So what's a budget-conscious family supposed to do in the face of the $35-a-person breakfast buffet? Go broke?
Not if we can help it. Catch the aloha spirit with us, as we share secrets about great meal deals on the Big Island. We teamed up with local food experts to bring you 20 Big Island meals for less than about $20, just as we did in our earlier surveys of Oahu, Maui and Kauai. Once again, we concentrated on the restaurants where locals dine for inexpensive, traditional Hawaiian fare. And we included a couple of places to splurge where the ambiance is pure tropical paradise.
Providing us with invaluable guidance were chef Vernon Wong, former board chairman of the Kona-Kohala Chefs de Cuisine; Eric Lelinski, executive chef, Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort & Spa; and James Lightner, hospitality division chairman for the University of Hawaii Center West Hawaii.
Note that some of the restaurants are hard to find. Always call for hours and directions.
Walk into the dining room at the Manago Hotel and you'll swear you've stumbled into a pre-Pearl Harbor time warp. This quaint, third-generation hotel on the slopes of Mauna Loa volcano has been entertaining guests since 1917. Little seems to have changed: The dining room menu is on a pegboard sign, entrees include such diner classics as pork chops and liver and onions, and most dinners cost less than $10. Manago is a dozen miles south of the high-profile Kailua-Kona resort area and decades removed from the hype.
We loved: stepping into Old Hawaii.
We didn't love: the canned veggies.
Hotel Manago, 826151 Highway 11, Captain Cook; (808) 323-2642, http://www.managohotel.com
2--ISLAND LAVA JAVA BISTRO & GRILL
Location, location, location — combine that with a good vibe and you have a sure winner. Perched across the street from Kailua Bay, Island Lava Java offers water views, inexpensive healthful food and lots of interesting menu choices. The restaurant began as an espresso shop, then added lunch. Now, owners Jeff and Leslie Fischer open for dinner too, with table service and entrees such as macadamia nut-crusted fresh catch ($21.95). We tried the café for lunch, when it's a casual, order-at-the-counter coffee shop; big sellers are veggie wraps ($11.50) and fish tacos ($13.90).
We loved: the ahi fish tacos, wrapped in delicate, homemade shells.
We didn't love: the noise from the street traffic.
Island Lava Java, 75-5799 Alii Drive, Kailua-Kona; (808) 327-2161, http://www.islandlavajava.com
3--HUGGO'S ON THE ROCKS