By Molly Patrick
Mar 9, 2019,
If you ever visit Hilo, Hawaii I’ve got you covered with plant based food options!
Hilo is the second largest town on the Big Island of Hawaii, situated on the east side of the island. The Big Island is technically called “Hawai’i” and it is part of the Hawaiian Islands. The Hawaiian Islands are made up of 136 islands, atolls and islets in the middle of the Pacific ocean.
Only seven of the islands are inhabited: Lana’i (think Larry Ellison), O’ahu (think Honolulu), Kaua’i (think breathtaking waterfalls), Ni’ihau (privately owned by the same family since 1864), Moloka’i (used to be a leper colony, though the word “leper” is no longer used, instead, it’s known as Hansen’s disease), Mau’i (think a typical Hawaiian vacation with palm trees and white sandy beaches), and Hawai’i (also known as the Big Island because it is in fact, the biggest of all the islands…think volcanoes).
My wife and I moved to the Big Island in 2016 because, why wouldn’t you move to a place that has beautiful weather year round and has over 100 varieties of avocados? Discussion over, I’m THERE. We chose to live on the east side of the Big Island because it has a lot of character, it’s a little gritty and there is no traffic. Hilo is big enough to have everything we need and small enough to never take Target for granted.
We get a lot of emails from people in our community visiting Hilo, asking for yummy plant based restaurant suggestions. In all honesty, the yummiest plant based food in Hilo is in my kitchen but since my kitchen isn’t open for business, I’ll give you some yummy alternatives. There isn’t a huge plant based food scene here, but it does seem to be growing, and even if a restaurant isn’t totally plant based, it’s usually easy to find something on the menu that works.
Our meal plans are oil-free and I eat oil-free at home, but when I go out to eat I stick to eating vegan and don’t fuss about the oil. None of the restaurants that I list below are oil free. All of them are places I have tried and liked. There are other restaurants in town with vegan options that I haven’t tried yet and there are some that I have tried and just don’t care for, so I am not mentioning them. These are the ones that I would go back to and sometimes do!
Vibe isn’t totally plant based, as they do have dairy on their menu, but they have plenty of plant based items to choose from. They also have a killer Beet Latte that I swoon over every time I’m there. If you order any of their lattes, be sure to ask for non-dairy milk.
If you’re traveling with a meat eater who is open to a plant based meal, take them to Vibe. Their menu is heavy on the faux meats. When I go to Vibe I get their nachos.
This place is known for their homemade “booch”, which apparently is cool speak for kombucha. They also have a big menu with lots of plant based options. Their Classic Conscious Burger is one of my go-tos. The burger is made out of lentils and it’s damn good. They also do a solid breakfast that’s worth checking out.
This is a tiny little take-out restaurant, right off from Bay Front. The owner, Ken, is a man of little words, but he makes his food with love and he always has two vegan options. On Wednesday and Saturday he makes a vegan lasagna that’s amazing. He is a one man show and this is a popular spot so if you want lunch, get there before noon.
This is a great place if you’re in a hurry because all of the food is already prepared. They don’t have any tables, so you will have to take your food to go, find a bench and have a picnic.
My favorite restaurants are dinky and family owned. Yen’s doesn’t look like much on the outside and the inside is just as humble, but they have vegan pho. Enough said. It doesn’t say vegan on their menu, but if you ask the server for vegetarian pho with no egg or animal ingredients, you’ll be set. They also have rice noodles with veggies and tofu and a few other plant based options. I usually request no or little oil when I eat here and they do the best they can.
I like this place because they make their rolls with brown rice. I always order the avocado rolls and they hit the spot.
Hung Phat is in the same food court as Dragon Sushi. The owner is a lovely man who will hook you up with a really yummy vegan Banh Mi. Banh Mi is a vietnamese sandwich on a French baguette with various ingredients. The French invaded Vietnam in the 19th century and they ruled the country until 1954. The French might have left Vietnam but the baguettes did not.
When you go to this restaurant, order the “Vegetarian Tofu Sandwich”. It’s not the healthiest thing in the world because of the white bread and the oil, but it is a DAMN satisfying and filling sandwich. And for $6, it might just be the cheapest lunch in all of Hawaii.
The atmosphere here is super funky and chill and you can bring your own wine, sake or beer if you’re into that kind of thing. There are two items on their menu that I eat: the shiitake roll and the green salad. Both are yummy and super reasonably priced. This place does get busy so go early to get a seat.
