The Best Plant Based Food in Hilo Hawaii + Plant Based Tangy Roasted Garlic Caesar Dressing

March 9, 2019 / Molly Patrick /

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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

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.

Conscious Culture Cafe

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.

Tamari Japanese Lunch Spot

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.

Yen’s Cafe

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.

Dragon Kitchen Sushi

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 Banh Mi

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.

Ebisuya Sushi

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.

Pancho’s Food Truck (aka P & J’s Tacos De La Calle)

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.

Tina’s Garden Cafe

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.

Moon and Turtle

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.

Jackie Rey’s Ohana

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.

New Chiang Mai

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.

Hilo Bay Cafe

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.

Le Yellow Sub

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.

Miyo’s

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.

Loved by the Sun

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.

Kamana Kitchen

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.

Hawaiian Licks

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!

Island Naturals

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!

Tangy Roasted Garlic Caesar Dressing

Makes just over one cup
Author: Molly Patrick of Clean Food Dirty Girl

Ingredients

  • 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

Instructions

  • Add all of the ingredients to your blender and blend until creamy and smooth.

Notes

Click here for a simple Oil-Free Roasted Garlic recipe.

Wishing you a happy week. May it be filled with sharing a meal with people you love.

Xo
Molly

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24 Comments

  1. Ruth Mulkerin on March 9, 2019 at 9:31 am

    Mahalo! The BI is our home away from home! (We lived on the other side of the island, in Waikoloa Beach, for a year and half in 2006-2007). Hilo Bay Cafe was my favorite Hilo restaurant back then. Excited to hear they have vegan options (we were not vegan when we lived in HI). We always make sure to hit the Hilo Farmer’s Market!! And, although not in Hilo, we love Cafe Ono in Volcano Village. Planning a visit to the BI this coming September!!!

    • Nora Kleckner on March 9, 2019 at 9:46 am

      We will be going to the big island the last week in April! Thanks for the restaurant suggestions! Perfect timing. By the way, I will be the ONLY one in our party of 9 that is plant based but still will have to try at least one of these!

      • Molly Patrick on March 9, 2019 at 11:25 am

        Good on you!
        All of the restaurants I mentioned are good for meat eaters as well so you all should have no problem.
        Have a great trip!
        xo
        Molly

    • Laurie Higashi on March 9, 2019 at 9:52 am

      Whoa, never would have guessed Tamari has vegan lasagna! Gotta check that out. Also haven’t been to the Banh Mi place in the food court yet. I love a good Banh Mi and don’t usually have a half an hour to wait for the Yellow Sub lady. Thanks for the tips!

      • Molly Patrick on March 9, 2019 at 11:24 am

        You and Mark MUST try the lasagna and Tamari, it is so good.
        Yes, that Banh Mi in the food court is crazy good and FAST.
        Muah!
        Molly

    • Molly Patrick on March 9, 2019 at 11:27 am

      Love it!
      You have your list of places to try when you visit in September 🙂
      I agree, the Big Island is a really special place.
      xo
      Molly

  2. Amanda on March 9, 2019 at 10:06 am

    Mmm… I’m going to make this with some smoked garlic, yumster!

    • Molly Patrick on March 9, 2019 at 11:22 am

      Great call!

  3. Loretta Buasriyottiya on March 9, 2019 at 10:08 am

    Wiki Fresh is easy to do a quick vegan meal with also. Love your other suggestions! Vibe is amazing, I agree.

    • Molly Patrick on March 9, 2019 at 11:22 am

      A fellow Hilo Dirty – awesome!
      I went to Wiki Fresh once and didn’t find it all that fresh but maybe I’ll give it another go.
      xo
      Molly

  4. Cyndi H on March 9, 2019 at 10:50 am

    Thank you thank you thank you Molly! I’ll be spending a month in Hilo in the near future, and this will be my guide when I want to eat out. Super excited!!

    • Molly Patrick on March 9, 2019 at 11:21 am

      Fab! So glad it will come in handy!
      Have a great month in Hilo, it’s a special place.
      xo
      Molly

  5. Cathy Strine on March 9, 2019 at 11:00 am

    Hi, Molly. I’ve been admiring your articles for the content of course, but also for your fun style and the tremendous energy that you put into it. ^^This one^^ had to take SO much time and effort that I almost need a nap on your behalf! Listing all these great places with brief descriptions AND linking each one to their own website! You blew me away. Thanks for all you do!

    • Molly Patrick on March 9, 2019 at 11:19 am

      Thanks Cathy,
      It wasn’t that bad, plus I love doing it 😉
      Have an awesome weekend.
      xo
      Molly

  6. Matt on March 9, 2019 at 12:46 pm

    Park Cafe in Hilo across from Lincoln park and the fire station closed for a remodeling and just reopened on Valentines day with a new cook and new menu. Lots of plant based options. Open everyday for lunch except Weds & Sun. Also open for dinner Fri/Sat. When I went for lunch I had the plant based “Cheese Steak” and at dinner I tried the Vegetable Cobbler. Both were excellent. I eat everything, but the two times I went, I ended up eating vegan. I think as you highlighted with Vibe Cafe, there are plant based options that still appeal to omnivore tastes.

    • Molly Patrick on March 9, 2019 at 12:48 pm

      This is awesome to know, I had no idea.
      I will definitely check it out!
      Thanks for the tip.
      xo
      Molly

  7. Carol B on March 9, 2019 at 5:07 pm

    My brother lives in Ke’eau. When I visited him in December we had lunch with friends at Ratana’s Green Papaya Salad. It has about one and a half tables. I had the green papaya salad and loved it!

    • Tammy S on March 10, 2019 at 10:19 am

      I also loved Ratana’s Green Papaya Salad! They had a truck that I bought from by the outdoor market. Another day, I found the restaurant as I had to get more! We ate at a number of places in Hilo over the winter break. There was lots of fresh Thai food and every where we went the food was outstanding!

      • Molly Patrick on March 11, 2019 at 12:32 pm

        Awesome addition. I know that lots of people like that!

  8. Kb3k on March 13, 2019 at 10:41 am

    Thank you so much for this! I live on the Kona side and my go-to has always been Conscious Cultures. I love that place! And the Omni hubs loves their tempeh reuben. I’ve had Moon & Turtle on my list for some time but haven’t been there yet. I’m so excited to add more options to the list! Keep on killing it girl. You are amazing ❤️

  9. Ann Hatch on April 24, 2019 at 5:20 am

    Quit interesting. Really wanna try!

  10. Amy on October 25, 2019 at 4:16 pm

    I’m sad to hear there are no whole food plant based cafes. I’m trying to figure out what I am going to eat for 3 weeks while I am there. Thanks for these tips!

  11. Kristie Hunter on March 28, 2020 at 7:09 am

    5 stars
    This is DELISH!!!! I will be making this regularly!!

    • Team Clean Food Dirty Girl on March 28, 2020 at 9:06 pm

      Oh, this is a good one! Thanks for posting! ~Karen

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