Spectacular ocean side dining at Huggo's in Old Kona

Huggo's restaurant clings to pilings just 20 feet above the ocean. Photo: Sunset at Huggo's Photo by Alison Reynolds

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii, July 11, 2013 — For over 40 years Huggo’s restaurant www.huggos.com has been the most fabulous place to have dinner in all of Old Kona. It dominates a rocky point of land right next door to the Royal Kona Resort, and appears suspended in midair along the crescent peak of Kailua Bay.

With the freshest Hawaiian seafood imaginable and an impeccable location, as well as the most amazing sunset dining experience ever, Huggo’s is a wonderful Kona tradition that defines what ocean side dining in Hawaii is all about.

Start with a beautiful restaurant on pilings that cling 20 feet or so above the rocks and the stormy surf below. Spread out all around is the panorama of Kailua Bay from a vantage point that seems to surround the restaurant. Seaside dining is really dining over the ocean, and a tableau of the tides is a wonderful dinner companion.

A separate lounge and piano bar wraps around one whole wing of the entrance.  In the restaurant almost every table is alongside or near the railing overlooking the rocks and the Pacific Ocean. Fiery Tiki torches extend over the railings, and the sun begins to set in a brilliant Kona sky.

Huggo’s was originally known as a hangout for boating captains from nearby Honokohau Harbor. That relationship between the fishing fleet and the restaurant has assured to this day that what is eaten at Huggo’s was probably swimming in the ocean that very day. The fresh catch of the day can’t be any fresher, and Executive Chef Ken Schloss has stayed true to this tradition.

Kumamoto oysters and ginger steamed clams are fantastic starters, small but meaty and bursting with flavor. Fresh Ono in a lemongrass haupia sauce with purple Molokai sweet potatoes is delightfully elegant and a sumptuous pairing.  Sesame crusted seared rare Ahi is a taste sensation, but you cannot escape Huggo’s signature teriyaki steak, a renowned staple on the menu for decades.

The sun is setting in a glorious fireball across Kailua Bay while teams of outrigger canoes cross in silhouette.  It’s hard to imagine a more perfect romantic moment at any seaside dining spot. At Huggo’s they’ve been enjoying this ongoing evening spectacle from a ring side seat since 1969. 

Owner Eric von Platen Luder, who took over from his parents Shirley and Hugo in 1982, has kept Huggo’s a vibrant center of Kona’s restaurant and nightlife scene. Right next door is Huggo’s On the Rocks, a more laid back bar with a beachside vibe, live entertainment on a stage overlooking the surf, and consistently one of the best casual hang outs in all of Kona.

On the Rocks is packed from mid-afternoon until closing with people who simply want to relax in a comfortable lively location and hear great music. It caters to locals and tourists, and together it makes dinner at Huggo’s and dancing at On the Rocks an obvious combination. Tonight the bar is jumping as a local band plays Hawaiian music and a dancer performs an authentic Hula.

Just down Alii Drive is another Old Kona landmark, the original Kona Inn, a sprawling two story structure that was once the only hotel in town. Now it is a wonderful bar and restaurant surrounded by a large marketplace filled with unique shops and kiosks with everything from ukuleles to artfully carved scrimshaw.  Hanging on the wall in the lobby outside the restaurant is the world’s largest marlin ever caught at the annual Big Island Marlin Tournament.

The Kona Inn Restaurant is the last remnant of a once grand hotel built in 1928 that reigned in splendor in the old Hawaii tradition. The main restaurant and bar have been restored to gleaming perfection. Stop for a drink or while away the hours at dinner and gaze around at the massive polished Koa wood bar and trimmed lawns leading to the oceans doorstep.

In the Kona Inn Shopping Village marketplace wander the stalls and take in the variety of shops. At one point fluent Hawaiian, the actual original language of the islands, is heard being spoken amongst a group of men. Coming closer proves the delightful truth. They are speaking fluent, rapid Hawaiian between themselves.

It is coming from Macau Nui, the kiosk of Ben Muti  www.makaunui.com , who sells native Polynesian carvings made from whalebone. Intricate necklaces in the shape of multiple Hawaiian symbols are exotic one of kind hand crafted jewelry pieces. Ben is half-Hawaiian who was hanai’d or raised by relatives who spoke fluent Hawaiian. He represents a beautiful link between past and present in Old Kona.

Joel Berliner is a travel writer based in Los Angeles.


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Joel Berliner

Joel Berliner is a travel writer based in Los Angeles who has written for The Washington Times, Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, Chicago Tribune, Honolulu Advertiser, El Paso Times, and the Minneapolis Star Tribune, among many other publications.  He is excited to be back where his travel writing career began, at The Washington Times, where along with his wife, photographer extraordinaire Alison Reynolds, they will travel the globe in order to bring you The Good Life.

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