Empire Cafe is located along Haili St. in downtown Hilo. Empire is famous for its Filipino cuisine which is extremely scary if you aren't used to it. This may be a place you want to stop in to experience something different from the barrage of local food. My cousin once worked for his dad's friend the owner, Dan, a long time ago.
Cafe 100 was founded by a man named Mr. Miyashiro who served in the famed 100th Infantry Army Battallion during World War II. Miyashiro and his wife had originally opened the diner in 1945 and renamed it to what it is now in honor of his battallion. Though the original owners pasted away, the restaurant still stands as a land mark here in Hawaii.
Cafe 100 lays claim to the invention of the "loco moco" which is served in mostly all of Hawaii's restaurants nowadays. A loco moco is a simply made dish in a saimin bowl. Loco moco is made up of a bed of hot rice, a hamburger patty, and topped with an over easy egg with brown gravy. There are many different combinations now especially if you go to Ken's. There are many different meat choices and ways the eggs are prepared as well as kinds of rice.
Aside from that, they serve all kinds of stuff. For you budget travellers, they have this thing called stew gravy and rice. It's supposed to be less than a dollar and satisfying.
Favorite Dish: It's been a while since I've been here but from what I can remember, they've got really good beef stew.
You are usually given the option of taking macaroni salad or tossed salad with most of your dishes.
Ocean Sushi Deli and Tsunami Grille are in seperate buildings across the street from each other. Both establishments operate under the same owner. The odd thing about this place is that the waitress will take your order and run it across the street if they don't have it on their menu. What I mean is, they use both menus and if you order from the otherside, they don't make it so they have to run across a busy street... dangerous. The restaurants are smack dab in the middle of the old downtown area and on a one way zone making it hard to turn around. What's worse is that you need to parallel park on this busy road to get to either place. However, the place is still busy daily and the food is good.
Both restaurants are in need of a make-over as the decor is anything but inviting (mismatched chairs/tables, old carpet, etc). They have one waitress working the whole floor which means a long wait to take your order and receive it. They prepare everything fresh which is a plus! but adds to the wait. All in all it's a nice little diner but nothing worth visiting if you're on vacation.
Favorite Dish: Veggie-Ten Roll (six or ten piece) - This is great served with the spicy mayo sauce. All vegetable sushi roll with tofu skin, carrots, cucumber.
Uptown (six or ten piece) - The uptown is a terri-chicken wrap encased in rice and lettuce with terriyaki sauce.
Downtown (six or ten piece) - The downtown is breaded white meat chicken wrapped in rice and nori (seaweed wrap) served katsu style with tongkatsu sauce.
They have several seafood choices but I HATE seafood!! lol.
Nori's has been a local favorite since it's start. It had its humble beginings in a small hole in the wall that went through a big renovation a few years back. Now, Nori's operates two outlets in Hilo and in Waimea on the Big Island. The restaurant is known for its Saimin specialties to numerous to name! Stop in on a rainy day and I'm sure it will satisfy your soul. They are also known for their terriyaki chicken and mochi cakes. Nori's also has a mini store inside with loads of merchandise and snacks for the road or to ship home.
Favorite Dish: My favorite dish is the Hamburger Steak with terriyaki sauce. It's served with rice (big in Hawaii) and macaroni salad (also big here). Have it with their hot mustard and shoyu and your sinus' will be singing! If you need to clear it out, that will do it.
The terri-chicken sticks are awesome as well as their Won-Ton-Min dish loaded with udon.
Ken's House of Pancakes is hands down THE BEST restaurant in Hilo. It is one of the only places that doesn't close down at 10pm with the rest of the city. Ken's is open 24 hours a day 7 days a week so whenever you need a fix, head on down there. They have a great menu that caters mostly to breakfast which is their trademark. You may order anything any time of the day though! Spaghetti for breakfast? no problem! The restaurant has been in operation from the 70's I believe, long before my time. Upon walking in, you will notice that it is a bit dated meaning they still have those old vinyl seats and same decor from 20 years ago. They've done minor upgrades here and there, mostly to the outside. I do not suggest going there in the mornings, especially on Sunday... You will be sitting in the wait area for a good half hour before they call your name for a table. The best time to go is mid day or in the wee hours of the morning. For such a busy restaurant, they have very limited parking so you may end up parking next door at Wiki Wiki Mart. The food is great, the staff is friendly, and you leave satisfied!
On top of that, their menu is very diverse and you have lots to choose from.
Favorite Dish: I recommend any omlette on the menu as it is their house specialty. My favorite is the Chef's Choice Omlette or #36. Three eggs stuffed with Italian sausage, spinnach, and mushrooms topped with their delicious mushroom gravy. This comes with your choice of pancakes or toast and hashbrowns, rice, or frenchfries. Have it with pancakes and hashbrowns with their lilikoi syrup. Oh.... to die for.
I also suggest their Mushroom Burger... all homemade patties.
Their french fry basket is well worth the price of $3 as they serve it in a real basket! Large order. Have it with mushroom gravy poured all over.
Blanes Drive In is a popular local diner most noted for their boneless chicken plate and slush floats. Blanes is owned by two brothers... Blane and... the other guy who rhymes with Blane... Shane! Prices are resonable though some menu items are a little over priced for a diner. They frequently renovate the restaurant to keep it clean and shiny.
Here, you'll find a myriad of local cuisine which normally includes a heaping scoop of rice and a side of macaroni salad on a bed of lettuce. Local favorites are of course, the deep fried bonless chicken plate, hamburger steak, grilled pork chops, milkshakes, and other diner foods. They also have a nice breakfast menu that can be likened to truck stop cuisine in the mainland US. Blanes also offers family dinner packs.
