Reliable, delicious and casual, with great views (kid friendly, too):
On the Rocks (http://huggosontherocks.com/): Great for lunch, happy hour and dinner. It's casual, right on the water at the South end of Alii Dr., and half of the tables are in the sand, under an awning. As I mentioned, they have live music nearly every evening, but note that they don't take reservations. Beachy feel. Great for a meal, or just drinks and appetizers.
Splasher's: It's nothing fancy, but the food (fresh fish, burgers, etc) is always fresh and reliably delicious, and the view is wonderful, and prices reasonable. The clam chowder and the fish and chips are stellar, as are the fish tacos, FYI. Upstairs, open air, right across from the ocean on Alii Dr, and great for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Nice island feel.
Kamana Kitchen: Fantastic Indian food with a great view. It's lunch specials are well-priced with large portions (dinner is a bit over-priced; lunch is best). Service is a bit slow, but the view and food are worth the wait. It's right on Alii Dr, in "Waterfront Row."
Quinn's Almost by the Sea: Lunch and Dinner (Breakfast on Sundays). Quinn's is a local favorite and an institution here in Kona. It's the country's southern-most Packer bar in the U.S., but more than that, it's also a place for really good food and a casual, friendly atmosphere. Aside from the bar area, there is an open-air (no view) back patio, and a front, air-conditioned side room. The fish and chips and fish tacos (go with the Ono for both) are DELICIOUS, and the portions for everything they have are generous. Service is always friendly, and they also do large groups (even over 20!), as long as you call at least 2 days ahead and it's not a Friday or a Saturday. Casual. Great for food, drinks and can accommodate large groups. This is next to Splasher's, as you go up the hill (rather than down to Alii Drive).
Foster's Kitchen: Lunch and Dinner. This is a relatively new place, next to the outdoor volleyball court on Alii Dr., and is upstairs above a coffee place and a few other things; closer to the south end of town, but not as far as Bongo Ben's. The view is wonderful, and there is ample space for larger groups. Very broad menu, all made from fresh ingredients. Take a look at their site for location and menu (www.fosterskitchen.com/).
Mercadito Rincon: Super delicious and inexpensive Mexican food. Lunch only. It's a food stall in the International Market. The food is fresh and delicious. The ceviche tostada (we love a combo of fish and shrimp) is to die for - fresh every day - if you like ceviche that is. But everything is superb. Great for a super casual, Mexican-style low cost lunch!
Bale: In the same plaza at the KTA in downtown Kona. Vietnamese sandwiches and pho. Very casual with almost no atmosphere, but totally worth the visit every time. The food is very affordable for Kona and it's delicious (and thus the place is usually packed with locals and tourists alike). For their pho, they have a mini-menu (on some paper on the wall, behind and to the right of where you order), and this is even big enough for the appetite of Uncle Dude, so consider the mini-menu when you order. The lemongrass chicken sandwich is our number one recommended sandwich. The bread is always fresh and they do an amazing job. Take out or eat in. Just don't expect beautiful surroundings. Lunch or Dinner.
Island Ono Loa Grill: This is a really delicious take on fast food with fresh ingredients and a friendly staff. They have Chicago style hot dogs, lots of interesting burgers - beef, chicken, and fresh fish, pork loin sandwiches, local grinds, and their french fries (freshly made each day) are to die for. It's a fast-food joint, but it's s pretty good atmosphere considering. It's tucked in off of Alii Drive, so go to their website for best how to get there, and to see their complete menu: http://www.islandonoloagrill.com/. Closed Wednesdays. Lunch or Casual Dinner.
Rebel Kitchen: In Kealakua (South Kona). Worth the drive. Interesting burgers, sandwiches, salads and wraps, tons of local beers on tap, wine, too. All of their rolls are fresh daily. They have a curry-catsup that is to die for, and a special spicy sauce as well. Lunch or Casual Dinner.
Chill'n on the Bay: This is a little beachfront bar, which also serves pretty good food. Frequented by tourists and locals alike. Open air, perfect for chilling with a drink and catching a reasonably-priced, pretty tasty meal. North end of Alii Drive, right across the street from the splash wall. Note that their menu has been changed from the one on their website (http://www.chillnhawaii.com/). They now have fish tacos, delicious wraps, poke, and a good variety of pretty tasty food.
Dan-o's Döner: In Waimea. Although listed as a "German" restaurant, this is actually the German take on Middle Eastern food, along with a whole slew of other interesting items; I am not even sure how to categorize it, since they serve such a broad range of items, but it's great for a super casual lunch when up in the Waimea area. Check out their Yelp! page for the best run-down on what they have by going here: www.yelp.com/biz/dan-os-doner-waimea
Umeke's: It's fresh poke (and some other awesome dishes) with fish straight from the docks that morning, with awesome, unique sides. There are now two locations. There is a sit-down place that is still in town (more expensive, loud and with some different food, but still good), near the public pool, and there is an in-town location, close to the Farmer's Market, which is the original - straight-forward menu and picnic tables outside, but there is really no ambience. Lunch or Dinner.
