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From Unicones to Malasadas: A Local’s Ultimate Big Island Foodie Guide – Part I

Updated: Jul 16, 2021

When I travel, I am always on the lookout for places where locals eat, eat as they eat, and drink what they do. Food for me is a lens to understand the different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Food lends me the opportunity to take a deeper dive into the local culture! Enjoy a chef-cooked meal and immerse in more engaging experiences that allow you to observe patterns in a community- shopping local produce at farmer’s market, cooking a meal with locals, sharing stories, and so much more. Let’s give you a taste of the island life with my grinds* finds on the Big Island.

Feast Your Eyes on These Insta-Worthy ACAI BOWLS

Nothing can be more satisfying than a frozen smoothie bowl heaped with tropical fruits on a balmy Hawaiian day. Digging into this creamy smoothie cream bowl is so refreshing. What makes it better is that you do not have a fixed traditional recipe; there’s always a chance to play with the toppings to find your favorite combination. It’s a burst of flavors and textures; of course, colors!

Basik Cafe

Basik in Kona has six beautiful combinations of acai bowls. Choose from an exciting array of toppings ranging from bee pollen to locally sourced honey and goji berries. Their signatures, Islander and Banyan, get rave reviews. If you aren’t a big fan of acai, they have a vast menu of smoothies to choose from; plant-based and dairy-free options available.

What I ordered: I enjoyed the Islander each time I was at Basik. I grabbed breakfast here twice during my five-day stay in Kona.

Makani’s Magic Pineapple Shack

This award-winning unique drink factory can do no wrong, and their dishes are a testament to that. This shack is home to the original Ube (purple yam) Soft Serve and Unicone. Let’s not forget their acai bowls and sandwiches. You are sure to be spoilt for choice! Whatever you order, we suggest you get the dish served on a frozen pineapple bottom.

Eating at these locals spots is also a great way to support local businesses and opportunities to make authentic connections with the local community or even make friends.

What I ordered: I loved the dragon fruit and taro soft serve with bananas, strawberries, kiwis served on a frozen pineapple bottom with unicorn sprinkle.

Ditch Those Donuts for the Puffy Fluffy Malasadas at Manuela Malasada Truck

Don’t wait to spot Manuela’s truck on the highway; instead, just plan a trip because they are worth it! Manuela Malasad’s truck serves one of the best malasadas in the Big Islands. Period! Crisp golden brown on the outside with gooey tropical flavors inside, piping hot made to order, these malasadas are small snackable sized desserts perfect for satisfying the sweet tooth without going overboard. We dare you to resist the guava or liliko’i(passion fruit) malasadas topped with li-hing sugar. Get a dozen for $16. The truck can be found while you drive through Waimea near the turnoff to Puako on the corner of HWY 19 & Puako Beach Drive. Hapuna beach is just a 7-minute drive from here.

What I ordered: Half a dozen of malasadas in a variety of flavors, liliko’i being my favorite.

Aloha Scandi’s at Scandinavian Shave Ice

This one’s nostalgic! Shave ice takes me back to Indian summer days. Traditionally known as gola or chuski in India, it’s a favorite summer colorant. Golawalas used to sell at small makeshifts kiosks with shaved ice that they filled into glasses topping the, with thick flavored syrups. ‘Kala- khatta’(black sour) used to be the most common flavors of all.

And here I was, reliving my childhood in Hawaii at the Scandinavian Shave Ice. Commonly referred to as ‘scandi’ by local Hawaiians, the shaved ice comes in 3 sizes, you could choose either ice cream or frozen yogurt for the center filling and top it up with three out of 65 flavors in their menu. Even enjoyable is that these guys design the snow-capped scandi with coconut cream or condensed milk. It’s a perfect way to end a tropically warm day in Hawaii.

What I ordered: Hawaiian sunset ( mango, passion fruit, and pineapple) with lava flow ice cream center.

My Personal Favorite, Short & Sweet, Hilo

Whether it’s coffee, bagel or sandwiches, this cafe-barkery is one of the best places in Hilo to start your day the finest way. With a large variety of sandwiches, locally inspired pastries, and gourmet focaccia panini, you can have as many of these as you can handle. For the ravenous, lilikoʻi bar and cheesecakes are a must-try. Owned by the famous Maria Short, who appeared in the sixth season of Food Network’s Holiday Baking Championship, the cafe is the best in Big Island for a custom cake.

What I ordered: Fresh Olive tapenade vegetable sandwiches, BLTA, and Liliko’i bar. Check out our wide variety of delectable macaron flavors and choose your favorites.

The Perfect Omiyage from Two Ladies Kitchen

This little place is a riot of joy! Two Ladies Kitchen is the place to be for ono* Mochi and Manju on Big Island. While Mochi is a Japanese delicacy made of soft and chewy rice, Manju is a confection that is steamed or baked with cake flour. Two ladies kitchen is a small, family-run shop specializing in Hawaiian mochis offering more than 20 different flavors, colors, and creative shapes.

Choose from traditional mochis made of yomogi (mugwort leaf) filled with sweet azuki bean paste to creative avatars filled with sweet potato, peanut butter, or malted milk balls. Make sure you hit the nearest ATM because this one is cash only!

What I ordered: The combination of sweetness from the red bean paste in the center with the earthly, green-tea like favor of the yomogi is delicious. These sticky treats will definitely give you something to chew on! Strawberry mochi is another must-try.

Meet the two ladies behind the famous mochis in Hilo, here.

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