Best Restaurants on Hawaii's Kohala Coast

Food & Sprits: We’ve never met anyone who doesn’t enjoy a good meal. In fact, the only thing better than a good meal is a GREAT one. That said, there are plenty of establishments on the Kohala Coast, where you are assured of upper-crust cuisine that is designed to please. Check out some of our favorites, following.

Brown’s Beach House - The Fairmont Orchid
At the end of the day, nothing tops a dinner at Brown’s Beach House, the oceanfront restaurant known for its romantic ocean views and incomparable island-inspired cuisine. Book your reservation this minute! We never miss a chance to dine here, outside, under the stars, near the tiki torches, with views of the lagoon, as you listen to live island music – it’s definitely one of those magical memories that the hotel is famous for. Superstar starters include the Waimea sweet corn bisque. Then you can select from a wealth of appetizers that include phyllo prawns, and our favorite, the roasted beet-and-heirloom tomato salad that fills you up — not out — so there’s room for dessert. Many of the items on the actual menu feature a small leaf logo, meaning that this dish is Fairmont Lifestyle Cuisine known for using fresh and nutritionally balanced ingredients. For your entrée, there are two such standouts: the lemon-balm grilled walu with an edamame polenta cake, and the citrus-parmesan crusted shutome with Thai basil mashed potatoes. For dessert — the highlight of any menu — we chose the mud pie, made with Kona coffee, Tahitian vanilla ice cream, Oreo cookie crust and chocolate ganache center. OMG — it’s TDF! (Translation: Oh my God, it’s to-die-for!)

Roy's Restaurant
We never met a meal at Roy’s that we didn’t like. And our visit to the Roy’s on the Big Island was as good as it gets. In fact, Bill strongly believes that Roy’s — anywhere — is the best restaurant on Hawaii or the mainland. Much of the reason has to do with the warm local aloha that prevails. For example, the local Hamakua mushrooms, which come in a red wine sauce, are grown locally, and served with Big Island abalone that’s grown near the airport right down Route 19. It’s a winner. We also had a scrumptious thin-sliced tomato carpaccio, with tomatoes from WOW farms. We found out that the farm’s owner is related to Roy’s sous chef who was cooking our meal, while our waitress is neighbors with the busboy. This kind of family atmosphere makes for a terrific experience, and when you factor in the excellent cuisine, it’s no wonder we give Roy’s a rave review. Start with a signature Hawaiian martini, made with vanilla vodka, coconut rum and pineapple juice. Then you must, you must, dine on the butterfish that is marinated for three days in a miso-sugar mixture — it’s like eating candy. Deb had the teppanyaki scallops and shrimp entrée that hit the spot. For dessert, this particular Roy’s serves a spectacular haupia (coconut) brownie complemented with Guittard hot chocolate and Tahitian-vanilla ice cream. Deb didn’t just devour this, she demolished it. And no visit to Roy’s would be complete without the chocolate soufflé with a molten center — worth every calorie.

When you visit Sansei, remember these two words: grilled ono. For this fish dish is, hands down, the best fish we have ever eaten. Period. This delightful, delectable creation consists of a grilled ono (which means “delicious” in Hawaiian) served in a scrumptious Japanese plum vinaigrette, complemented with a cilantro pesto. It’s one of those dishes that you eat and continue to think and dream about afterwards — it’s that good. And the minute after it was scarfed down, tentative plans were made to return to Sansei, simply to dine on that ono. We ate at Sansei 10 years ago on our honeymoon, and we remembered having a terrific, marvelous meal — we just didn’t realize how over-the-top tremendous this restaurant is. A great way to savor the experience is to order numerous appetizers, including fried shrimp dynamite. Other delectables include the ahi carpaccio with Thai chili vinaigrette and peanuts, and the panko “ahi” that Tom, the manager told us, “goes to every table.” Sansei is another restaurant where you must indulge in the butterfish, also marinated in a sweet miso. We couldn’t stop eating it. Another dish to try is the stir-fried vegetables in a black-bean chili butter — it will definitely make you get not just your five daily servings of veggies, but about 25. A real crowd-pleaser in every way. Hooray!

