Escapes: They did it! 20 meals for $20 on Hawaii Island

Fish tacos rest atop taro tortillas at Hula Hula's restaurant in Hilo, Hawaii.
Fish tacos rest atop taro tortillas at Hula Hula’s restaurant in Hilo, Hawaii.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Imagine you and a traveling companion are on Hawaii Island for a week and you want to find the best of the local cuisine that’s also budget friendly. Your quest takes you to three or four restaurants a day where you order, oh, say, two or three entrees. By Day 7, you just want to say no. But you can’t.

That was the world of writer Rosemary McClure and photographer Mel Melcon, whose mission was exactly that: Find 20 restaurants where you can have a nice meal for less than $20.

My name is Catharine Hamm, and I’m the travel editor for the Los Angeles Times. And I’m also in awe of these two, who document places where you can eat like a local. The most recent addition to our “20 Meals for $20” series shows off lesser-known places on Hawaii Island where delicious and authentic intersect.


That’s just the beginning of our Hawaii coverage, which includes a look at the very different experiences you’ll have on Molokai and Lanai, tells you where to find golf courses that won’t set you back a week’s pay and shows off five pizza places in Honolulu.

Beyond the islands, we tell you about a traditional holiday dinner at Yosemite that’s like no other, when our ski resorts will open (sooner than you might think), a delay in reopening a Death Valley icon and where to find a mummy macaron. You’re about to embark on a veritable feast.

Eating too much so you don’t have to

Besides a lot of research ahead of time, the 20 meals for $20 team has to experience the places they showcase. By my calculation, they had at least 65 meals in seven days, probably more. I asked McClure if she ever gets sick of it. “Yes!” she told me in an email. “We count down from Day 1: 18 left, 12 left, seven left. We have to push ourselves to do the last three or four restaurants.”

But there’s an upside: “I love visiting the island mom-and-pops,” she said. “The people are so sincere and enthusiastic about their businesses and really want locals and tourists to taste and enjoy their food.” Check out their finds, and let us know if you have additions to the list.

Oh, how different they are

Lanai and Molokai aren’t the rock stars of Hawaii tourism, and at least one of them likes it that way. Jim Byers reports how one of those two lesser-visited islands has embraced the tourist, while the other has welcomed him but then reminded him to please go home.

Should you visit? Of course. But keep in mind that your visits will be very different depending on which one you choose.


Halawa Valley on Molokai.
(Reimar/Shutterstock )

Pizza, pizza

In Hawaii? Well, yes, and we’re not just talking about the kind with pineapple, ham and cheese, James Charisma writes (and that pizza wasn’t born in Hawaii, either). He suggests five great pizza joints in Honolulu where you can get yourself a piece of the pie.

Playing a round in Hawaii

Writer Ken Van Vechten is a golf aficionado, but he knows a good value when he sees one. He tracked down eight places in Hawaii where you can enjoy the game and keep your budget relatively intact.

Scotty’s Castle reopening delayed

If it seems a long time since Death Valley’s Scotty’s Castle was damaged by a flash flood, it’s because it was. A flood in October 2015 caused nearly $50 million in damage. At first, it was thought repairs would take only a year. Now the completion date is set for 2021, the National Park Service says. In the meantime, you can take a flood recovery walking tour, Mary Forgione writes.

Visit giant California sequoias without moving a muscle

OK, a few muscles, but you don’t have to go quite as far to see the amazing trees. From noon to 2 p.m. Sunday, you can experience them through virtual reality as part of a presentation about climate change in L.A. There are concerns about the trees’ health — in fact, concerns about all plant life — in the face of hotter-than-usual droughts, Mary Forgione writes.

Let the merriment continue

The Ahwahnee is back, and so is the Yosemite Bracebridge dinner. Neither went away, but the iconic Yosemite hotel — renamed amid a legal dispute — is once again the Ahwahnee. It feels like a homecoming that the dinner, which its producing stage director calls “one part pageant, one part musical, one part immersive comedy, with a fabulous seven-course meal wrapped around it,” is nearly upon us and still has tickets. Mary Forgione has particulars.

