I have been fortunate enough to live on the Big Island of Hawaii for over 20 years and within that time period try just about every restaurant the island has to offer. I have even seen many of them change executive chefs several times and see a full menu makeover. While this is a relatively small list, I truly believe these are the top the Big Island has to offer. All the others that fall under the “fine dining” category fell short of this list in one way or another in my opinion. These both are similar in setting and in overall quality.
I do highly recommend taking one night during your stay on the Big Island and enjoying one of these restaurants. The ambiance as well as food are great and sure to give you a lasting memory of the Big Island of Hawaii. If you are traveling to Hawaii on a budget, these places definitely do not fall in that category.
CanoeHouse at Mauna Lani Bay by Auberge
When I first went to CanoeHouse in 2004 it was my favorite restaurant on the island. A few years later they began to change chefs and they drastically changed the menu for the worse. After Auberge took it over in 2000 the menu has been brought back to even better than in 2004.
CanoeHouse is located on an oceanfront setting with indoor as well as outdoor seating. If you are not a regular to the Big Island of Hawaii I recommend requesting outdoor seating and is it great sitting near the ocean. If you are a regular to the Big Island there are some casual couch dining areas inside that offer a very comfortable dining experience. If you are just stopping in for a cocktail and pupus, the bar is a nice location.
The menu is very unique and is labeled as “Japanese inspired”, but I would say overall it offers a Pacific Rim cuisine menu. The most notable item is the warayaki, which offers your choice of hay smoked tuna, kona kampachi, or wagyu. The presentation of this dish is what makes it stand out. It will be brought out to your table on a small grill and smoked in front of you.
While I am sure all the dishes on their menu are great, some of my personal favorites are their kona kampachi sashimi appetizer, wagyu tataki, ahi tataki kale salad, and the broiled Kona kampacki. While there is plenty of great things to choose from on the menu, we typcailly choose the coursed dinner that the chef chooses for the night. Within this dinner you will get to taste a variety of things on the menu in smaller portions and we have not been disappointed yet.
Currently if you are not staying at the Mauna Lani Bay hotel, CanoeHouse only accepts dining reservations 2 weeks in advance due to the high demand of guests staying at the hotel. If you wait until the last minute, it is very likely that you will miss out on getting a reservation.
‘Ulu Ocean Grill and Sushi Lounge at Four Seasons Hualalai
Ulu is nestled on an oceanfront setting at the world known Four Seasons Hualalai. Given that it located at the Four Seasons, we have found the food to be consistently good over the course of the last 20 years. It offers both indoor as well as outdoor seating and a nice bar area. The amazing view and surf can be enjoyed from any of these areas. For the most exclusive VIPs, there is a private dining space upstairs that offers spectacular views in a very private setting.
The menu offers a Pacific Rim cuisine as well as some of the finest sushi offerings on the Big Island of Hawaii. If you love great seafood, this is the place for you! While there are other dishes, all the top dishes in my opinion are based around seafood. If you like ahi poke, they prepare it table side and it is excellent. Some other items that are popular are sharable. They have the shellfish tower, which includes oysters, crabs, prawn, lobster, and some sashimi. They also offer these same items miso broiled. Ulu is also one of the few restaurants on the Big Island of Hawaii that offers caviar. While there are several entrees to chose from you can never go wrong with their fish special of the night. At Ulu, make sure to save room for dessert. They offer some awesome chocolate soufflees that everyone in our family loves.
Another favorite aspect of Ulu is that the hotel offers marshmallow roasting nearby. This is a great addition that allows your kids to get up from a longer dining experience and walk and do something they enjoy.
‘Ulu is also first available to hotel guests of the Four Seasons Hualalai and being open to the public varies on occupancy. If you want to dine here you definitely do not want to wait until the last minute.
Rob Dalton has been the owner at Waikoloa Vacation Rentals and lived on the Big Island of Hawaii for over 20 years.