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Best Restaurants on Hawaii’s Big Island for Families

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Ohana is a word you’ll hear quite often in the islands.  Hawaiian for “family,” island hospitality means that everyone is treated like Ohana when they visit.  So let’s gather the Ohana around one of the most frequent meeting spots for family — the table — and talk food.  Hawaii’s Big Island offers unique and sometimes quirky family-friendly dining options.

Here’s a list of what we consider the best restaurants on Hawaii, ones that my family has embraced during our visits to the Big Island.  Disclaimer:  As you read through it, you may notice a focus tilted toward breakfast and dinner meals and not so much toward lunch. This is not because of a stark lack of lunch options on the Big Island; it is because my family found Hawaiian breakfasts so filling, they often kept us fully fueled for most of the day.

There’s one more Hawaiian word you’ll need to know before we dive into this tropical culinary round up of choices — Keiki.  Literally translated as “little one,” many restaurants on this list offer Keiki menus that cater to even picky little darlings like yours and mine.   Now we’re ready, so here we go:

WAIKOLOA

  • Merriman’s Market Café: This casual and lovely open air café in the Waikoloa’s King’s Shops will make you feel like you’ve brought your favorite neighborhood hang out with you on vacation. Merriman’s Market Café offers a fantastic tapas menu that allows the entire family to sample and share a variety of delicious Mediterranean fare.  It even has Mac and Cheese on it!

KAILUA-KONA

  • Bongo Ben’s: While Bongo Ben’s offers breakfast, lunch and dinner, the place has hooked my family on starting our day here. If you’re lucky, the manager will seat you along the deck railing where you can take in a view of Kailua-Kona’s main drag, Alii Drive, as you eat.  My children highly recommend the Kids Bongo Breakfast and the Happy Face Pancake.  The grown-up menu includes heart healthy and lighter portions as well.
  • Scandinavian Shave Ice: Located in the heart of Kailua-Kona, this place is a great and convenient stop for cooling off after a day at the beach or an afternoon of sightseeing around town. A huge serving of shave ice encasing your favorite ice cream or frozen yogurt flavor sure tastes good when you’re looking to beat the heat.  You will mostly like encounter a line out the door here but don’t let that dissuade you; this treat is worth the wait!
  • Kona Inn Restaurant: This historic open air restaurant is a slice of old school Hawaii. Not only does it offer a seat for viewing spectacular sunsets, it opens up onto a great stretch of grass where restless kids can play in full view while you enjoy your Mai Tai. The place offers a decent kids menu, and it is rumored that local fishermen bring their fresh catches straight to the restaurant’s kitchen on a daily basis. The place fills up at dinner and more than once, my family has been present for sunsets so magnificent, applause has filled the restaurant.

KAMUELA

  • Hawaiian Style Café: This locals’ favorite doesn’t have regular closing hours. The sign in the window states, “When the food is pau, we’re closed!”  Essentially the place opens at 7AM and serves up loco moco bowls (two eggs any style over two mounds of sticky rice with meat and topped off with gravy), huge pancakes, French toast and other dishes until the food runs out.  Then they close up and start the process all over again the following day.  The Hawaiian Style Café boasts the best Keiki breakfast menu I’ve seen.  The portions are large, the prices affordable and the dishes irresistible. What kid is going to pass up something like a Mickey Mouse pancake?
  • A couple of tips: (1) Stop by the ATM before you visit — the Hawaiian Style Café only accepts cash. (2) Go early because it is a very popular establishment!
  • Red Waters Café: Eateries that can accommodate an intimate date night or a raucous dinner with the entire family are few and far between.  The Red Waters Café is one of those unique places capable of pulling that off. We tested it ourselves, taking our kids one night then leaving them with a sitter and returning just the two of us.  The Keiki menu here was designed by the chef’s young daughter, and with options like tempura fish and chips and tomato coconut soup with a grilled cheese sandwich, many of the café’s young patrons are eating it up!

HILO

  • Café Pesto: It may seem like a trek, but a visit to Hilo is worth the drive. Should you get there, Café Pesto is a charming little place serving up delicious pizzas, calzones, and salads and creative appetizers like Asian inspired nachos. Top off your meal with a made to order coffee drink like a Kona Espresso or one of their fabulous desserts! May I recommend the Liliko’i Cheesecake?  (Think New York style cheesecake with Macadamia Nut cookie crust topped with liliko’i, a Hawaiian passion fruit.)

VOLCANO

  • Lava Rock Café: Located in Volcano Village, this volcano-themed dive dishes out tasty sandwiches and salads as well as burgers that are out of this world delicious. Like many Hawaiian lunch plate specials, everything here is served with a side of macaroni salad, coleslaw and rice. An added bonus, the Lava Rock is also an Internet café so you can send a hot molten lava email to the folks back home while you eat!

PÃHOA

  • The Kalapana Village Café: If you follow Pãhoa Kalapana Road until it disappears underneath lava from the Kilauea Volcano, you will wind up just yards from the patio of this café. This place serves up a great basket of fries — they were different than what we’re used to ordering in cafés and diners at home. In fact, we likened them to tempura battered fries. Despite being located off the beaten path, the Kalapana Village Café was packed with patrons. Many worked off their lunch following the nearby red sand path forged over the lava rock to a pristine black sand beach at the coast line. Interesting tidbit: We were told that some of the Planet of the Apes remake (starring Mark Wahlberg) was filmed on the lava rock here and the cast frequently ate at the Kalapana Village Café.

NAALEHU

  • Shaka Restaurant: This friendly local sports bar took in four weary travelers headed back to Waikoloa from Volcano after a stop in Hilo, made us feel at home and gave us nourishment. Claiming to be “The Southern Most Bar & Restaurant in the USA,” (it is located in the southern most town in the United States after all!) the place serves up ice cold Kona Longboards and a whole slew of local favorites on its menu.  This is where we tried Lau Lau for the first time.  Lau Lau is salt butterfish, pork and chicken wrapped in layers of taro and ti leaves. It was delicious!!!

No matter where you dine with your family on Hawaii’s Big Island, you are assured an experience as unique as the area you find yourself in.

E ʻai kākou!  (Let’s eat!)

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Kristine lives in Mountain View, California, where she is the mother of a gifted girl athlete and a special needs charmer. Like almost everything in her house,…

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