Mummy macarons and monster milkshakes

Theme parks and Halloween go together like sangria served in an IV blood bag, don’t you think? If you said yes, take a look at some of the wonderful and weird offerings our area theme parks are touting in the spirit of Halloween, and in hopes of creating social media buzz, Hugo Martin writes.

Misplaced miserliness?

Sue Sanders and her husband, Jeff, were traveling to Asia, a place she had roamed in her youth — so she knew how to do frugal. When he opened a can of nuts from the hotel minibar, she saw red. This Departure Points, an occasional column on how travel changes us, explains that differences may define us but don’t need to defeat us. Worth a read if you ever travel with someone.

Koh Rong Sanloem in Cambodia, where the reality of an argument became clear.
Koh Rong Sanloem in Cambodia, where the reality of an argument became clear.
(Yanick Targonski/Getty Images/RooM RF)

Another opening, another snow?

Mother Nature teased us last month with a taste of snow up north. Now resorts have announced opening dates, so let’s hope for another snow. Mary Forgione details which resorts are opening when, including what’s on tap for our Southern California snow playgrounds.

What we’re reading

And watching. This Atlas Obscura article by Vittoria Traverso introduces us to Kate McLean, an English artist who explores cities for their smells. Also take a look at the YouTube video as McLean leads and follows people in Canterbury, England, as they help to divine its smellscape, which includes wet dog, hot metal, tomato paste and yeast.

Paul Theroux is a master storyteller who travels and, of course, a traveler who tells stories. His prose is so vivid and fluid that you feel as though you’re with him. To get an idea of his newest book, “On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Journey,” start with this New York Times piece excerpted and adapted from “Snakes,” published Oct. 8. A quick nibble: “One of the greatest thrills in travel is to know the satisfaction of arrival, and to find oneself among friends.” Amen.

Victoria Kim details a different kind of journey in an article that is ostensibly a food story but speaks broadly to the people we call family and the places we call home. “South Korea Born, East L.A. Bred: A Seoul Taqueria for a Homesick Chef” tells the story of Christian Morales, a foster child who was raised by an abuela in Boyle Heights but later was deported to South Korea. Now he’s serving the foods he grew up with. It’s a story of hope and dreams realized.

Christian Morales in the bar of his Mexican restaurant, El Pino 323, in Seoul, South Korea.
(Woohae Cho / For The Times)

What you’re reading

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“Great article about Santa Barbara,” he said of our recent affordable luxury story that explained how to visit Santa Barbara without breaking the bank. ”Much needed as their pricing for visiting this wonderful region has skyrocketed. Keep up the good writing.” Of course, that didn’t hurt our feelings one bit, but if you have constructive criticism, we’re open to that as well. Your thoughts welcome by email at

End paper

I’m not making this up: I was sitting in my home office working on the newsletter, and the cat jumped down from her chair (and it is her chair), walked over to my desk, looked soulfully into my eyes and vomited. I tried not to take it personally. She must be a Dodgers fan too.

It’s that time of year when things are kind of upside down and out of order. It’s fall, and it’s 95 degrees. There’s still baseball to watch, but who cares? (I started my fanhood adoring the Washington Senators, who were so bad you had to really be a fan. A Nats cap taunts me from the bookcase.) Leaves are turning and falling — from my hibiscus, which I think got pruned to death.

My solution is always the same: Take my bad attitude and get out of town. In the coming days, I’ll pack my bags, jump on a plane and head for El Paso, for my national convention. (Do not think about burglarizing my house, thank you, lest my other cats throw up on you and the security system does the electronic equivalent.) In El Paso, I will see beloved travel colleagues in a town that has held it together since Aug. 3, when a gunman killed 22 and injured two dozen others and many more who suffer wounds we can’t see.

Of all the gifts of travel, perspective is perhaps the most valuable and least appreciated. Thank you, universe.

Now I must go clean up that orange spot on the rug.

Wherever you are, travel safely and well, and remember we will always be here to welcome you home.