During this high season on Hawaii Island, restaurants are packed and visitors are always asking us, “Where are the good restaurants?” and “Where do the locals eat?”. The visitors’ frustration with restaurants on the island brings back memories of our January visits to Hawaii and our exasperation at how poor the service was when we tried to eat out. Now that we live on the island year round, we have sympathy for the restaurant owners who for eight months of the year have empty restaurants with few servers and cooks required. We wonder how they even afford to stay open. During high season, these same restaurants struggle to deal with throngs of hungry, impatient tourists all wondering “Why does such a busy place have so few workers?”
Visitors from London, Paris, and the mainland tell us how much they love the beauty of Hawaii Island and the adventure of staying on a more remote island than Oahu. But they all complain about the slow service, high prices, and menu selection at most restaurants which usually consists of warmed up Costco food. We are constantly questioned about where the restaurants with fantastic food and impeccable service are hidden; the type of restaurants they are accustomed to from their home towns are on Oahu, not Hawaii Island.
Ironically, the local fish, grass-fed beef, fruits, and vegetables raised on our island are the best in the world. These food are offered at only a few restaurants, as the majority of visitors do not like the taste of fresh caught fish or grass feed beef. Most visitors do not want to wake up to a breakfast buffet of marlin, bonefish, opah, baked breadfruit, shimeji mushrooms, poi, kumquat, oranges, rambutan, papaya, and sweet potatoes on their vacation. So restaurants and buffets serve the imported frozen fish, corn fed beef, bacon, potatoes, breads, and dairy products tourists expect.
When we vacationed in Hawaii before moving to the island, we stayed in places with a kitchen or shared outdoor barbecue. We brought a small George Foreman grill in our luggage so we could cook fresh fish and local grass-fed beef. We visited Farmer’s markets around the island to buy ingredients for breakfast fruit bowls and lettuce, tomato, and avocado salads.
Though we prefer to cook at home, we find good values in prepared local foods at deli counters at Foodland and KTA. Cooks at these Hawaii grocery stores use island raised beef, chicken and pork and serve meals and side-dishes all day. COSTCO near the Kona airport sometimes has local caught fish and produce. The island’s health food stores like Island Naturals in Hilo and Kona have buffets for breakfast and lunch that offer vegetarian and organic prepared foods. These grocery stores have a year round customer base which keep cooks employed. Self-serve restaurants tend to have higher rankings online; though the line may be long, at least you avoid the frustrating wait for a server to tend to your order. We have noticed that on Hawaii Island we find the best tasting food where ever the least labor is required to serve it.