Shimaichi Sushi: Across the street from the Kona Public Library, just off Alii Drive. Casual, affordable, and super delicious. Inside and outside seating, although outside seating is recommended if you actually want to hear everyone at your table! No great view (you are overlooking the parking lot), but it's a super spot! In addition to killer sushi and sashimi, they have items like chicken teriyaki and amazing tempura, sure to satisfy even non-sushi eaters. Highly recommended for lunch or a casual dinner. Family friendly. Closed Mondays.
Hayashi's You Make the Roll: This is literally a hole in the wall place, and is up that blue alley, right off of Alii Drive, and around the bend to the left. It's hands down the best sushi you will ever have. However, like the Soup Nazi from "Seinfeld," they will close without warning to fulfill phone orders, and reopen when they have the capacity to take more. Be prepared to wait a LONG time, but it's worth it. There is zero atmosphere, although there are picnic tables (some with shade) to eat at, or you can take it away and enjoy somewhere prettier. Lunch only.
Ultimate Burger: In the plaza across the street from Target, close to downtown. Organic, grass fed beef, all local fresh toppings. A step up from a typical fast-food joint, but still quite casual. Nontheless, the BEST when you are just craving a REALLY good burger. Original atmosphere, that can be loud at times. No view. Surf competitions are usually on the two TVs inside. Good fries as well. Lunch or Dinner.
Coffee and/or Brunch with a View:
Papa Kona Restaurant and Cafe (formerly Daylight Mind Coffee Company): It's gorgeous, right next to Kamana Kitchen in Waterfront Row, right on Alii Dr. It is AMAZING for a cup of coffee or tea; just order your local Kona coffee at the counter when you come in, and head upstairs to the outdoor deck, overlooking the water. It's heavenly. The restaurant itself is gorgeous and great for breakfast, lunch or bunch. Open now for fine dining at Dinner. www.PapaKona.com
The Coffee Shack: This is a cute little place with a killer view, located in Captain Cook (on the main road as you head south from Kona). They have great coffee, and now really good food as well! It's a great place to stop on your way to "Two Step" (near Honaunau - the best snorkeling in all of Hawaii), or on any day trip South. Breakfast and Lunch. www.CoffeeShack.com
The Best "Nice" Places in and around this Side of the Island are:
In addition to Papa Kona Restaurant and Cafe (above):
Ulu at the Four Seasons: (Ulu Website). Romantic. Food and view (right on the water, and in a GORGEOUS setting) are to die for; drinks are ridiculously expensive, but the food is AMAZING, and reasonably priced for a fine dining experience, and totally worth every penny. Dinner.
Merriman's: This is in Waimea; farm to table experience. No view; spectacular, fresh food with imagination. Excellent service. Great for a special, white table cloth kind of dinner. Lunch or Dinner.
Brown's Beach House: At the Fairmont Orchid. This is further north than most of the restaurants on this list, but if you are staying up in that area, it is a wonderful choice, with beautiful views and great food. It comes highly recommended by many of my couples. Dinner. http://www.fairmont.com/orchid-hawaii/dining/brownsbeachhouse/
Huggos: www.huggos.com - Waterfront, right on Alii Drive, next door to the Royal Kona. This was off my list for years, but they've recently renovated and it's just lovely now! They have an open air bar (which used to be closed in), and waterfront dining with very friendly staff and excellent food. Dinner.
Jackie Rey's: The atmosphere is on the more casual side of a table cloth restaurant. It's a great local restaurant with really solid food on the nicer (and more pricey) end. Locals and tourists alike frequent this spot for a treat night out. No view, and it can be warm inside at times. You will definitely need reservations. Lunch or Dinner. www.jackiereys.com
Foster's Kitchen: (See info in first section above)
Napua at Mauna Lani Beach Club: Beautiful view, fine dining. Farm to table. Dinner. www.napuarestaurant.com
Don the Beachcomber: This is in the Royal Kona Resort, which is close in to town. You can actually see it from Huggo's on the Rocks. I don't believe they have live entertainment, but the atmosphere is stunning. The food can be spectacular, although it can also occasionally leave something to be desired if you are a true foodie. (Here's their website: http://www.royalkona.com/Dining.cfm; you can pull up the dinner menu from there). Dinner.
Avoid at All Costs:
Fish Hopper. MEDIOCRE food and bad service, especially for the prices. It's always crowded with people who get trapped by their free samples on the sidewalk, and excellent view. DON'T GO.
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