Favorite Dish: y favorite would have to be their hamburger steak plate. You can get this in either teriyaki style (sweet) or regular (with brown gravy). I'd go with the regular as their teri style tastes very dry.
I also love their strawberry slush floats! These are excellent on a hot day and are not expensive. I read somewhere that many non-Americans have never heard of a float. I was flabbergasted! Floats are basically vanilla ice cream topped off with the cola of your choice - Coke, Pepsi, Root Beer. A&W brand root beer is the best in floats. Blanes does business with Pepsi so you won't get Coke here.
Soontarees has been around for a while but I only took notice of it last week! I wanted to try this new Pakistani restaurant called Akmals but they were closed so I went next door. I figured, why not try something new! I'm trying to be healthy anyway. To my surprise, their selection was interesting to say the least. I give them points for originality but what's lacking may be the marketing. They provide several vegetarian dishes on an all meatless menu. They also specialize in French deserts of all things! So imagine a health food store/bakery in paris. They may not have the tastiest stuff but what do you expect, it's health food!
The only thing is, the prices are way too much for a regular splurge.
Favorite Dish: I absolutely fell in love with their felafel (two for $5.99). They only serve it with a bean veggie pattie (remember, no meat) but its awesome. I also tried their summer rolls but the mint in it turned me off since its too strong. It was neatly wrapped and presented though.
As for desert, I had the Lilikoi shortbread cookie. AWESOME! but costs $2.29 for a small piece! I also tried a desert with a pumpkin exterior and cream/flun like interior. Also very delicious but expensive!
Hiro's Place is tucked away in a small corner alongside KTA Superstores in the Puainako Town Center southside. Hiro's is a great little buffet style pick and choose place. They also have a menu from the grill. The only problem with their food you'll notice is the severe unhealthiness of it all :p.
Favorite Dish: Their loco moco plate with fried rice and mac salad is the best. Again, the gravy really makes it good but their friend rice only makes it better. Order it with over medium eggs.
For the early birds, they have affordable breakfast items.
Ohana Cafe used to be known as Elsie's Fountain back in the 50's. The original decor is still there making this place look extremely dated. The restaurant is located right next to the Flipside Too bar in the corner. The restaurant is opened up on one side. The food wasn't bad at all but honestly, I've had better. The hosts were very curtious and yes, they are Chinese! My gripe here is that they didn't vacuum the floor regularly or at least didn't change it out to tile. Asthetic improvements can surely fix up the place.
Favorite Dish: I've only eaten the swiss burger which was actually very good! They have homemade patties which gives it a nice touch. Their onion rings were good with the korean dipping sauce it came with.
Sunshine Cafe is fairly new on the block. The owners are Chinese who specialize in American cuisine. Their breakfast foods are great but a little small on the portion. What you first notice is how clean and sleak the place is. I love the design. It feels like a Starbucks almost.
Favorite Dish: They have very good omlettes. It's been a while since I went there but they give you different choices. Aside from the regular menu items, they have some off color things to choose from.
Price wise, I wouldn't recommend it but it's a nice little place to eat.
Miyo's always makes me feel like I'm in Japan or something. The decor and surroundings on the Wailoa State Park gives it a very oriental feel. Though some reviews are negative about this place just think of it as authentic. They do not have any local stuff here besides the odd few things but no major food items. The restaurant is opened until 2pm for lunch and opens later for dinner. Their food is some of the best you'll try here.
Favorite Dish: Their chicken katsu plater comes with loads of fresh vegitables. They're known for their healthy style of Japanese cooking. The tempura plater is great for large groups stopping in for a meeting.
Don's Grill is one of the top restaurants to go to in Hilo. In a place full of local cuisine, Don's Grill rises above with nothing of the sort on the menu. You'll find mostly American cuisine and favorites such as shrimp, steak, all that stuff. Don's is a good place to take your family if you're visiting Hilo for the day. Arrive early because the place can get busy really quick.
Favorite Dish: Their pasta dishes are excellent especially their clam linguini. I don't like seafood at all but for this I'll eat it. Their vegitable pasta medley is good as well.
Freddy's and Manono Mini Mart are in opperation together. Freddy's is the restaurant portion which is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Most of the restaurant is closed until dinner time. The prices are a little high but the portions are large and can last you two meals. They've got good breakfast foods, most of them local favorites including spam, yes spam! Remember, it's popular here.
Favorite Dish: Cafe 100 may have created it but Freddy's does it better when it comes to loco moco. What makes theirs so good is the gravy and fried rice addition.
Manono Mini Mart is a great little stop off before heading off to Kona or the beach. This isn't really a restaurant but they are connected to one. This is a convenient store that serves things on the go. They are best known for their sandwich variety and other quick local favorites.
The mini mart is connected to Freddie's right next door and is under the same ownership.
Favorite Dish: Their chicken salad sandwich is one of the best I've ever tasted. Not only is it affordable but they serve a nice portion.
Kow's is best known for holding family functions. Asian tradition usually involves hundreds of friends and family meeting together in celebration. Kow's normally accomidates up to about 155 pax. Even if you're there for a family dinner, you'll find a wide variety. They serve both Chinese-American cuisine and authentic stuff.
Favorite Dish: I am not a lover of Chinese food really but I do like their cake noodles and vegitable medley.
Their Chinese almond cookies are awesome as well!