Are you ready to indulge in the vibrant and diverse food scene of Kona, Hawaii? As the host city of the Ironman World Championships 2023, Kona offers a plethora of fantastic restaurants that cater to all tastes and preferences. From traditional Hawaiian dishes to international fusion cuisine, there is something for everyone to enjoy. In this guide, we will take you on a culinary journey through Kona, highlighting some of our favorite places to eat and introducing you to the mouthwatering local specialties that make this city a food lover’s paradise.
Kona, located on the Big Island of Hawaii, is a melting pot of cultures and cuisines. The rich history of immigration to the island has resulted in a unique food scene that blends traditional Hawaiian dishes with influences from around the world. Whether you’re a coffee lover, a chocolate aficionado, or a fan of local beers, Kona has something to satisfy every craving.
Coffee, Chocolate, Beer, and Macadamia Nuts
Hawaii’s tropical climate and fertile volcanic soil create the perfect conditions for growing a variety of exotic crops. Kona is famous for its coffee, particularly the world-renowned Kona coffee. The unique combination of volcanic soil, elevation, and weather patterns gives Kona coffee its distinctive flavor profile. You can visit local coffee farms and learn about the cultivation and processing of this beloved beverage.
In addition to coffee, Kona is also home to chocolate farms that produce organic, locally sourced chocolate. The cacao beans are grown on the Big Island and then processed into delicious chocolate products. Take a tour of a chocolate farm and taste the rich flavors of Hawaiian chocolate.
If you’re a fan of craft beer, Kona has several microbreweries where you can sample locally brewed beers. The Big Island Brewhaus in Waimea, the Kona Brewing Company in Kona, and the Hilo Brewing Company in Hilo offer a wide selection of artisanal beers, ranging from IPAs to stouts. Enjoy a cold beer while experiencing the vibrant beer culture of Kona.
Don’t forget to try the local macadamia nuts, which are known for their health benefits and delicious taste. Grown on the Big Island, macadamia nuts are a popular snack and a key ingredient in many local dishes. Sample roasted macadamia nuts or try them in desserts for a truly authentic Hawaiian experience.
The “Real” Local Food in Hawaii
While coffee, chocolate, beer, and macadamia nuts are iconic products of Kona, there are many other local specialties that you must try during your visit. These dishes represent the diverse cultural influences that have shaped Hawaiian cuisine.
Poke is a beloved Hawaiian dish that consists of raw fish marinated in a variety of seasonings. Typically, poke is made with soy sauce, onions, and lemon, but there are many other marinades to choose from. It has gained popularity worldwide, but the best place to enjoy poke is right here in Hawaii. You can find poke in most restaurants and supermarkets, (Yes, in supermarkets!) so be sure to give it a try during your stay. Da Poke Shack is well known but if you stop at Costco you will want to check out Pau Hana Poke which is just around the corner.
Spam Musubi is a unique local adaptation of traditional sushi. Instead of using raw fish, Spam Musubi features SPAM, a canned meat product that is hugely popular in Hawaii. The combination of grilled SPAM and rice, wrapped in seaweed, creates a delightful and flavorful snack. You can find Spam Musubi in local supermarkets, gas stations, and even some restaurants. Don’t be deterred by the unconventional ingredient—this is not your grandma’s Spam pie!
Lomilomi Salmon is a refreshing salad made with fresh tomatoes and salmon. It is a traditional side dish served at Hawaiian luaus and is known for its vibrant flavors. You can find Lomilomi Salmon at local supermarkets, restaurants, and fish markets. Be sure to try this delicious and healthy dish during your culinary adventure in Kona.
Laulau is a traditional Hawaiian dish that consists of fish and pork wrapped in taro and ti leaves and then smoked in an underground emu oven. The slow cooking process results in tender and flavorful meat. Laulau is available at local restaurants and supermarkets, such as KTA. Although it takes time and effort to prepare laulau, the taste is well worth it.
Kālua Pig is a staple of Hawaiian cuisine and is prepared using the traditional cooking method of kālua, which involves roasting the pig in an underground oven. The meat is tender and flavorful, with a smoky aroma. Kālua Pig is often served at luaus but can also be found in local restaurants, plate lunches, and buffets. For a new way to eat Kālua pork try the Luaua pizza at Kai Eats.
Haupia is a popular Hawaiian dessert made from coconut milk and cornstarch. It has a smooth and creamy texture and a subtle coconut flavor. Haupia is commonly served at luaus, but you can also find it in most supermarkets and restaurants. It is a delightful way to end a meal and indulge in the sweetness of Hawaiian cuisine.
Loco Moco is a hearty local dish that combines steamed rice, a hamburger patty, a fried egg, and brown gravy. This indulgent meal is guaranteed to keep you fueled and satisfied throughout the day. While you can find Loco Moco almost everywhere on the island, Café 100 in Hilo and the Tex Drive-In in Honoka’a are known for their exceptional versions of this beloved dish.
Mochi, small Japanese rice cakes, have gained popularity in Hawaii and are now a favorite local snack. For an authentic and delicious taste of the island, head to Two Ladies Kitchen in Hilo and try their Strawberry Mochi. These soft and chewy treats are sure to delight your taste buds.
Huli Huli Chicken
Huli Huli Chicken is a Hawaiian favorite that gets its name from the cooking method—huli means “to turn” in Hawaiian. The chicken is roasted over a grill and continuously turned to achieve a golden-brown and juicy texture. You can sometimes find Huli Huli Chicken at local farmers’ markets, where vendors serve up this delicious dish but really, just save yourself for Thursday or Friday and go to Randy’s Huli Chicken and Ribs. You’re welcome!
Malasadas are Portuguese sugared and fried balls of fluffy yeast dough. While not traditionally Hawaiian, they have become a popular treat on the island. Tex Drive-In in Honoka’a is known for serving some of the best malasadas in Kona. Also, try Manuela’s Malasadas in the trailer by Puako Beach. Indulge in these sweet and delectable pastries for an unforgettable culinary experience.
Sure there’s a big race but you can still try some great local food
Experience the vibrant and diverse food scene that reflects the cultural and ethnic diversity of the island. From coffee and chocolate to local specialties like poke and Spam Musubi, there are endless opportunities to taste the unique flavors of Hawaii. Whether you’re exploring the local farmers’ markets or dining in one of the many fantastic restaurants, Kona promises a culinary adventure like no other. So, grab your appetite and embark on a journey to discover the great local food that makes Kona a food lover’s paradise.
Check out our Area Guide for more Activities and Local Attractions