Boy, did we eat well on Hawaii Island during my family’s spring-break vacation in March. Lots of seafood, fresh produce, delicious homemade bread, creamy ice cream and foofy cocktails (mocktails for the kiddos). We hit some of the best family restaurants on “the Big Island” — in our opinion anyway. We bypassed our hotels’ pricier eateries for some locals’ favorites and highly rated spots we found by searching TripAdvisor, and we were delighted with our choices. This is where I’d recommend you take your own family while vacationing on the Big Island:
Jackie Rey’s Ohana Grill: From Lilo & Stitch: “Ohana means family!” Indeed, kids are welcome at this brightly colored restaurant in Kailua-Kona (look for the vintage Mercedes island wagon parked outside). Its inland location isn’t anything special, but once inside, you can’t help but smile at the upbeat hues that color the walls, such as fire-engine red, butternut yellow and lime green. Vintage Hawaii posters also add to the festive scene. Paper covers the tables and crayons are on hand.
The menu is vast; it’s “continental cuisine with island flair.” Everything from salads and sandwiches to seafood and steaks. Lots of tasty pupus for sharing, and a “keiki” menu for children with a burger, Hawaiian BBQ pork, buttered pasta, chicken fingers and grilled chicken. Jackie Rey’s is named after the proprietors’ daughter, and indeed, they know what makes kids happy!
Kona Brewing Company: In the heart of Kailua-Kona, this brewpub turns out some amazing food and incredible beer. These folks make the delicious Longboard Lager, citrusy Wailua Wheat and rich Koko Brown brews — so good! I’m a big fan of taking the kids to brewpubs, namely because the casual menu is typically so kid-friendly, with plentiful burgers, sandwiches, fries and nachos.
When my family visited this pub — with a fabulous outdoor patio offering plenty of shade — I thoroughly enjoyed my big Mauna Loa Spinach Salad, with toasted macadamia nuts and goat cheese. My daughter went for the equally good Strawberry Spinach Salad with gorgonzola and strawberry vinaigrette dressing. My son devoured an Imu Pork sandwich; my husband, Uncle’s Fish Tacos.
The keiki menu includes pig in a blanket, chicken tenders, quesadilla or a slice of pizza, all served with fresh fruit and a soda or fruit punch for $7 each. To beat the crowds at this popular spot, arrive early for lunch (prior to noon) or dinner (5:30 p.m.)
Eddie Aikau Restaurant: To be honest, I didn’t know who Eddie Aikau was before being invited to check out this eatery. But after dining here, and checking out all of the historic memorabilia and newspaper clippings about this legendary big-wave surfer, I couldn’t help but be in awe of his surfing ability and his contributions to not only the sport, but to the residents of Hawaii. He was a lifeguard on Oahu in the late 1960s and into the 1970s, where he’d often venture into huge surf to save struggling swimmers.
The restaurant that bears his name is indeed part “surf museum,” but I’d go here more for the food: it’s excellent, as are the surroundings. The restaurant is in the King’s Shops, Waikoloa Beach Resort (super close to the Hilton Waikoloa, where we spent two nights). Set on a lake, this restaurant has a plantation-style vibe, and guests can dine indoors or out (we chose inside, as it was unusually windy when we visited).
Serving “contemporary Hawaiian cuisine,” the restaurant also employs the friendliest server we encountered on the island: Kaimi, who made some great menu suggestions for us, including my husband’s crazy cocktail, The Pipeline: strawberry vodka, Midori, Malibu rum, blue Curacao, pineapple juice all over shave ice in a martini glass. (Yes, it was good.)
Otherwise, we dined on divine ahi, crab cakes and macadami-nut-crusted fish; the seafood items we sampled were all quite good. There’s also Kalua pork, grass-fed burgers, rib-eye and other “land” options, as well as a kids’ menu with the usual suspects. Overall, a wonderful, friendly, casual dining experience!
