Grind Like a Local at These Ono Yet Affordable Eateries
One of our favorite parts of traveling is the food. Forget about the snazzy tourist traps with overpriced, mediocre renditions of your hometown fare. It’s time to duck into that side alley and eat where the locals eat. Delicious, cheap, and worth the lunchtime line. Here’s our guide to the best places to eat in Kona on a budget, and get a belly-full of Hawaii’s eclectic local food culture.
75-5725 Alii Dr Ste D101 Kailua-Kona, HI 96740
Welcome to sushi, Hawaiian style. Massive rolls packed full of the good stuff, including locally caught fish like Ahi tuna, fresh papaya and avocado, and creative renditions like teriyaki chicken with cream cheese. Their rolls are impressively filling, with eight pieces and start at $6.45 and $5.25 for vegetarian and vegan options. Try their Ninja Star Roll, made with Ahi tuna, avocado and tempura shrimp. Hayashi’s is insanely popular with locals. The best strategy is to put in your order, then go grab a coffee or walk around Ali’i drive while you wait - which can be as long as 45 mins some days. They have a small outdoor seating area. Hours are 11 am - 6 pm Monday through Friday, 11 am - 3:45 pm Saturdays, closed Sundays and holidays.
74-5565 Luhia St Kailua-Kona, HI 96740
“Broke da Mouth”, a local figure of speech for being incredibly delicious is aptly named. This spot, known for Filipino and Hawaiian style ‘plate lunch’ fare was featured on the TV show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives in 2018. Try their pork adobo fries - a side that eats like a meal - crispy french fries, topped with slow-cooked to-die-for pork adobo, creamy aioli sauce and green onions. Other favorites are their kalbi ribs and sweet and savory garlic furikake fried chicken. Sides start at $5.50, and combo plates at $11.99. This is the kind of food you need a nap after eating. Counter service with dine-in seating available, or take out. Hours are Monday - Saturday 11 am - 3:30 pm and 5 pm - 8:30 pm.
74-5487 Kaiwi Street, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740
A Mecca meeting place for health nuts, hippies, and everyone in between. While grocery shopping here is expensive, the hot bar and salad bar can make a quick, cheap eat if you’re savvy when it comes to food by weight - about $8 per pound. We like to load up on lighter salad items, then pick a few choice morsels from the heavier hot bar like veggie lasagna, bbq chicken, or seitan beef and vegetable stir-fry. The menu changes daily. A local secret - the hot bar goes on sale for 50% off at 6:30 pm Monday - Saturday and at 5:30 pm Sundays. Hours are Monday - Saturday 7:30 am - 8 pm, Sundays 9 am - 7 pm.
4. El Maguey
74-5563 Kaiwi St, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740
An authentic, reasonably priced Mexican spot with big portions, free chips and salsa, and a good selection of bottled beers for under $4. Beware dainty-mouthed diners, the salsa is spicy! Large combination plates served with rice and beans range from $9.50 to $13, and their ala carte menu has tacos for $2.50, and enchiladas and tamales for $3. In case you need some, they also sell their house made chorizo by the pound. Sit down table service or take out is available. Hours are 11 am - 3:30 pm and 5 - 8 pm Monday - Thursday and 11 am - 3:30 pm and 5 - 9 pm Fridays - Saturday.
75-5702 Kuakini Hwy Kailua-Kona, Hawaii 96740-1717
This is a great place for breakfast. They serve lunch and dinner also, but in our book, breakfast here is king - for good prices, giant portions, and hot, bottomless cups of coffee. If you’re up for a challenge, try their super loco moco - a Hawaiian staple of elephantine size. Also delicious is their griddle combo - a fluffy Belgian waffle or pancakes, two eggs, and choice of breakfast meat. Try the Portuguese sausage, another local specialty. Plates start at $8.95. This spot is popular with families on weekends, but the wait is usually never longer than 15 minutes. Just make sure you get there before the breakfast menu cut-off at 10:45 am! Table service, with take out available by phone. Hours are 7 am to 9 pm.
6. Harbor House
74-425 Kealakehe Pkwy #4 Kailua-Kona, HI 96740
Overlooking Kona’s Honokohau Harbor, this place is an institution for locals and visitors in the know. Famous for their ice-cold schooners of beer, they also serve up simple, filling lunch and dinner fare that’s perfect after a long day on the water. Burgers, fish and chips, fresh fish sandwiches, crispy french fries, salads and homemade chili - everything on the menu is good! Main plates start at $8.95 and pupus at $4.25. Join a motley crew of sailors, tourists in wetsuits and flippers, and locals for a lively pau hana happy hour 3 - 6 pm for $2.95 18 ounce schooners of Coors Light, Bud Light, and Budweiser. Schooners of local Kona brews are $5.25 all day. Bar and restaurant table service or take out is available. Hours are 11 am - 7 pm Monday - Saturday and 11 am - 6 pm on Sundays. They are strict about closing time, so be sure to arrive at least 30 minutes before closing to get seated for food service.
Additional nighttime grub spots worth mentioning include Ocean’s Sports Bar off Ali’i Drive in the Coconut Grove Marketplace. Stop by for their Taco Tuesday and Thursdays 4 - 10 pm for $2.50 tacos, TV, pool and loud music. Right around the corner is Get Sum Pizza, where you can get a decent-sized slice of pizza with choose your own toppings for about $4. Hours are 3pm - 10pm, and till 2am on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Well, friends, are you stoked for your next meal in Kona? We are excited for you. Remember, if you’re really down to your last dime, you can always fall back on Hawaii’s ultimate budget snack - the gas station musubi. If Anthony Bourdain was here, he’d most definitely try one.
Have a favorite place to eat on a budget in Kona? We want to hear about it!
About the Author
M the Writer is a blogger specializing in Hawaii travel and entrepreneurship. She landed on the beautiful Big Island in 2013 as a backpacker and has been stuffing her face ever since.