Kona Grill House (Big Island, Summer 2022)

We left for Los Angeles in early-mid June and after a week or so there headed off to Hawaii for about two weeks. We spent most of a week on the Big Island and another on Kauai. I will spare you the rest of our vacation stories—we hiked, snorkeled, lounged on beaches and visited museums and botanical gardens—and tell you only about the food we ate. This was a very different vacation for us as none of it revolved around food. There were no specific restaurants we were aiming to eat at and none of our days were constructed with eating in mind: on all days we ate where we happened to be or picked up food on the way back from where we’d spent the day to where we were spending our nights. Nonetheless, we ate quite well. And it turned out that Hawaii is a very easy place to eat with our kids, as grilled or stewed meat with rice is almost universally available. There were two constants across our holiday: we consumed a lot of shave ice and god, did I eat a lot of poke. I may as well get these reports started with our very first meal on the Big Island, eaten just an hour or so after we picked up our bags at the airport.

We were staying in Honaunau, near the Captain Cook area, a little south of Kona on the western side of the island. The cabin we had rented was not going to be available till 4 pm and we were near Captain Cook by 3 pm. As it was 6 pm in our stomachs (which were on Pacific time) we decided to stop and eat lunch/dinner at 3. I’d seen references to Kona Grill House while checking out the general area we were going to be in and when Google Maps showed we were very close to it it is where we repaired. And a good choice it was too.

I’m not sure what the setup at Kona Grill House is like when there isn’t a pandemic on (the infection rates in Hawaii were quite high while we were there, by the way) but currently it is outdoor seating only. The restaurant is located at one end of a large unprepossessing concrete strip. You park, go in, order and then find seats at covered outdoor benches. You are called when your food is ready and you go in and pick it up and bring it back out (or take it away, as the case may be). Many places we ate at over the next two weeks had analogous setups and all of them without fail packed their food in compostable takeaway boxes.

What did we eat? The boys are normally discouraged from eating anything that looks like a burger when we are traveling but they made the case that if local ingredients were featured they should be encouraged to try them. And so the younger boy got the fish burger with the catch of the day (which as far as we could tell over our two weeks is always ahi no matter where you are in Hawaii); the older got the lobster and crab cake. My mother-in-law (who travelled to Hawaii with us) got the grilled catch of the day (yes, ahi), served atop brown rice with aioli over and wakame salad on the side; the missus and I each got a poke bowl with two scoops of poke. She chose the tako/octopus and wasabi ahi pokes and I went with the spicy and kimchi ahi pokes. The bowls/boxes were rounded off with rice, wakame salad and a bit of mac salad (another constant at many meals over the two weeks). Everyone enjoyed their food—and my favourite thing at the meal may have been the lilikoi (Hawaiian passionfruit) dressing both sandwiches came with.

A note about poke and time of day: most poke places set out the day’s fresh poke fairly early in the morning and most often sell out before midday. This was by and large the situation at Kona Grill House as well at 3 pm: most of the poke containers were empty and we chose the four the cashier recommended. But it was still very good poke for us mainlanders. Indeed, as I was to discover, it’s very hard to eat bad poke in Hawaii. On both the Big Island and on Kauai we bought a lot of poke from grocery stores and it was all very good (at least to our less developed palates).

For a look at the food and the setup at Kona Grill House, launch the slideshow below. Scroll down to see what’s coming next on the food front.

All of this ran to just short of $98 with tax and tip. Pretty good value for the quantity and quality, especially given we all ate fish. And we rather enjoyed eating outside—even though it wasn’t the most picturesque setting. This was also our first encounter with feral chickens, which are everywhere in Hawaii—though the situation on the Big Island cannot even begin to compare with that on Kauai, the only island free of mongooses and so also free of a predator to keep chicken/rooster populations down. At Kona Grill House we found the chickens all around us to be cute; by the end of our time on Kauai we never wanted to see, or more accurately, hear a rooster crow again.

Alright, what’s next on the restaurant report front? On Tuesday I’ll have a report on our meal at Myriel in St. Paul in June. Next weekend will see another Hawaii report and also the first of my Los Angeles reports. I’m going to have to have these coming at a steady clip to have any hope of getting them all done before the end of the year.



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