You are a smart traveler, ready to tackle the Big Island on a budget. After finding a great flight deal and the perfect tiny house on Airbnb, you’re ready to eat like a local. It will be easy to go the grocery store for eggs, avocado and mango for breakfast. You can make sandwiches to take to the beach or have an apple banana and a protein bar while hiking. That leaves your food budget for the best Big Island vegetarian restaurants.
It is actually a lot easier to eat vegetarian on the Big Island than one might imagine. In the land of Spam, pork and poke you can find some pretty amazing vegetarian meals without having to look too hard. On our recent visit to Hawaii we had a lot of fun trying out the best Big Island vegetarian restaurants.
Our favorite spot may have been Papa’s Palaoa Bakery in Hilo. I think we visited it on three separate occasions during our Hilo stay. Our search for a post dinner treat (the panforte is perfect!) initially brought us in their door. What brought us back was the vegetarian pizza, the seitan sandwich (with almondaise!) and the special Saturday-only savory scones. Try one before you hit the Hilo Farmer’s Market around the corner. (Bonus: you can get vegetarian tamales at the Hilo Farmer’s Market.)
After our morning tasting tea with Eliah at Kilinoe Forest Farm we were understandably hungry. The “outlaw” town of Pahoe wasn’t far so we ventured to Tin Shack Bakery. It’s not so easy to find but it helps to be looking for an actual tin shack. Yes, the restaurant doesn’t look like much but the selection of vegetarian food is extensive and delicious. I enjoyed the Cultured Vegan sandwich and the eclectic atmosphere. You will LOVE the macadamia nut cheese, made in house, and a treat from their collection of yummy baked goods.
We didn’t learn about the ease of the Saddle Road until the end of our stay, so our initial drive across the island was the long way. We went north, through Waimea, on a windy and rainy day that didn’t lend itself to much exploring. However we did stop for a tasty lunch. If you find yourself hungry driving through or after a visit to the Parker Ranch be sure to stop at the Lilikoi Café. The Vegetarian with Onions, Eggplant and Zucchini sandwich is like ratatouille on really good bread and big enough to share. That leaves room for one of their delicious desserts or fresh vegetable juice blends.
Did I mention our first full day on the Big Island we did nothing? I don’t think either of us realized how stressed out and in need of a break we were until we arrived at Ka’awa Loa Plantation. After retreating to the calming quiet of the house and spending a little time with our gracious host, Hannah, we decided that we would spend our one full day there sitting on the lanai relaxing and recharging before we set out to explore the very Big Island. While it’s not a Big Island vegetarian restaurant, one small part of the reason to stay at Ka’awa Loa Plantation is the delicious breakfast that Hannah will make for you each morning.
Not everything on the buffet is vegetarian but Hannah will make you eggs without cheese and always offers up a selection of native fruits like banana, mango and pineapple. The coffee is brewed from beans from the plantation house grounds and there will probably be shredded coconut to put on your peanut butter toast or fruit and granola bowl.
During our stay at K’awa Loa we only ventured out for dinner. Out of the two places we ate, Loko Wraps on of the best. If you’ve never tried jackfruit their barbecued version is the perfect introduction! We got our order to go and I enjoyed the barbecue jackfruit tacos with coconut rice and pineapple coleslaw while watching the sunset from the lanai at the guest house. With limited seating, you’ll want to get your order to go too. Take it to a nearby beach park or back to your own home away from home to enjoy the simple feast that Loko Wraps provides.
I saved the best for last, quite literally. Our last day on the Big Island we made the drive back to Kona from Hilo via the Saddle Road for a late afternoon flight. We had time to visit the farmers market, sit by the beach and grab a good meal before being subjected to airport food. With no plan I put our fate in the hands of Yelp and found the best meal we had on the Big Island.
Herbivores is a relatively new Big Island vegetarian restaurant in a little shack located in a strip mall parking lot. The seating is only outdoors but who cares in the Kona sunshine? Everything on the menu is all planted based and fresh. With a glass of the best kombucha I’ve ever had, I delighted in my first “poke” bowl along with purple potatoes. The tofu poke was seasoned to evoke the sea without trying to be fake fish. I only questioned my choice when I tried Brian’s house made veggie burger! It was one of those rare places where we could eat everything on the menu and probably would not have been disappointed with any of the choices.
If you consider yourself a food tourist like I do, you’ll want to sample the best eats on the Big Island without going overboard. It’s true that food is more expensive in Hawaii but there are plenty of budget friendly Big Island vegetarian restaurants. Even if you’re an omnivore, you’ll find many of these plant-based choices to be less expensive. Why not give a plant-based diet a try for a few days on your vacation?