Where to Eat on the Kohala Coast in Hawaii
I love, love, love Hawaii. Despite having traveled the world, I have a special place in my heart for Hawaii. The people, the environment, and the dedication they have for respecting their land always leaves me with awe each time I visit. For my last Hawaiian visit, I made a trip to the Kohala Coast in Kona. I know when people think of Hawaii they typically think of Maui or Oahu. But for those looking for a more authentic and less touristy, run-of-the-mill experience, the Kohala Coast should be your next destination. Away from the hustle and bustle of the bigger and more populated islands, Kona is considered one of the most cultural and spiritual places in Hawaii filled with jet-black lava rock fields, a currently active volcano and of course, good eats. Here are nine spots you have to try on the Kohala Coast: Merriman’s 65-1227B Opelo Rd, Waimea, HI 96743 (808) 885-6822
Merriman’s is the Big Island’s most popular high-end restaurant and rightfully so. Located in the inland town of Waimea, Merriman’s is a scenic must-stop when driving between Hilo and Kona. Executive Chef Peter Merriman—a three-time James Beard Award nominee—has been a pioneer of supporting the community by sourcing locally and sustainably for more than 25 years. His close relationships with local growers, farmers, and fishers are what make his food some of the freshest around. Chef Peter and his staff often use 90 percent fresh, local ingredients for their dishes, a standard that is unsurpassed even with the popularity of farm-to-table food cuisine these days. The menu changes to reflect what’s in season and what the farmers are bringing in. Merriman’s cuisine is centered around simplicity and letting the quality ingredients shine through.
Signature dishes include Kahua range-raised lamb, Macadamia Nut Crusted Mahi Mahi, Yukon Gold Jalapeno Whipped Potatoes, Prime Bone-in New York Steak, grass fed and marinated with Sichuan Peppercorn rub, among others. To get the best bang for your buck and stomach, order the Shared Dinner option where each of your guests will be able to taste 13 of Chef Merriman’s best dishes family style. There’ll be so much food that you’ll be going home with lots of leftovers, but don’t forget to leave room for their Pineapple Bread Pudding and Chocolate and Chocolate Oblivion Torte dessert.
Copper Bar 62-100 Mauna Kea Beach Dr, Waimea, HI 96743 (808) 882-7222
Newly remodeled in 2016, the Copper Bar’s multi-million dollar renovation includes an elongated bar and panoramic view of Kaunaoa Bay. Located in the beautiful Mauna Kea Beach Hotel designed by Laurance S. Rockefeller, the space is decorated with copper accents and marine rope as well as a triptych painted by local artist Solomon Enos.
Dinner or late night drinks at Copper Bar are a must. The menu consists of must-order dishes like Spicy Macadamia Nuts with cayenne, cumin, and garlic, Thick Cut Bacon marinated with Sichuan pepper and wasabi aioli, Kung Pao Ahi, as well as a number of unique sushi rolls prepared with fish caught nearby. The bar also serves specialty cocktails, made with local and exotic ingredients, as well as tap beer and wine. Their signature Mauna Kea Mule is made with house-made ginger beer, Pau Vodka, fresh lime, soda and a dash of bitters, and served in an appropriately themed custom copper mug. There’s also live music and hula dancing at night.
Tip: Don’t forget to walk next door to the lookout where the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel shines floodlights into the water to attract Manta rays. You’ll see huge manta ray swimming and gliding alongside snorkelers at night.
CanoeHouse Mauna Lani Hotel and Bungalows 68-1400 Mauna Lani Dr, Waimea, HI 96743 (808) 885-6622
CanoeHouse. is an oceanfront open-air restaurant by the serving contemporary Hawaiian cuisine. Helmed by Chef Allan Nagun, who is a multi-time winner of the Hawaii Island’s annual Poke Festival Competition, CanoeHouse’s dishes are a modern twist on traditional Hawaiian pupus or appetizers. Chef Nagun incorporates local Hawaiian homegrown products and sources directly from the farmers on the island. CanoeHouse has constantly changing seasonal menus. Enjoy fresh-from-the-sea pan roasted Big Island abalone topped with miso emulsion, nori wrapped tempura ahi, wok tossed Kona lobster, and other farm to table dishes. The desserts are also to die for. The Kokoleka with crunchy peanut butter and chocolate cookie, milk mousse, candied peanuts, peanut butter, and chocolate sauce is basically the most airy Kit Kat dessert you’ll ever taste.
The best time to eat at CanoeHouse is just as the sun as setting so you can enjoy live guitar playing and singing from Emmy award-winning Charles Brotman while sipping on an island cocktail. Top that off by finishing your dessert under a pitch-black sky with a beautiful, unobstructed view of the stars with the sound of crashing waves in the background.
Island Gourmet Markets Queens’ Marketplace 69-201 Waikoloa Beach Dr # 201 Waikoloa Village, HI 96738 (808) 886-3577
For those looking to save some money on your Hawaiian meals, Island Gourmet Markets is a sight to behold. The market is an offshoot of the popular ABC Store, but easily five times as big and much nicer. Island Gourmet has a plethora of hot and cold foods, snacks, and even unique Hawaiian flavored candies and snacks you can’t find anywhere else like lilikoi (passion fruit) and pineapple flavored Hi-Chew candy. Open until late at night, the market also has a deli counter, a poke station, and shelves stocked with salads, desserts, bread, and cookies. Must eats include the pineapple chunks covered in ling hi mui powder, punalu’u traditional Hawaiian sweet bread, and poke.
Tip: If you spend $100 or more during your stay, the store will give you a free Hawaiian mug.
To see my top 9 must-eat restaurants on the Kohala Coast, check out my full article from Paste here.