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Hilo restaurants

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Minneapolis...
posts: 1,156
reviews: 176
Hilo restaurants

I have looked through the top rated restaurants on the Hilo restaurants tab but it's difficult to determine what exactly is a great fit for us. We would like the following:

Friday night we would like to find a fun bar/restaurant with local flare. We don't need anything with crazy nightlife but a fun atmosphere for a few adult beverages in the evening.

Saturday night we would like a yummy restaurant with some local seafood options. Again, something with character and a fun ambiance trumps fine dining for us.

We are staying in a rented home in Honolii.

Suggestions?

20 replies to this topic
Keaau, Hawaii
posts: 277
reviews: 74
1. Re: Hilo restaurants

I had a look at the listing of Hilo restaurants before replying to your question. Since I live in East Hawai'i, I have some familiarity with most on the list, so I took some amusement at the rankings. I also took some caution about rankings in other places, but that's another story.

Hilo has no night life to speak of. For your Friday night bar/restaurant, I suggest Cronies. They make a good burger, and you may find something on the menu that you'd call local fare. Mahi mahi and chips? I hope that you aren't thinking a loco moco.

For your Saturday night fish, Seaside is probably your best option for variety if nothing else. I don't think that it's that great. I'd rather buy some raw fish at the Suisan Fish Market early in the day and cook at home.

Minneapolis...
posts: 1,156
reviews: 176
2. Re: Hilo restaurants

Good suggestion-fish market would be a good idea one of the nights. Thanks!

Hilo, Hawaii
Destination Expert
for Hilo, Island of Hawaii
posts: 27,379
reviews: 4
3. Re: Hilo restaurants

I'm honestly not sure how to answer, because a lot of what you ask for is subjective, and I'm not sure what you mean by "local flare." Local to me means Hilo local, which is a certain kind of culture that's fun if you're part of it, but one that's not too friendly to outsiders. But maybe you just like the idea of going local but don't have a real solid picture in your head. Or maybe you mean "people who live there" instead of tourists, but not necessarily local.

I don't know what would be a "yummy" restaurant. To me, yummy is still a baby talk term for something satisfying, but it doesn't evoke any real image. So what are you asking for there?

Hilo is a small town where several cultures have overlapped and you can find unpretensious Thai, Filipino, Korean, Japanese, Chinese and local food that fills locals who grew up here with intense nostalgia.

Hilo is not a town where you can generally find any kind of ambience. If you do it is newer. Old style is strip mall hole in the wall with formica top tables and fluorescent lights. If it has ambience it is probably trying to appeal to tourists. Very few restaurants have a view.

Drinking in a true locals bar is not advised if you are a haole. You just don't belong there, and you'll feel it.

Hilo Bay Cafe is the closest thing Hilo has to an eatery that is following the local produce and meats trend. It is in a strip mall, but the decor and feel is bistro, and it has a bar with stools along one side that feels lively. I think it might be beer and wine only.

Cronies does not impress me in any way. It's a sports bar. If you like sports bars, then try it.

Hilo Town Tavern is the venue where you can hear some live music.

Seaside has fresh fish, but it costs, and the decor is seriously below what I want in a restaurant with those prices, including plastic windows that are dirty. BUT I hear it is possible to sit outside earlier on, in which case there is a view of the ponds in that area.

I have some hopes from the Hilo Bay Cafe folks taking over the old Nihon Japanese restaurant, which is a historic building with a lovely bay view, that served tour bus fare. This is very recent, and I haven't heard too much about the changes yet.

Some people mention Hilo Burger Joint as an option, but I haven't been there since it became that. The room used to be an Irish pub, and it has what I think of as character, lots of wood. I just don't know if the food is any good, but check the reviews.

Now you would probably not expect this, but true locals actually like the one hotel in town, Hilo Hawaiian. In some other town, the main hotel's bar and restaurant might be shunned by locals as a tourist only place, but in Hilo you get the locals going to the hotel buffet, while the tourists are out looking for something authentic. ;-)

Hilo, Hawaii
Destination Expert
for Hilo, Island of Hawaii
posts: 27,379
reviews: 4
4. Re: Hilo restaurants

btw, I'm not sure it fits what you are asking for, but I like Sombat's Thai. It's BYOB, no corkage fee. The owner mostly grows her herbs and the veggies are local grown. She is from Thailand. It only has 6-7 tables, so you need to reserve. No music, no bar, but it is a friendly place with a warm atmosphere, and Thai decor. Yes it is in a shopping center, which is kind of a two strip mall, next to Ken's. My family is addicted to their spicy fried rice.

In fact, Thai food is pretty much all I eat in Hilo. There are four or five Thai places, all good, none of them upscale, and all are patronized by residents.

