Hilo through food!

Five days in Hilo was full of culinary adventures. We love Hawai’i for many reasons and food is definitely high on the list. The volcanoes and beaches are great, but you can’t explore without filling your stomach first! There are so many fun and authentic culinary options, including Hawaiian food, Asian-fusion, and fresh seafood. Hilo was a great hub for all things food. Each day we tried different dishes and I always had boba tea in the middle of the day. Wondering what to eat in Hilo, Hawaii? Here are some of the foodie highlights in Hilo. 

Loco moco

What to eat in Hilo, Hawaii - loco moco

A bowl of rice with a beef patty, fried eggs, and gravy; it’s a perfect combination. Since my first visit to Hawai’i, loco moco has become one of my favorite Hawaiian dishes. It’s simple, fun, and comforting. I always think of it as ‘down to earth’. So naturally, it was the first meal we had in Hilo. There are many excellent restaurants where you can get loco moco, including one of our favorite local fastfood chains, L & L Hawaiian Barbecue. After all, it’s one of the most popular dishes. We went to Hawaiian Style Cafe in Manono Street Marketplace and enjoyed the freshly grilled fat beef patty with house gravy. They have two locations on the Big Island: Hilo and Waimea. 


After several snow storms and months of winter, I was ready for sun and fresh food. It can’t get any fresher than poke! Luckily we stayed close to a local fish shop that also made poke. It’s always challenging to make a decision because I want to try all poke varieties. I like shoyu or soy + ginger with rice. Mayonnaise + wasabi + pistachio has a fun and funky flavor. Sprinkle some seaweed on it and it’s just how I like it. 

One morning, we went to our local beach for a picnic before the sun got too hot. Sitting on a blanket, my baby in the shade of a palm tree, I pumped and we enjoyed the view and had delicious poke for breakfast. It was a perfect morning. 


An okazuya is a Japanese Deli in Hawai’i. Kawamoto Store was highly recommended by Hilo locals. And it was recommended to them by their Japanese friends. “Go there early! They sell out.” they said. So we did. We went early in the morning and of course there was a line out the door. It’s beloved by locals. I tried to peek in the glass case and make a mental note on how many I wanted to order. Everything in there looked absolutely delicious. It was a perfect marriage between Hawaiian and Japanese cuisine. It was my turn to order; I fumbled around a bit and I picked almost everything.

We went to Carlsmith Beach Park for our picnic and morning at the beach. I enjoyed our little routine of having nice local breakfast on the beach. After all, we were in Hawai’i! The food was delicious. It was a box of fun food. My favorite was spam musubi and ono tempura (also known as wahoo). Ono is a Hawaiian word meaning “good to eat”. Like I said, it was a perfect marriage of Hawaiian and Japanese. 

Mac nut pancakes 

Mac nut pancakes were on Stephen’s what to eat in Hilo wishlist. Sometimes he is more Asian than I am but other times he enjoys his (Hawaiian-)American flavors. Mixed with macadamia nuts, it was too intriguing not to try. 

Mac nut pancakes at Ken’s House of Pancakes was served as advertised. A tall stack of pancakes made with macadamia nuts and came with a small pile of mashed macadamia nuts. It was served with passionfruit syrup, maple syrup, and coconut cream. Oh yes, the coconut cream and mac nut pancakes were “certified fresh!”.  

Thai food 

Thai food is always a good choice. We were resting after a morning under hot sun in downtown Hilo. I was relying on Stephen’s what to eat in Hilo culinary research skills for our next meal. Then we saw a Thai restaurant that looked just so inviting. So we went; Thai food for lunch and it was delicious. I ordered one of my favorite Thai dishes, Panang curry. It’s food for the soul. 

Japanese ramen 

There is a lot of authentic Japanese food in Hawai’i, which means it’s easy to find ramen. An authentic bowl of Japanese ramen is the definition of perfection. The thick and rich tonkotsu broth, noodles that’s cooked just right, slices of meat and ever so slight amount of garnish, it’s the perfect harmony. Even the interior was authentic, just like a ramen establishment in Japan. I haven’t had a good bowl of ramen in a long time, probably since I was in New York City almost two years ago, so it definitely made my tastebuds happy. 

Boba tea

Ah, boba. We go way back. Some of my fondest travel memories are accompanied by boba tea or bubble tea. My best friend and I have a special connection over boba. She gifted me a baby swaddle blanket with none other than boba tea printed on it. So when I saw a boba tea shop, I just had to go in. Made with locally grown Hawaiian black tea, the milk tea with boba made me so happy. I can assure you I made many visits to different boba establishments throughout my time in Hilo. Want to try some boba tea while in Hilo, Hawaii? It is not hard to find. 

Lau Lau 

The last stop in our culinary adventure in Hilo was Kuhio Grille, Home Of The Famous 1lb Lau lau. On the way out of town I was so hungry I had to stop for something. This place was marked as one of the places to go but we didn’t have time to sit down since we had to start driving. So we ordered it to go and it was the best road trip food! As promised, the portion was HUGE. It was so well cooked it almost melted as soon as it hit my mouth. Get it with fried rice. They complement each other very well. This lau lau was probably the best one I’ve ever had even though it was in a paper to-go box and we were eating it with plastic utensils. Wondering what to eat in Hilo? Don’t miss this.

Lau lau is meat and fish (as pork and salmon) wrapped in taro leaves and baked or steamed to perfection. 

What to eat in Hilo and what to do

Hilo is known as the wettest place in the United States, averaging about 12 in. of rain per month. Thanks to all the rain, it’s rush and green. And eating is an excellent rainy day activity! Put Hilo on your Big Island Itinerary. Read this detailed travel guide to Hilo, Hawai’i.

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