An Ode to Lucy’s, the best restaurant in Hilo (and other money-saving tips for Hawaii)

An Ode to Lucy’s, the best restaurant in Hilo (and other money-saving tips for Hawaii)

I wonder whether a post about a single restaurant is ever appropriate. But who cares? This is a fun blog, I write about what I loved, and if I want to swoon over a plate of refried beans, I will. So, here is my honest review of Lucy’s Taqueria, the best restaurant in Hilo,  Hawaii.

Lucy’s Taqueria at a glance

If you have an appetite after this, please read on.

After about six days in Hawaii, despite (or maybe because) of staying in a large resort, I had already twigged on how expensive this place is. Not that a return flight from Europe is usually beyond 1000 EURO, but get there and find hotels charge usually 200USD per night or more, car parking can be up to 40 USD a day, and don’t get me started on the cost of food!

But if you’re not fussy about ambience or type of cuisine, you can get quality.

Would you refuse this? Its just a starter, mind

After one morning or corporate poor quality hotel breakfast with little choice for vegetarians and one light yet expensive dinner at the resort, I wanted to find sensible food.

One is to eat at supermarkets. The supermarket closest to our resort was Island Gourmet markets in Waikoloa, which had very good quality sushi for 5-10USD a portion. For self-catering, we found KTA Supermarkets have a good selection, and there are three locations, in Hilo, Kailua-Kona and Keauhou. The Kailua-Kona one is quite central. Similarly to Island Gourmet, they sell hot food.  Some of the best meals were  plates of local fruit, essentially pineapple and papaya, on the balcony of our Air BnB for breakfast and dinner. However… we found one place that loosely fits in the “restaurant” category that stood out.

What, just one place in a whole week?

Well, yes. After a few so-so meals, we just kept returning… or we ate in. We might also be a bit picky, because we live near Berlin where good food is cheap and plentiful. And we travel to other places in Europe where good food is often cheap and plentiful. But not so much Mexican food.

Lucy’s Interior. Cheerful and functional.


So, I came across this place when searching the web for cheap restaurants in Hilo . The cafe where we had already taken a seat was at a noisy street corner, had the usual burger, chips and bits of sea food at high prices, and was noisy, so I jumped up and dragged my boyfriend towards a less populated-looking road, where, next to a Subway, was Lucy’s Taqueria .

“No, I’m not going to a fast food place with poor quality food” my boyfriend insisted. I tried to convince him that many restaurants in the US can look like fast food. And yes, the place had plastic tables and resembled a canteen, but it played cool music, and it was nearly full. Given the number of pickups parked out front, the full-ness was mostly due to local residents.

So, what can you get?

A LOT of Mexican food.

Well-priced cocktails (we didn’t try them).

Friendly no-fuss service and a dedicated doggy-bag table.

Special Quesadilla with a nachos side. My boyfriend had fish tacos. All great quality.

Portions are HUGE. We made the mistake buying too much on our first visit, where we spent about 25 USD.


A burrito, I think. Or was it the enchilada?

Especially when they have burritos in different sizes, reminiscent of “Texas size” I remember form staying in Texas many years back

Great food, pleasant atmosphere, decent prices. We restrained ourselves a bit on the second visit.

So, the small Lucy’s Taqueria deserves the price for the greatest restaurant on our trip to romantic Hawaii.

Another noteworthy place was Da Poke Shack, in Kailua-Kona. Its not exactly cheap, about 35USD for lunch for two, but quality was good, and if you can’t smell fish in a fishy shop, they’re doing something right.

Fine dining from Styrofoam, 35USD, Da Poke Shack


And… that’s it about cheap travel in Hawaii! Or, I may add my own two cents to the established useairmiles-goinlowseason-stayinhostels-usepoints-gotosoutheastasiainstead listicles:

  • Visit the National Parks. There are four on the Big Island, and you can buy a pass. We only went to Volcano National Park   and Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Park, but they were outstanding. Who needs a helicopter or a guided snorkel tour?
  • Enjoy the beaches. They are free to access anywhere in Hawaii.
  • Stay in or near Hilo. Generally cheaper, less big resorts but nice beaches and historical sights, too.
  • Get an room or apartment with a nice porch or balcony and make your own cocktails. We rented a cabin in the forest near Volcano through AirBnB. It was remote, so you would definitely need your own transport.

And if I missed something, please let me know. Also, if you have other nice tips on how to travel in Hawaii without completely blowing the budget, let us know, too.

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