Between star chefs and myriad local farms, the Big Island restaurant scene has really heated up in the last 10 years. Food writers from national magazines are praising the chefs of the Big Island for their ability to turn the local bounty into inventive blends of the island's cultural heritage. The Big Island has become a destination for vacationing foodies, who are drawn by the innovative offerings and reputations of world-renowned chefs and premier restaurants.
Resorts along the Kohala Coast have long invested in culinary programs that offer memorable dining experiences that include inventive entrées, spot-on wine pairings, and customized chef’s table options. But great food on the Big Island doesn't begin and end with the resorts. A handful of cutting-edge chefs have retired from the fast-paced hotel world and opened their own small bistros closer to the farms in upcountry Waimea, or other places off the beaten track. And, as some historic towns transform into vibrant arts communities, unique and wonderful restaurants have cropped up in Hawi, Kainaliu, and Holualoa, and on the east side of the island in Hilo.
Though the larger, gourmet restaurants (especially those at the resorts) tend to be very pricey, there are still ono grindz (Hawaiian slang for tasty local food) to be found at budget prices throughout the island, from greasy plate lunch specials to reasonably priced organic fare at a number of cafés and health food markets. Less populated areas like Kau, the Hamakua Coast, and Puna offer limited choices for dinner, but there are usually at least one or two spots that have a decent plate lunch or surprisingly good food.
In addition to restaurants, festivals devoted to island products draw hundreds of attendees to learn about everything from breadfruit and mango to avocado, chocolate, and coffee. Island tourism bureaus have also made an effort to promote agritourism, and it has turned into a fruitful venture for farmers. Farm tours afford the opportunity to meet with and learn from local producers and tour a variety of properties. Some tours conclude with a meal of items sourced from the same farms. From goat farms churning creamy, savory goat cheese to Waimea farms planting row after row of bright tomatoes to high-tech aquaculture operations at NELHA (Natural Energy Lab of Hawaii Authority), visitors can see exactly where their next meal comes from and taste the difference that local, fresh, and/or organic production can make.