Big Island is known for its outdoor activities: the pampering resorts, the amazing hikes, the volcanoes, and the sunset cocktails. The dining scene isn’t drawing crowds like Oahu or Maui, but there are a handful of places that do provide amazing, romantic dining experiences. Make a reservation at these five spots: the best on the island.
ULU Ocean GrillULU Ocean Grill
ULU at Four Seasons Hualalai is one of those restaurants that feels like it’s in LA, NYC or Miami. The energy is high, the place is bustling and you won’t get that “island time” feeling at all. It’s the perfect place for couples, newlywed or not, because the romantic vibe (OpenTable named it one of the most romantic restaurants in America.) It’s also surprisingly informal–no one will eye you if you stroll in wearing flip flops. There’s indoor seating and patio seating, and both sections are equally busy. The majority of the dishes are grown or produced right on the island. The signature dish is the oven-roasted whole fish, and ahi poke is prepared tableside, so you get a free show out of it.
Fairmont OrchidFairmont Orchid
It doesn’t matter if you’re Beyoncé and Jay Z or that couple from Jersey that cashed out their savings for this once-in-a-lifetime trip: you’re going to have a private dinner on the beach. Sure, it’s cliché, but it’s legitimately spectacular here. One resort that really goes all out is Fairmont Orchid, also known as the “oceanfront under the stars.” You pick your own location (beach, lawn, gazebo, whatever) and you pick your own meal from a set, four-course menu. It’s all rich stuff (steak, short rib fritters, lobster tails) and the dinner includes a dedicated butler and a bunch of romantic surprises to make you feel like you’re rich stuff too. Of course, you might actually have to be, since a meal here is going to cost you a pretty penny at $500 per couple. But you should do this type of dinner at least once in your life, and you should do it right.
Huggo’s has a killer bar scene (with Huggo’s on the Rocks and hBar) but what makes this institution legendary is its restaurant. It’s the real deal, the original trendsetter, opening back in 1969. It was initially a meeting place for local fishermen, but it’s evolved into the most famous restaurant in Big Island for fresh seafood. Honeymooners are wined and dined in an elegant open-air setting right on the beach: it’s basically what you see in movies when a couple has a romantic meal in Hawaii. This is a restaurant that inspires. The Grilled Hawaiian Caught Mahi Mahi (with kabocha pumpkin risotto, Aloun Farms beans and herb sauce with balsamic caviar) gets all the flavors right, as does Huggo’s Signature Teriyaki Steak. Marinated in their secret recipe, this flank steak is cooked and seasoned to perfection. There’s a reason it’s been on the menu since 1969.
When it comes to memorable dining, chef Peter Merriman is a local pioneer who basically created modern “elevated” island cuisine. Merriman’s is so iconic it’s racked up dozens of awards (there’s even a cookbook you can buy.) You’re eating Big Island history when you dine here. Arrive on the earlier side to experience the perfect views and sunset. The farm-to-table, Asian-inspired dishes are so good you’ll wish you never had to stop eating them. Definitely order the ponzu-marinated mahi mahi (the restaurant’s claim to fame) or the wok-charred ahi, a Merriman’s original, with won bok cabbage slaw and wasabi soy sauce. If you’re getting tired of fish at this point, the Waipio taro enchiladas with spiced enchilada sauce, HL Farms broccolini, aged cheddar and garden cilantro is a huge hit. A word of caution, though: don’t even think about rolling in here without a reservation.
Roy’sRoy’s Wikoloa Bar & Grill
Roy Yamaguchi is one of the most famous chefs in Hawaii. His specialized Pacific Rim, Hawaiian-fusion cuisine is celebrated, a memorable journey for your palette. The fact Roy’s is in a shopping mall may make you raise an eyebrow, but trust us. It’s crazy upscale inside, so don’t wear your board shorts. There’s a Roy’s Classics menu that features all his biggest hits since originally opening in 1988 in Honolulu. Of course, the freshest fish is served here, but we recommend you go for the Waikoloa Meatloaf with beer battered onion rings and Hamakua mushroom pan gravy or the Dakine combo, a popular dish that includes grilled Szechuan baby back pork ribs, teppanyaki shrimp, and firecracker sauce.