It’s hard to track down this food truck but if you happen to see it and you’re starving, they do have a vegan burrito that they will happily make for you. It’s not on their menu so you have to ask for it. It’s not a burrito that will blow your mind, but it will do in a pinch.
The service is slow, the portions are ridiculously huge, and the prices are high. But none of that matters. And when you experience their Coconut Tom Kha soup (because you will have an experience), you will know why and you will thank me. I’ve had a lot of Tom Kha in my life and the Tom Kha at Tina’s goes beyond anything I’ve ever had or dreamed of. They use fresh coconut milk and local organic veggies. Not only can you taste the difference, you can feel the difference. You must go there and order Coconut Tom Kha. Please.
In my opinion, this is Hilo’s best restaurant. The quality of food stands above, the service is amazing and the owners (the chef and his wife) are awesome. They have a very small menu that changes often, depending on what’s in season and available. This is not a plant based restaurant, but they do have at least one option that can be vegan.
You will need to make reservations because it’s rare to get a table as a walk-in. Here’s an insider tip. If you call them and make a reservation two or three days in advance, tell them you’re vegan and you’re wondering if the chef would prepare a special vegan tofu dish for you. It’s not guaranteed, but if he has the time he will do it and you will be amazed. They get the tofu from a local tofu maker and it is heavenly. They can’t always do it, but it’s worth asking about.
This is a good place to go if you’re looking for a typically nice atmosphere but not super fancy. They have a couple of vegan things on the menu. I get the Club Med Salad with no Feta, and I always leave happy. The service is really good and the big windows are lovely.
There is no shortage of Thai restaurants in Hilo and this is my favorite. They have a big menu with lots of vegan options. Make sure you ask for no fish sauce and no egg and let them know you’re vegan, just to be on the safe side.
The atmosphere is funky and cool and the service is fast and friendly.
This is a great place to celebrate or have dinner with friends. The view of Hilo Bay is beautiful and the food is good. They have several yummy vegan options on the menu, and the servers are helpful when you’re deciding on what to order.
This is a yummy Vietnamese food truck located across the street from Island Naturals, one of Hilo’s health food stores (no affiliation). I’ve only ever ordered their “Bun Chay Vegetarian” which is a yummy bowl with rice noodles, tofu, veggies, crushed peanuts and sauce. Don’t come here if you’re in a hurry and be sure to bring cash.
This is a local spot that has been around for a long time. They don’t have a ton of vegan options but they have a tofu steak made from local tofu that is really good. Make sure you tell your server that you are vegan, so no fish sauce, no eggs, no meat and no dairy. There is lots of parking and they have live music on the weekends.
This is a sweet little spot off from Bay Front, and they have green juices and lots of plant based bowls and salads that are always fresh and delicious. It’s a small space and there are only a couple of tables but people mainly grab their food to go so there is usually a place to sit. The women who work here are really friendly and the environment is super cheery.
This is Hilo’s only Indian restaurant, and it is definitely worth checking out. They have plenty of vegan options and they are fast and friendly. The only thing I don’t love is that the restaurant smells like Windex so if you are sensitive to chemical smells, avoid it.
This is the best vegan ice cream ever. You simply can’t visit Hilo without stopping by Peter’s shop and getting a scoop. They make their ice cream on site and they use local ingredients. The flavors are always intriguing and they are the friendliest people ever. I’m not a big fan of ice cream, but I SWOON over Hawaiian Licks. When you go there, be sure to tell Peter that Molly and Luanne sent you!
This is Hilo’s biggest health food store, which really isn’t saying much. It’s not massive, but they have all the healthy groceries you need to make some yummy food wherever you are staying, including good organic produce and bulk bins. They also have a decent health and beauty section and a salad bar and deli if you need food in a hurry.
Have you been to Hilo? Tell us where you ate in the comments below!
- 1/2 cup water (120 ml)
- 1/4 cup lemon juice (60 ml)
- 1/4 cup tahini (65 g)
- 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
- 5 roasted garlic cloves (or 1 raw garlic clove)
- 2 teaspoons dijon mustard
- 2 teaspoons coconut aminos
- 1 teaspoon ume plum vinegar
- 1 teaspoon dulse powder or flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon low sodium soy sauce
- Add all of the ingredients to your blender and blend until creamy and smooth.
Wishing you a happy week. May it be filled with sharing a meal with people you love.