Pahu i`a - The Four Seasons Resort Hualalai
Pahu i`a at The Four Seasons Resort Hualalai is the place you want to be at sunset, when that big orange ball in the sky hits the water – you’ll have a fantastic, unobstructed view, framed by only palm trees, tiki torches, and the sound of crashing waves. This is what you came to Hawaii for. Ask to sit at Table Five — the live-action “theatre’ is right in front of you. We knew we were in for a great meal, when they simply brought over the three kinds of bread: sourdough, lavasch, and a macadamia-nut variety, served with three, count’ em, three butters: lemon-mascarpone, simply salted, and truffle. We could have made an entire meal out of the breads alone.

Try the baby-beet and goat-cheese salad with candied pecans, or the rich Waimea tomato gazpacho. Everything is made from farm-fresh ingredients. Deb selected the signature catch ($46) — a soy-ginger ono in a broth featuring just a few drops of sizzling sesame oil — it was light and delicious, and a great choice if you’re watching your weight. Bill had the planked Hawaiian snapper ($43) that was marinated in shoyu, mirin and sake, and this is another delicious choice. Side dishes include red-beet and potato pave, grilled asparagus, and Hamakua mushrooms. Put on your nicest outfit to dine here, bring your camera, and make sure to kiss between bites — that’s the essence of Pahu i`a.

Coast Grille - Hapuna Beach Prince Resort
We thrilled to the fabulous dinner we had one night at the Coast Grille at the Hapuna Beach Prince Resort, where we met with Sous Chef Peter Abarcar Jr. Chef Abarcar explained to us how there had been a lot of menu changes over the years, resulting in the current menu (which had changed just four days previous). What does this mean for you? “We put the Favorites back on the menu, to include macadamia-nut-crusted mahi mahi and Hawaiian snapper with lemon-butter caper sauce.” Chef also pointed out that the menu now also includes “old-school preparations” such as New York steak with Maitre D’ compound butter (made with wine, shallots, thyme and parsley). There’s also a signature lamb with a Dijon gratin, “ which no one does anymore,” Chef added, plus a divine ratatouille.

The restaurant also offers a raw bar with featured oysters; on the night we dined there the menu showcased oysters from Reach Island and Washington Pacific. We thrilled to the nut-crusted mahi mahi, but we were over the top with Bill’s preparation — the seafood trio. This is definitely the star of the show — three servings of a sautéed mahi with Maui onion, grilled shutome (swordfish) with a delicious sweet-tomato vinaigrette, and seared ono with garlic herb butter. We could have very easily gone back to eat this every night of our stay at the Hapuna Beach Prince! Dessert was as fabulous as they come, and if “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” TV show on the Food Network ever asked us, we’d tell them our choice — the warm chocolate cake with Tahitian vanilla ice cream, for dessert, is a big plate of deliciousness. It didn’t even need any chocolate lava inside. The small cake was a divine mousse-like creation that perfectly completed the ice cream, and we devoured it with gusto. There’s also a lilikoi cheesecake and a sampling of fruit sorbets — but trust us — our money’s on the chocolate cake. If you like to dine early, you’re in luck, there’s a sunset special whereby everything on the menu is 20 percent off if you dine between 5:30 and 6:15 p.m.

Imari at Hilton Waikoloa Village
One of the best meals you’ll ever have on the Big Island is at Imari at Hilton Waikoloa Village, a spectacular teppanyaki restaurant where your meal is stir-fried in front of you. Chef Gil welcomed us with open arms, and as he cooked our vegetables, he delighted us with his Hawaiian “volcano” made of onions, spewing steam. Adorable! Every teppanyaki dinner includes a delicious salad with ginger dressing, edamame, steamed rich, miso soup, your entrée (be it filet mignon, lobster tail, shrimp, scallops, or chicken breast) and assorted vegetables, including bean sprouts, which chef Gil called “Japanese French fries.” There’s an awe-inspiring sushi bar, offering delicious California rolls (Deb scarfed them down), along with other varieties featuring “eel-on-top,” asparagus and salmon, and the “green sand beach” with tuna, flounder, salmon and wasabi mayonnaise. You can also get sashimi, as well as hosomaki rolls. (This restaurant is authentically Japanese, remonding you why you came to the South Pacific in the first place!) Then we ordered dessert from the main Hilton menu: chocolate lava cake, and it made our eyeballs roll back into our sockets, it was THAT fantastic. This is one restaurant you’ll want to return to, no matter how long your trip!

