Welcome to Hilo, Hawaii. These are some of the best restaurants that I’ve found in Hilo. I’ve also included my favorite things to do in town, plus a few photos from my visits.
Why you should trust me: I own a small apartment in Hilo. I’ve spent 5 weeks in Hilo over the past few years and have eaten out for every single meal. I lived in NYC for 13 years, which just means I am honest and/or blunt.
Last updated: March 2022
About Hilo, Hawaii
Hilo is a town located on the east coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. It rains a lot.
My friends and I bought a small condo here last year.
I can say that Hilo is green and wet and the people have all been friendly.
The Best Restaurants in Hilo
All of my restaurant recommendations are biased towards the downtown area and a fast-casual atmosphere. These are the best places that I’ve found.
Poke: Poke Market
[Google Maps] Friendly owner. Delicious fish that sells out often. Honestly it is the best poke I’ve ever had in my life. A must-visit.
- Must order: scoops of purple Okinawan sweet potato
- Must order: salmon poke
- Hours: 10AM to 3PM, Monday to Saturday
- Home page: Poke Market, LLC
Fish and Chips: Mo’s Fish And Chips
[Google Maps] The fish here was great: tender, juicy, and a crispy breaded batter that wasn’t too thick. My mother recently said this was one of her favorite meals of her entire trip to Hawaii.
- Must order: Ono, Hawaiian fish
- Must order: The Mahi and scallops
- Hours: 10:30AM to 6:30PM, Monday to Thursday and 10:30AM to 8:30PM, Friday and Saturday
- Home page: Mo’s Fish & Chips
Breakfast: Booch Bar
[Google Maps] I hate the new name of this place, but the food is great. (It used to be called Conscious Culture Cafe, which felt more authentic.) Vegetarian vibes with friendly staff and an earthy feel. I recently took my parents and sister here and they loved it. “Great food, hippy vibes.”
- Must order: Kela’s Platter: kimchi, scrambled eggs, cashew butter, and avocado over a bed of fresh vegetables.
- Must order: 10+ flavors of kombucha on tap. My favorite was the turmeric ginger.
- Hours: 8:00AM to 8:00PM, Monday to Sunday
- Home page: The Booch Bar Hilo
Pho: Pho 99
[Google Maps] My local friend told me that this is the best pho in Hilo. I’ve been 3 times now! Always good. Friendly owner and good soup.
- Must order: Crispy spring rolls
- Hours: 10:00AM to 7:00PM, Tuesday to Saturday
[Google Maps] A spirited and energetic Japanese-calling owner who walks around on wooden sandals. Surprising interior design. Delicious ramen.
- Must order: Fried chicken curry plate
- Hours: 11:00AM to 9:00PM, Monday to Sunday
Dessert: Kula Shave Ice
[Google Maps] Next to the Hilo Farmer’s Market. An absolute MUST VISIT. My favorite spot for shave ice in the world and definitely the best on the Big Island. Pro tip: do light flavor for a bit less sugar. Make sure to get it with haupia cream on top!
- Must order: Haupia cream on top of whatever you order
- Must order: The Local, soursop and lilikoi topped with haupia cream
- Hours: 9:00AM to 5:00PM, Wednesday and Saturday and 10:00AM to 5:00PM, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Sunday
- Home page: Kula Shave Ice
Dessert: Pandamonia’s Paletas
[Google Maps] Fantastic small-batch popsicles in a literal hole-in-the-wall shack connected to a commercial ice shop. Another MUST VISIT. Also known as Alii Ice Co Ltd.
I bring everyone here and they love it. My friends and I have made a spreadsheet charting each flavor in an attempt to try them all.
- Must order: Coconut cream, Peanut butter + chocolate, Mocha, and Mango (cream)
- Hours: 8:00AM to 3:30PM, Wednesday and Saturday and 8:00AM to 4:00PM, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday
It features over 30 unique flavors. $2 each, made with fresh fruit and cream.
Dessert: Papa’a Palaoa Bakery
[Google Maps] They make the best pie ever, especially the Lilikoi custard. Just get whatever they have available! Get a slice of pie here. And I don’t even like pie, but I like this.
- Must order: Lilikoi custard pie
- Hours: 7:00AM to 5:00PM, Monday to Saturday
Things To Do in Hilo, Hawaii
Rainbow Falls Park
Easy to see right from the road. Pull in and get a scenic view.
Pro tip: Walk up the path and into the woods to see a fantastic Banyan tree.
[Google Maps] Lava tube caves are very special. I had never been inside one before and I really liked it. You MUST bring a powerful flashlight. If you don’t have one, it is still cool, but you can’t get the full experience: you can only go inside about 100 feet. Still cool.