Huggo’s On the Rocks: Not to be confused with Huggo’s fine-dining restaurant next door, Huggo’s On the Rocks (a sister restaurant) is decidedly casual, with beach chairs in the sand, and a funky outdoor bar strung featuring an outrigger canoe suspended above it and decorated with Christmas lights. With frequent live music, this outdoor spot on the water’s edge definitely has a festive feel. We very much enjoyed the musicians and hula dancers who performed while we ate fish tacos, beef sliders and a veggie panini. Our $14.95 dessert — the Hualalai Ice Cream Pie, meant to be split — was a huge hit with the kids! Huggo’s is conveniently located in Kailua-Kona, and we ate there when we overnighted at the Keauhou Beach Resort, a short drive away.
Fish Hopper: This restaurant enjoys an enviable location in the heart of Kailua-Kona across the street from the bay; it’s a great place to watch the sunset, if you can nab one of the “window” tables (it’s open air, so you’ll enjoy the fresh breeze). Fresh seafood and steaks, ribs and poultry dishes, plus a number of pasta entrees are on the menu here. The mashed purple potatoes are dee-licious! My daughter was particularly fond of the coconut shrimp. The keiki menu features such options as kid-sized pizza, quesadilla, chicken fingers, fish & chips, hot dog or hamburger — all served with fries or fruit and a soft drink for only $5 each.
Ken’s House of Pancakes: While we spent the bulk of our time on the Kona side of Hawaii Island, we did get over to Hilo to embark on a (fun!) helicopter ride and to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park — two excursions I highly recommend. When you go, you also want to make time for a meal at Ken’s House of Pancakes. This old-fashioned diner (orange vinyl seats!) has one of the biggest menus I’ve ever encountered, and it serves hearty breakfast all day. In fact, the entire menu — pancakes, omelets, fish, steak, ribs, tacos, loco moco, burgers, sandwiches and more — is available 24 hours a day!
Visit this restaurant hungry, as portions are big; and just try to save room for “Ken’s Famous Macadamia Nut Pie” for dessert (we didn’t). I love that the Keiki Korner of the menu says it’s for “ages 1 to 101″ — so if you do want a lighter meal, you could choose smaller portions of pancakes, a 4 0z steak or kid-sized burger.
A couple more firsthand recommendations: Anuenue for shave ice and ice cream in the Kawaihae Harbor Shopping Center (toward the north part of the island and not far from the lovely Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, where we stayed for four nights) and Punalu’u Bake Shop for malasadas (like doughnuts) on the south side of the island — the southernmost bakery in the U.S.!
One restaurant we didn’t love (unfortunately, since it got good TripAdvisor reviews) was Cafe Pesto. This Italian eatery, also in the Kawaihae Harbor Shopping Center, was absolutely packed with families and couples. We thought the kids’ menu was impressive in its variety. However, my daughter opted for a simple plate of buttered noodles, and I think there were maybe 20 pieces of penne on her plate! It was a lame serving, for sure (perhaps okay for a toddler; not for a 12 year old). Further, our waiter was unfriendly; I’d almost describe him as surly — as if he didn’t want us there. I wouldn’t recommend.
That said, the restaurants, ice cream spot and bakery we did enjoy on Hawaii, the Big Island were quite good — so great for families. So, please check them out when you visit Hawaii Island!
This is the first of several posts about Hawaii, the Big Island, based on my family’s trip to the volcanic isle in March (I know, I know… I’m a bit behind). Until I get all of my suggestions for things to do and see on Hawaii Island posted in the coming months, click over to the official Hawaii Island visitor bureau website for all sorts of vacation-planning advice — with or without kids!
You might also check out these pieces written by my colleague SoCalGal Jennifer Miner:
- Hiking Trail on Hawaii’s Kohala Coast
- Lapakahi State Historical Park Hike in Hawaii
- Swimming with Dolphins on Hawaii, theBig Island
- Best Sail and Snorkel Trip on Hawaii, the Big Island – Fair Wind II