Note: table service in Hilo is rarely polished, so don't expect it. Hilo Bay Cafe waitstaff think they are better than the average, but in my opinion they are worse, because they think they are better but they're not really any good at being properly attentive or in dealing with issues.

Cafe Pesto, which serves a lot of visitors due to its location, gets a bad rap for being all over the place with its food and sometimes it is just not very good. It does soup, salad, bread, and dessert very well. Haven't had its pizza in a long time. Has a full bar, with seating, although it would be loud seating facing the kitchen. Room has character, historic. Has real dining tables and chairs. (This is rare in Hilo.)

So on the face of it, Hilo Bay Cafe has them beat for their farm to table and all that, but service policy it doesn't. I quit going to Hilo Bay Cafe after they ruined one too many dishes and I had to argue with a snotty waitperson about whether or not they had screwed it up according to their definition. I've read other people with the same experience.

Last week I met a group for lunch who had decided on Cafe Pesto. I ordered something I won't identify that I didn't like at all. I thought about it thoroughly and decided it was really objectively bad and I told the server I was rejecting it. NO argument. I started to explain and she said, no need, if you don't like it you don't have to eat it, all you need to say. She took it off the bill and brought me something else, and I was happy.

At Hilo Bay Cafe they would have argued, resisted taking it off the bill, and punished me by bringing my substitute when the rest of the table was done. That's been my experience there. I hate that. I once had an organic greens salad there that was so natural it had real visible chunks of dirt in it. (That was before I knew that you can get rat lungworm disease from eating any local east side lettuce that isn't scrupulousy diligently washed, or I would have been horrified instead of merely annoyed.) They did take it away but they expressed no concern about the dirt. Cafe Pesto would have apologized profusely. So I like them better even though they are not for foodies. (But the desserts are fine.)

If you like sushi, Hilo is a good place for fresh sushi.

I think the problem with the "fresh local seafood" thing is that's a very American concept. Locals here aren't really into big pieces of fish as a main course. Seaside Restaurant does it, but it's not common. Locals love fish prepared in sushi, as sashimi, and as poke, and that's where the freshest fish is to be found, or smoked fish, not plated fish filets in a "seafood restaurant." They also love pig and chicken as much or more than fish.

Elk Grove...
posts: 290
5. Re: Hilo restaurants

KK,

We will be in Hilo for three nights in June, and we love sushi and poke. Do you have any favorites you recommend? Take out is fine, as we will be staying in a lovely vacation rental in town.

Thanks!

Hilo, Hawaii
Destination Expert
for Hilo, Island of Hawaii
posts: 27,379
reviews: 4
6. Re: Hilo restaurants

I'm no sushi expert and I don't like or eat poke, so I hesitate to say, but there is Ocean Sushi in old downtown, sushi at the shave ice place, and there is Ichiban's. People have such mixed opinions, one person's sushi heaven is barely edible to someone else.

KTA's poke has a good rep, my husband likes poke and says it's the best. There are two KTA's in town.

Hilo, Hawaii
Destination Expert
for Hilo, Island of Hawaii
posts: 27,379
reviews: 4
7. Re: Hilo restaurants

Just a note as you sound like you are into learning local culture, not picking at you.

>>We are staying in a rented home in Honolii.

There is in fact no residential community named Honoli'i. You are staying at Pauka'a or on Alae Point, depending on which side of the cove you're on. Honoli'i is a cove and a beach, so in order to stay "in" it, you would be very wet and sandy. ;-) "At" Honoli'i works, or near Honoli'i, but most here would say Pauka'a.

It's a nice area, hope you write a review of how you like you rental there.

Atlanta, Georgia
posts: 1,549
reviews: 12
8. Re: Hilo restaurants

My wife and I ate at both Cafe Pesto and Hilo Bay Cafe on our trip in December. As KK says the ambience in Cafe Pesto is better, but we liked the food better at Hilo Bay Cafe. We did not notice any "attitude" on the part of the wait staff - in fact, our waiter at Cafe Pesto was actually a little more aloof (but still perfectly competent). Cafe Pesto does do a fantastic job with desserts though. Our favorite dining experience in Hilo was Tina's Garden Cafe - it's downtown near the Tsunami Museum. We had lunch there one day and thought it was fantastic. It's not a place to go if you are in a hurry, but the food is great.

-JimG

Hilo, Hawaii
Destination Expert
for Hilo, Island of Hawaii
posts: 27,379
reviews: 4
9. Re: Hilo restaurants

Maybe the HBC people are nicer to visitors, people they think will tip more. Not that I don't tip well.

I'd be curious to hear from someone who had them field a complaint. Or maybe they have fired the old people. I used to live near them and went often, and at least half the time there was something annoying.

And the tables are too close together.

Minneapolis...
posts: 1,156
reviews: 176
10. Re: Hilo restaurants

Oh, funny. Our paperwork says Honolii, thanks for the clarification.

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