Big Island Roundup
New options, old favorites and a lot of rental-car miles in between.
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19-3948 OLD VOLCANO RD., VOLCANO VILLAGE // 808-967-7366 // DINNER NIGHTLY 5:30 P.M. to 9 P.M. // www.kilauealodge.com
Up in the chilly rain forest, Kilauea Lodge has a wonderful, homey feel to it: high-beamed ceilings, roaring fireplace, waitresses in dowdy dresses with warm, welcoming attitudes.
I had “Safari Schnitzel”—which turned out to be Wiener Schnitzel made with ostrich instead of veal, pounded flat and tender, and topped with a white sauce, almost an alfredo, with the tart tang of citrus and capers. The glaze on the sauce indicated, to me at least, that it may have contained some artificial stabilizer. But nonetheless, the dish worked, warming you on a cold night. Dinner comes with soup. You have twochoices. The coconut-celery soup was the single worst combination of flavors I’ve ever encountered. I’d stick with the Alsatian soup, which, while salty, is full of beef and bacon heartiness.
Desserts were dessert-tray stuff—Grand Marnier crème brûlée, chocolate peanut butter cake. The latter reminded me of my mom’s cooking.
Dinner was not inexpensive, $140 for two. But the wine list was reasonable, including the bottle of game-meat-friendly Edmeades zinfandel ($35).
But here’s why you should love this restaurant. Many guests come here for their birthdays, but they don’t get the usual out-of-tune, dispirited “Happy Birthday to You” from the waitstaff with dessert.
Instead, Kilauea Lodge has its own signature birthday song, an uptempo number which assures the celebrant that, despite their advancing years, they “look good, look fine, hope you had a real good time.”
I did, and it wasn’t even my birthday.
45-690 PAKALANA ST., HONOKAA // 808-775-0598 // www.texdrivein.com
Tex’s Drive In is a landmark on the long drive from Kona to Hilo, a tour bus stop and an official Visitors Center.
The name has nothing to do with Texas. It was founded by a family named Texeira.
Tex’s is an accomplished local drive in, with 90 items on the menu. Instead of mac salad, you can get a fresh mesclun of local greens on your $8.25 hamburger plate.
Tex’s has a display kitchen devoted solely to malassadas, which it claims are “world famous.” It sells 60,000 a month.
I paid my 48 cents for one and was disappointed. Tex’s malassadas are square, yeasty, heavy—more like a sugar-crusted dinner roll. At the risk of seeming O‘ahu-centric, you are much better off at Champion, Agnes’ or Leonard’s.
75-5719 ALII DRIVE, KAILUA-KONA // 808-327-2125 // LUNCH MONDAY TO SATURDAY 2:30 P.M.; DINNER NIGHTLY 5 P.M. to 10 P.M. // STREET OR PUBLIC PARKING, MAJOR CREDIT CARDS // www.fujimamas.com
If Fujimamas were in Honolulu, say, tucked off Kapahulu Avenue, it would be a huge hit.
It’s got it all—a funky, trendy space, wooden tables, paper lanterns, outdoor seating. Plus a sushi bar and a modern Asian fusion pupu menu.
On top of that, before 6 p.m. the entire pupu menu is half off. “Order lots,” said the waitress. We had a few glasses of Sophia Coppola California sparkling wine and did just that.
Dinner kicked off with a seared ahi plate. Nothing subtle here; the ahi block had been rolled in togarashi, so that it lit up your tastebuds with fire.
There was enjoyable grilled eggplant, triangles of sautéed tofu steak and, best of all, a large plate of handmade Chinese noodles, in a deft sweet-and-sour sauce, stir-fried with mushrooms, which the menu called wild, but were clearly from Hamakua.
This light dinner, with tip and wine, totalled about $75, not cheap, but not bad for a few steps off the main tourist strip in Kona town.