Slow Food Dining in Hawaii

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We first wrote about slow food dining in Hawaii on October 16, 2011. Since then, the slow food movement has grown (and one or two restaurants have gone out of business). So we’re updating our report to provide the latest information. 

When planning a boomer adventure to Hawaii’s Big Island, what comes to mind? Sun. Surf. Relaxation. Aloha. What about dining at restaurants to experience locally sourced food?

Finding a healthy dining adventure on Hawaii

Are you ready for a healthy dining adventure? Step away from the resort scene to follow this off-the-beaten-path boomer slow food tour. Your taste buds will thank me.

Table and chairs in a garden setting at Holuakoa Cafe on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Enjoy a locally source dinner at the Holuakoa Cafe on Hawaii’s Big Island

Slow food dining on the Kona side of Hawaii

If you’re staying in one of the resorts on the Kona coast, take a drive into coffee country in the hills above Kailua-Kona to Holuakoa Cafe and Gardens in Holualoa Town. It’s here that Alan and I experienced our first locally sourced meal on the island of Hawaii.

Alan and I enjoyed a meal in Holuakoa’s garden setting. But first we walked the town of Holualoa, stopping in the shops and galleries that line Mamalahoa Highway.

Located in the middle of coffee country, Holualoa Town has become a haven for local artisans. Have you visited a ukulele gallery? Holualoa has one. On our next visit, we’d like to stay in town at the Holualoa Inn. We hear that it’s delightful.

But let’s get back to the food. Holuakoa Gardens & Café takes the slow food concept to the highest level. The management focuses on food products that are grown within a 5-mile radius of Holualoa Town. Now that’s locally sourced food.

The menu changes often to reflect local availability and freshness of ingredients. Alan and I think organic never tasted so good.

My “Grilled Local Ahi Tuna” was served over lemon risotto, accompanied by the sweetest oven-dried tomatoes. Alan sampled the “Red Wine Braised Local Beef Shortribs” with red bliss potatoes, rainbow carrots and heirloom turnips. Even the wine was organic. 

Our dinner at Holuakoa Gardends & Café reminded me about the tasty benefits of eating local. I plan to put it into practice at home.

Merriman's Restaurant sign hangs on the outside of the building. A great place to find slow food dining in Hawaii.
Merriman’s Restaurant, the birthplace of Hawaiian regional cuisine

Slow food dining in Hawaii high country

Boomer visitors who drive from Holualoa Town to Waimea might think they’ve arrived in the wrong state. You certainly won’t find palm trees or a sandy beach. This is Hawaii’s high country where old lava flows reveal evidence of former volcanic eruptions and grasslands feed the cattle at Parker Ranch.

Be sure to stop for lunch or dinner at Merriman’s Restaurant in Waimea. Twenty years ago, owner Peter Merriman joined forces with 12 other Hawaiian chefs to encourage local vegetable and fruit production. The result—the birth of Hawaiian Regional Cuisine.

Of course you don’t have to drive across the range on Parker Ranch to enjoy a meal at Merriman’s. It’s a quick jaunt into the high country from resorts on the Kohala Coast to your meal. Expect to dine on produce and fish that are 90% locally grown using only sustainable methods. You’ll find a Merriman’s Restaurant on Maui and Kaui, too.

Planning a trip to the Big Island? Start your research at our Hawaii Travel Planning Resources page.

I like to think that I learn something from each trip that I take. My journey to Hawaii reminded me of how good home grown tastes. The flavors are more intense—the color of the produce more vibrant. And of course there are the environmental benefits of locally sourced food grown on an island that depends on fuel-hogging ships and planes to import products.

On our next trip, we’ll be checking out the Slow Food Hawaii website to learn about more farm to table restaurants in Hawaii.

Scratch those itchy travel feet!

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