The majority of the hike into the cave was comfortable and interesting, with tall ceilings and a wide passageway. After 15 or 20 minutes of walking, we had to nearly get down and crawl. But it was never extremely claustrophobic.
Make sure that you have shoes, not sandals.
Richardson Beach Park
Probably the best easy, accessible beach in Hilo. Decent snorkeling. Shade to sit. Black sand. Showers to wash off and bathrooms nearby.
[Google Maps] Shallow water makes for easy snorkeling. Appropriate for the family, but it is a little hard to enter the water due to rocks.
Carlsmith Beach Park
[Google Maps] It is very shallow in all of this area. Much easier to get in the water, but it is VERY VERY cold due to the springs. I’ve seen sea turtles every single time I’ve gone here.
BONUS: Diary Entry – Morning in Hilo
There is a Main Street which we can walk to from our condo. Having a downtown area with restaurants and cafes nearby is a blessing.
I walked to one of the cafes. I ordered a breakfast platter with scrambled eggs, spinach, gluten-free toast, and a side of bacon. The service was pleasant. The food was unremarkable. (I haven’t reviewed it here.)
What was remarkable was the video playing on the television screen inside of the restaurant. Stacked DVDs with titles like “Birds of Hawaii” and “Underwater Adventures.”
The one playing is called VolcanoScapes 3. It features Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano, “the world’s most active volcano!” From the DVD description:
“Experience the agonizing struggle of those who live dangerously close to the Hawaiian Fire Goddess, Pele. The devastation and splendor of Pele’s most destructive eruption of the 20th century will captivate and amaze you.”
It was an arresting choice for background video over breakfast. To see houses on fire seemed like a strange way to wake up over scrambled eggs.
I ask the cafe staff about it. “We all knew what we signed up for when we moved here.” They told me about schools which were overtaken by lava. Farms they had worked on which are now covered 15 feet deep.
Later I saw wild chickens walking around the park downtown. Todd and I played frisbee here in the afternoon, which was fun and makes me happy. I like to throw the frisbee.
MEGA PHOTO BONUSES
A few years ago when I flew to Hilo with my friend Tynan, we took a red eye flight from Las Vegas to Honolulu.
I like Hilo. Thanks to Tynan for help buying and decorating our apartment there and being my tour guide in Hilo to show me all this stuff. I look forward to exploring more restaurants and activities in and around town.
My top favorite restaurants in Hilo, Hawaii, are as follows:
- Poke Market
- Kula Shave Ice
- Pandamonia’s Paletas
I realized that two-thirds of this list is for dessert and that likely explains why I’ve gotten a little bit fat!
Things I want to explore next time:
- Pohoiki, the newest beach in the world (from the volcano!)
- Kehena, a nude beach where you can also snorkel
- Macademia nut factory tour (closed after COVID?)
- More nature hikes!
- The West side of the island, especially for the night-time manta ray dive or snorkel
If you’re traveling around Hawaii, be sure to also check out Kauai Humane Society’s Borrow a Dog in Hawaii. And if you have a lot of money, definitely go stay at the Sensei Lanai Four Seasons Resort Hotel (my review).
Last updated on Friday, March 18, 2022 to add new pics, notes, and Google Maps links.
- Tania Said:
Sounds like a very special place. You made me want to visit. Thanks for all the helpful tips.
- Kelso Bradshaw: My new friend Kelso recently visited Hilo in June 2022. He used the notes from this article to help him explore town. Here’s what he sent to me afterwards.
Hi Nick, I really enjoyed Hilo. It was probably my favorite town I visited in Hawaii, coming from my exploration of Oahu, Kauai, and the Big Island. Favorite place was probably the Na Pali coast, or maybe even the lava tubes you recommended. I really loved those tubes.
My take on Hilo is that is has many of the normal appeals of Hawaii:
- Sea life/snorkeling
Without some of the negatives:
- Fake, over tourist-y stuff and people.
Plus, some unique benefits (at least from my experience):
- A lot of volcano stuff
- A little cheaper, it seemed to me.
- More noticeable local culture.
- Best airport experience. 10 minutes away, and love these couches in the lobby.
I added in the following activities too, in addition to many of your recommendations:
- Visiting the unofficial most southern point of the United States (on the SW tip of the island). There’s a cliff jumping spot here that I did. It has a ladder to climb back up the cliff. Cool experience.
- Seeing the lava at Halemaumau Crater at night. I wasn’t too impressed TBH!!! Sorry everyone!