The Volcano area has some wonderfully surprising eating and dining experiences that I feel need a mention. Just so you know, I wouldn’t endorse anything that I haven’t repeatedly eaten at myself. Likewise, I know that quality of food is especially important, whether you’re on vacation or just trying to grab a little something on your way home.
First, if you want a quick snack, the best Spam musubi on the island is at Volcano Store (also known as “top store” by the locals), located at the corner of Haunani and Old Volcano Road. The only thing is, you’ll have to go early in the morning because they only make one batch and they sell out fast. They have a good selection of regular and craft brews, a basic wine selection, and limited grocery items that are pricey, but handy when you don’t want to drive to Kea’au or Hilo. The staff is super friendly, and they are a beloved fixture in the village, everyone that works there is like my family.
Right around the corner from the Volcano Store, is a teeny, tiny, little eatery called: Eagle’s Lighthouse Café. This is a great place for lunch and they have plenty of hearty meal options, like laulau and Portuguese bean soup, as well as lighter options, such as tuna salad on tomato or a turkey wrap. There is hardly room for more than two customers to stand inside where you order, but the outdoor seating is plentiful and this is a great place to sip coffee and people watch. The prices are very reasonable and the service is very friendly. Everything I have ordered from the menu has come in generous portions, particularly the breakfast bentos and the Kanakatack Sandwich. This monster sandwich is served on bread that is sliced along the length of the loaf….making it enough sandwich for two people! I generally consider this a lunch place because they close at 5 p.m. and are not open on Sundays.
One of the local artists has a wonderful café that serves vegan and vegetarian fare that we like to take our visiting “veg” friends to, it’s called Café Ono. The café is in a lush, colorful, garden setting with delicious (or ‘ono’) food served in generous portions. You can check out the Volcano Garden Arts gallery that is attached to the café while you wait. They are only open for lunch, but if you like hearty vegetarian and vegan fare, it’s a great place to stop. I recommend grabbing a bite here before exploring the National Park.
For dinner in Volcano, it really depends on three things: how much I want to spend, what I am craving at the time, and who I’m with. I generally stay within three local spots. First, for the uniquely “Volcano experience”, I recommend the Volcano House inside the National Park. They have great food and a one-of-a-kind setting overlooking the crater of Halema’uma’u. If you go in the evening, I recommend getting there just before sunset and taking advantage of their lounge area. You can watch the glow of the lava from inside the crater turn a brilliant orange as night falls. The main restaurant is rather pricey and can often be a long wait for a table if you don’t have a reservation. We usually head to the bar side and get a table much quicker as we are willing to eat from the more limited, but equally tasty bar menu. You can also grab a drink from here and sit in the lounge overlooking the crater while you wait for a table. Since we generally come here with guests and other visitors, we might only eat here a couple of times a year, but it usually a pleasant experience.
For a more easy-breezy dinner, we really like to order from the Tuk-Tuk Thai Food truck or make reservations at Ohelo Café. It’s easy to call ahead your order for Tuk-Tuk Thai and pick it up to take it home with you, or you can sit and eat at one of the picnic tables near the skate park. They park their food truck in the parking lot of Cooper Center, the local community center, and it is an easy-to-spot bright green truck with red lettering. Tuk-Tuk Thai is generous with their portions and serves fresh, local produce in all of their dishes. I am very fond of their coconut soup, papaya salad, and cashew stir-fry chicken with brown rice. **Please be advised, that if you ask for “medium” they will prepare your dish the much spicier Thai version, not a watered-down version of “medium” that most of us are used to.
The other go-to dinner spot, the cozy Ohelo Café, is actually in the same building as the Volcano Store. It is one of my absolute favorite little restaurants on the island. They serve beer from Maui Brewing Co., one of the world’s finest craft brew makers from Maui island, and feature local produce and fish on their menu. Often, I will order the Ohelo Baby Back Ribs and wash it down with my favorite IPA on draft, the Maui Big Swell. The place is very small, so it is important to make a reservation ahead of time, especially if you don’t want to wait outside when it’s chilly. They are open for lunch and dinner, and they do situate some of their seating outside, so be prepared with a jacket, especially if going there in the evening. The nighttime air at 4000 feet can be surprisingly cold for someone who is visiting from a lower elevation.
We also have a handful of other choices in our little village, but these are my top favorites. I love to give support to local businesses when I can, especially when they’re this good.