Tibetan parasols, strings of Christmas lights and acres of bamboo screens brighten the picturesque century-old building that houses the funky Bamboo Restaurant & Bar in tiny Hawi at the northern tip of the Big Island. The restaurant is so well known locally that diners drive an hour or more for the grilled fish ($15.95), barbecued pork ($9.95) and Thai coconut prawns ($9.95). The building, once a hotel, later a dry goods store, offers an interesting backdrop for the dining room and upstairs art gallery. Dinner prices are too high to be included in our survey ($13.95-$33.95), but lunch will fit your budget. The restaurant makes a good stop on the way to the Pololu Valley Lookout at the end of the highway.
We loved: exploring the upstairs art gallery.
Bamboo Restaurant & Bar, Highway 270, Hawi; (808) 889-5555, http://www.bamboorestaurant.info
14--KOHALA COFFEE MILL & TROPICAL DREAMS
It's not exactly 31 flavors — only 10, actually — but on a hot day, who's counting? Tropical Dreams ice cream, made in nearby Waimea, is an island favorite, and this small shop in the village of Hawi is ideally located for sightseers touring the northern end of the Big Island. Yes, we know, ice cream isn't really a meal. (If you want something more substantial, you can get a burger for $7.25 at the Kohala Coffee Mill, which takes up half this shop.) But if you're in the mood for ice cream, Tropical Dreams is a winner. Try one of the Hawaiian flavors: Kona coffee, macadamia nut or chocolate coconut macadamia nut. It's $3.55 for a scoop; hot fudge sundaes are $6.85.
We loved: the creamy texture.
We didn't love: the lack of some standard flavors.
Tropical Dreams, Highway 270, Hawi; (808) 889-5577.
15--HAWAIIAN STYLE CAFÉ
If you're really hungry, visit the Hawaiian Style Café in Waimea for its huge portions — and pay $10.95 or less for them. While you're here, you'll be breaking bread with the locals at a diner that's loaded with character and Old Hawaii flavor. The café, in a rundown strip mall, doesn't look like much from the outside, but the dining room is cute, in a tropical-backwater sort of way. And you won't believe the portions. Looking for a giant Spam Loco Moco (rice, topped with Spam, a fried egg and lots of brown gravy, $7.95)? How about a huge Portuguese sausage and ham omelet ($8.25)? Hawaiian Style Café is open only for breakfast and lunch, so be sure to get here before 1:30 p.m. Besides a giant appetite, bring cash; credit cards are not accepted.
We loved: making friends with the locals.
We didn't love: the cash-only policy.
Hawaiian Style Café, 65-1290 Kawaihae Road, Waimea; (808) 885-4295
16--HULI SUE'S BARBECUE & GRILL
Find the Big Three — great service, ambiance and barbecue — at this cheerful cafe in a former general store near Waimea. The restaurant, painted bold citrus colors and furnished with a funky assortment of picnic and farmhouse tables and chairs, features fall-off-the-bone ribs ($16), pot roast ($15) and burgers ($12). Barbecue plates include sides such as ranch-dill slaw, baked potatoes, onion rings, veggies and an awesome corn pudding. This is an ideal place to grab a meal if you're driving to Hilo from the Kailua-Kona area or Waikoloa.
We loved: the fun ambiance and the sweet-and-spicy barbecue sauce.
Hawaii: 20 Big Island meals for less than $20
Faced with pricey restaurants, what's a budget-conscious visitor to do? Local food experts dish on the best deals for 'ono kine.'
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