30 Meals Under $30
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$18! Cornmeal-crusted catfish with ranch-dill slaw and garlic-smashed potatoes ($11), corn pudding ($4), and a “bottomless” Ball jar of sweet tea ($3).
One whiff, one bite of this soft, white, steamy-crisp Louisiana catfish was a flashback to breakfast in Grandma’s kitchen on the days Grandad went fishing early. We go in for a Huli Sue’s barbecue fix: finger-licking pulled pork with li hing “crackseed” sauce (you can also buy it by the bottle), and come out full of catfish, mixed-cabbage coleslaw, fluffy, not-too-sweet corn pudding and recipe-box memories. Like Grandma’s, the floor creaks, the speckled tin cups clatter and the kitchen smells like it’s somebody’s birthday. Monday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. 64-957 Mamalahoa Highway, Kamuela (Waimea), (808) 885-6268, hulisues.com.
$16.75! Kahua Ranch Wagyu (Kobe style) Burger ($10.50), with toppings ($3 each) and an iced Thomas Kemper Natural Root Beer ($3.25).
Locavore nirvana in a corner café, Village Burger goes as far as to post on the wall where your food comes from and who provides it. One good chomp, and you can taste-travel from Hāmākua through Waimea farmlands and up to North Kohala ranch country, or down to the ocean for fresh-caught ahi, all patty-caked by hand daily and perfectly grilled to order. Top off your burger with “stuff” like Ahualoa chipotle goat cheese, avocado, tomato marmalade, Kekela Farms baby greens or “60-minute onions.” And, everything’s served on Eco-Stripe sustainable products. Monday to Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Parker Ranch Center, 67-1185 Mamalahoa Highway, Kamuela (Waimea), (808) 885-7319.
Reuben’s Mexican Food
$17! Homemade chips and salsa ($1.25), the No. 2 combo: two cheese enchiladas, beans and rice ($10.25); a side of corn tortillas ($1.25), beer ($4.25).
Step out of a rainy Hilo night into an exploded rainbow of a room, festooned with serapes and sombreros, strung with cut-paper flags fluttering to mariachi CDs. Crunch homemade chips, fired up with hot salsa, and down a cold Negra Modelo while you read all 44 combinaciones. Then surrender to Reuben’s big, buttery cheese enchiladas with refried beans and spicy rice, sizzling on a platter awash in just-right sauce, not too fiery, salty or heavy (don’t forget the extra tortillas). Or, blow the dinner budget on a shot of Don Julio Real ($50), just to say you did. Ole! Lunch and dinner Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 12 to 10 p.m. Sunday, 12 to 8 p.m. 336 Kamehameha Ave., Hilo, (808) 961-2552, reubensmexican.com.
Monstera Noodles & Sushi
$26.90! Calamari salad ($10.95), Caramel Monstera ($8.95), and a Hitachino Nest-White, a Japanese microbrew beer ($7).
hef Norio Yamamoto hates to sit still. Good thing, since he moved from The Fairmont Orchid early this year to boldly open this busy, izakaya-style eatery. The sushi bar’s a piece of tasty theater in itself, but undisputed non-sushi favorite is the chef’s lively calamari salad, with crispy-light seasoned rings on a pu‘u of Big Island greens, perfect with the gingery-citrus “witbier.” (Sauce-freaks, ask for spoons; the spicy garlic dressing is unslurpable with hashi). Do not skip dessert: a very fun munch of whole itty-bitty coconuts drizzled with warm, rich house-made caramel … and fresh fruits on Tropical Dreams Tahitian Vanilla ice cream. Lunch served daily, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and dinner, 5:15 to 9:30 p.m. The Shops at Mauna Lani, Upper Level No. 111, (808) 887-2711.
Café Il Mondo
$24.95! Garlic foccacia bread ($5), salad ($4.75), Greek calzone ($11.25), macadamia-nut pie ($3.95).
Tucked like a pocket handkerchief off old Mamane Street, Café Il Mondo waves fragrances of fresh basil and garlic out the front door. Bring your own bottle of wine (corkage fee is $2 for one person, $3.75 for two to four people). Next, savor your salad and a basket of hot foccacia while you watch Chef Jeff juggle pizza. The Greek calzone has fresh mushrooms, kalamata olives, onions, artichokes, bell peppers, feta and mozzarella cheeses, and housemade marinara. Finish your vino with Hawaiian Vanilla Co.’s new mac-nut pie. (No credit cards.) Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. 45-3626 Mamane St., Honokaa, (808) 775-7711.
$28! Five-course tasting menu.
There’s a reason Hukilau Lānai only offers its tasting menu from 5 to 6 p.m.; it’s a steal to get the quality and variety of this sampler made with mostly local ingredients. The five-course menu includes: sweet potato ravioli with a lemongrass cream sauce, arugula salad, fresh catch of fish, meatloaf made with Kaua‘i beef, and a choice of an “Artisan Cheese Duo” with local honey and baguette or a vanilla-bean crème brûlée. To splurge over the budget, pair each course with a selected wine ($40). Tuesday through Sunday, 5 to 9 p.m., tasting menu available from 5 to 6 p.m. Kauai Coast Resort, 520 Aleka Loop, Kapaa. (808) 822-0600.