Manta Restaurant - Mauna Kea Beach Hotel
We were in Hawaii celebrating our 10-year wedding anniversary, and so we decided that we could celebrate in style at Manta Restaurant at the Mauna Kea. This lovely open-air restaurant glimmered with candles at each table, and we happily sat down at Table 407. Brian Clancy, the wine manager, explained to us how the restaurant is wine-driven, as it carries the Italian eno-matic system of dispensing 48 different wines by the ounce. That means that you can decide how many ounces (two, three four?) you wish with your appetizer, and how much you want with your entrée. “There are eight bottles on each machine and the wine is preserved with argon gas, making it stay fresh up to 30 days,” he said. In all, Manta offers about 400 wine selections by the bottle. “It’s a pretty fun list, and the best on the Big Island,” he said. Also on the menu are 15 dessert wines including a 1990 Chateau Suidraut sauterne that costs $300 a bottle. “We bring in Chateau Y’quem (the famous sauterne) for Christmas.” The restaurant also hosts wine dinners every month.

Manta is a special restaurant that will assure a great memory of your meal. We started with the Hawaii Island goat-cheese ravioli, in a head-shakingly delicious sauce of edamame and corn, which we could live on. For salads, the roasted organic baby beets served with spicy walnuts is a winner. There’s also a grilled Wailua asparagus served with a Parmesan yuzu vinaigrette. For her entrée, Deb chose steamed moi ($37), a fish that was originally served only to Hawaiian kings. She inhaled it in a New York minute. This delicious creation included pineapple carpaccio and sizzling oil, but was still very light. Bill had the Big Island butterfish served in a ginger-butter fondue ($35), and we highly recommend it. We were glad to see that Manta is committed to using sustainable fish and organic produce whenever possible.

Dessert — well, that was an embarrassment of riches. Deb had requested (as a surprise) a lowfat carrot anniversary cake with lowfat cream cheese frosting — and our server, Evelyn, brought over two huge cupcakes of this special treat. We loved how we could eat them without any guilt. But we had also ordered a chocolate soufflé (fantastic) and the island chocolate organic beet cake, a sinfully succulent creation served with a Jack Daniels sauce. We inhaled all of these desserts — after all, you celebrate 10 years of marriage only once, right? If you need even more options, the restaurant also offers Portuguese sweetbread French Toast — yum!

Royal Luau at Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa
Many of the Kohala Coast resorts also offer luaus – and you definitely want to include one in your itinerary. For example, the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort and Spa offers a Royal Luau that costs $88pp (children 6-12 are $40 each and children under 5 are free). This memorable experience includes an open bar (have a Mai Tai!) and delicious food that typically includes pig roasted in an imu (underground) oven; delicious taro rolls; a wealth of salads; grilled fish; noodles; and for dessert, haupia (coconut custard), to name just a few of the delectables. You’ll take a journey through New Zealand, Hawaii and Tahiti — and trust us, while we adore the hula, you won’t ever see anything sexier than dancers doing the Tahitian tamure, while they shake their hips wildly. Lastly, you’ll thrill to the Samoan fire dancer!

William & Debbi Kickham

Debbi K. Kickham is a professional travel journalist and veteran member of the Society of American Travel Writers, She is also former Editor of Robb Report Magazine ' 'The Millionaire's Magazine,' Debbi is also former Contributing Editor to Bridal Guide Magazine, for the Travel Section. She is currently at work on her third book, a diet/beaut...(Read More)

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