grass-fed Big Island beef. Be sure to order a side of seasoned Big Daddy fries served with house-made aioli dipping sauce.
This breezy, open-air restaurant, located upstairs at the Shops at Mauna Lani, offers an excellent roster of appetizers: don't miss the seared-scallop sliders or the coconut-crusted crab cakes. The chef here has freedom to cook up his own daily specials, and the macadamia-crusted opakapaka (Pacific red snapper) is a standout. Other entrées include rustic chicken pasta and crab-stuffed shrimp. Homemade breads and creamy butters set the stage for a nice meal, which most definitely should include one of Tommy's outstanding martinis, the tastiest and strongest anywhere on the island. Desserts are decadent and meant for sharing. There's live music every evening. www.tommybahama.com. Credit cards accepted.
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