Is there anyone who doesn’t love Hawaii? Just say the name and people go aaaah. While there are many great restaurants to eat at on the island and an abundance of fresh seafood, it’s always great to be privy to some places that are the local’s favorites and ours, too. It makes it even more special, if that’s possible, and don’t you want to feel special?

Hawaii sunsets

Just one of the amazing sunsets on the Big Island of Hawaii. Photo credit Sherry Wernicke, Triathlon Traveling Mom.

We spend a lot of time on the Big Island of Hawaii, whether for vacation or for triathlon-related activities. As such, we’ve tried a lot of restaurants and have received great recommendations from the locals. We would love to share with you a few of our favorites for your next trip to the Big Island. We do love some of the restaurants at the hotels, but you can find them yourselves, so they’re not on our list.  We hope you get to visit very soon!

Strawberry Patch Restaurant

One of my favorite things to do on the island is relax at Mamalahoa Hot Tubs and Massage and after my sorrowful departure, head back down to the Queen K and go north towards Kona for a short drive to the Strawberry Patch Restaurant. This small roadside eatery is truly a gem and just so darn cute.

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Strawberry Patch Restaurant on Hawaii. Photo credit Sherry Wernicke, Triathlon Traveling Mom.

The food is wonderful, fresh from the local growers, and they are happy to squeeze whatever fruit is fresh to mix with your champagne, which, of course, I  just happen to bring with me! The last time I was there I chose passion fruit and was not disappointed.

Gill’s Lanai

Somewhere along your journey in North Kohala, a MUST stop is at Gill’s Lanai in Kapaau, about two miles past Hawi. It is a fish and chips shop, Mexican restaurant, and hot dog joint rolled into one. The lobster tacos have been described as THE BEST EVER!  It is owned by a friend of my sister-in-law, who fulfilled a life long dream and moved to the Big Island with his wife.  We all think about it, but they actually did it!!

the big island of hawaii

Gill’s Lanai in Kapaau, Hawaii. Photo credit Sherry Wernicke, Triathlon Traveling Mom.

I made a stop here on my last visit after venturing up to the Pololu Valley and was so impressed I went back again. Kapaau is a cute little town with some interesting stores with local wares. The restaurant is located at 54-3866 Akoni Pile Hwy and open from 11am – 5pm. Oh, tell Jim, the owner, that Teri and the TravelingMoms sent you….

The Hawaiian Vanilla Company

Okay, if you’re tired of wineries and wine tours, try something totally different.  The Hawaiian Vanilla Company has supposedly the best vanilla in the world.  You can tour the facility and stay for either a special presentation or lunch – and then take some home with you.  The company was started in 1989 by the husband and wife team, Jim and Tracy Reddekopp. They search the world over, including the rainforests, Haiti, and Vanilla, Mexico – no, I did not make that up… finding and cultivating the best vanilla beans for their products.

The Vanilla Experience Luncheon is offered Monday – Friday at 12:30 pm. Advanced reservations are a must and children are welcomed. Liking vanilla is definitely a requirement for this luncheon! Start with a Vanilla Lemonade and end with Hawaiian Vanilla Bean Ice Cream topped with Vanilla Passion Fruit Curd or anything chocolate!

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Photo credit The Hawaiian Vanilla Company.

They were also the first vanilla commercial growers in the US.  They sell a variety of products including vanilla coffee, beans, beauty products, and more. To get to the facility, take Hwy 19 towards Hawi and keep going towards Honoka’a. Turn right after mile marker 37 onto Pohakea Road. Go about three miles and you’ll find a bright yellow building on your left.  It’s about 1 1/2 hours from Kona.

Bamboo Restaurant and Gallery

If you haven’t been to Hawi before, be sure to stop by and visit. It’s not very big, so it won’t take long, but hey, it’s where the bike turn around takes place for the Ironman Kona World Championship race, so to us it’s very special.  The town has many cute shops and restaurants.  We always eat at the Bamboo Restaurant and Gallery. Plus, there’s so much to see in the area, it’s worth the trip.

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Bamboo Restaurant in Hawi, Hawaii. Photo credit Sherry Wernicke, Triathlon Traveling Mom.


If you want to sample Hawaiian regional cuisine, why not go to its home and try Merriman’s. This is Chef Peter Merriman’s locally sourced, upcountry restaurant.  Voted Best Big Island Restaurant for at least 15 years, it’s even been reviewed by the New York Times and LA Times. It’s open for lunch and dinner. We’d recommend making reservations.

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Dining al fresco at Merriman’s. Photo credit Merriman’s Waimea.

Original Big Island Shave Ice Company

This is what I was told from the locals and my in-laws who were recently there, “The most amazing shave ice EVER!!! It’s made from all natural juice, that the owner cooks and makes himself. The coconut tastes like Haupia!!!  All the natural selections are yummmo.”  Whether you go on your way to or from Waimea or Hawi, it’s located on 270, just about a mile down the road from the 19 junction. It’s literally a food truck in the Blue Dragon restaurant parking lot. Make sure you check the site for hours and days of operation.

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One of these could feed your whole family at Big Island Shaved Ice. Photo credit Sherry Wernicke, Triathlon Traveling Mom.

And you may also want to check out Hawaiian Style Cafe, which is great at anytime of day, but is known for its pancakes and what triathlete doesn’t eat pancakes.  Big Island Brewhaus is great for homemade beers and Mexican food, most of whichis grown locally and is organic.  They believe great food deserves great beer which deserves great people who deserve great music (Tues, Thurs, & Fri).  Love that philosophy. And if you’re in the mood for pizza and find yourself in Kona, don’t miss the Kona Brewing Company.  It’s one of the most popular restaurants on the island, especially during Ironman Kona.

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Taking a siesta after enjoying the Hawaiian cuisine. Photo credit Sherry Wernicke, Triathlon Traveling Mom.