Visiting the Big Island and unsure of where to find the best gluten-free restaurants? Here’s my dining guide with some of the tastiest gluten-free noms on the Kona side of the Big Island of Hawaii!
The Big Island is known for outdoor adventures more than food
We just returned from a couple of weeks on the Big Island of Hawaii and I miss it already! Maui is our usual stop in Hawaii (because we bought a timeshare there many moons ago) and we’ve been to Kauai a bunch of times, so our friend’s 50th birthday trip was a nice excuse to explore a different island. When I started researching places to eat that would have gluten-free options, many Nomsters told me that pickings were slim on the Big Island because it’s known more for its outdoor adventures than its culinary scene.
As I’ve told you before, I travel for food (long live gastrotourism!) so I made it my mission to find some tasty places to eat with gluten-free options—and I’m happy to report that I found some fabulous options.
Note: Most of the restaurants on this list are not 100% gluten-free, but the ones I mention below have gluten-free menus and were very accommodating whenever I mentioned that my younger son and I are gluten intolerant. If you are celiac, please be cautious because there may be a cross-contamination risk at many places.
Great restaurants with gluten-free options on the Kona side
We stayed near Waikoloa Beach for a few days at the beginning of our trip, and then in a rental house near Hapuna Beach. As a result, we only visited restaurants on the Kona side, specifically in Kailua-Kona, Waimea, and Waikoloa. Because we were traveling with some of our non-paleo, gluten-eating friends, all of the restaurants on the list will pass muster with a mixed crowd—in other words, these places aren’t just good for gluten-free eaters.
Pro tip: If you can, make reservation several weeks in advance. Tourism has picked up dramatically in Hawaii and you don’t want to be stuck eating at an over-priced, sub-par restaurant in paradise!
Casual restaurants with gluten free options
Looking for fast-casual restaurants where you order at the counter? Here are some tasty options:
This 100% gluten-free Thai spot has two locations, and we visited both multiple times for yummy lunch fare. Racha Thai is located in a tiny food court tucked away in small strip mall in Waikoloa Village and Racha Thai 2 is in a food court in Waimea. We especially liked the chicken satay skewers, avocado rolls, and green papaya salad.
Is it super authentic Thai cuisine? Eh…but the food was tasty and I didn’t have to worry about being glutened.
If you’re in Kailua-Kona and looking for a place with no-frills gluten-free burgers and fries (cooked in a dedicated fryer), stop by Island Ono Loa Grill. I was happy with my order: a gluten-free Macnut Pesto Goat Cheese Burger that I upgraded to 100% grass fed beef. Be prepared for a long wait time because everything is cooked to order—luckily, you can take a lovely stroll along the beach while you wait.
This burger joint in Waimea may be my favorite burger place on the Big Island. All the meat at Village Burger is pasture-raised in Hawaii and they offer lots of interesting and delicious twists on toppings. Big bonus: they offer gluten-free buns and their fries are cooked in a dedicated fryer! Minuses: they only accept cash, so be sure you hit an ATM first.
Sit-down restaurants with gluten free options
Want a fab dinner with the family? Here are some options that range from mid-priced to special occasion places:
If you’re searching for a relaxing meal on the beach with live entertainment, Lava Lava Beach Club is a great choice. There aren’t a ton of options for gluten-free diners, but you can always order a bun-less burger (like I did) without the fries (no dedicated fryer). Be prepared for a long wait for a table (Lava Lava Beach Club offers no reservations if you’re not staying on-property), but they have a nice outdoor waiting area where you can play bocce ball on the grass and order drinks from a food truck.
Foster’s Kitchen has two locations—one in Kailua-Kona and one in Waikoloa. There are lots of gluten-free options on the menu and they have a dedicated gluten-free fryer. It’s a good place to go with picky friends and family because they have all the basics like hearty salads, sandwiches, fish and chips (gluten-free!), pizza, BBQ, etc.
Craving both Texas-inspired BBQ and local Hawaiian fare on the Big Island—all at the same place? Head over to The Fish and The Hog! There are no reservations taken at this popular Waimea spot so get there early and prepare to wait. Our favorite gluten-free dishes were the pulled pork, brisket, and the spicy poke bowl.
Bonus: if you tell the server that you have an allergy, you’ll get a special menu with all the common allergens listed.
I learned about this relatively new restaurant when I bumped into a Nomster on the Big Island. When I asked her where I should eat, she immediately offered up FORC as a place with lots of gluten-free, grass-fed, and paleo(!) options.
FORC stands for Farmer, Ocean, Rancher, Cook and the menu reflects a modern twist on Hawaiian favorites using local ingredients. Although I was tempted by the grass fed steak, I ended up ordering the Hawaiian Meal which included slow cooked pork, roasted purple sweet potato, luau leaf, lomi, poi, poke, and ho’io.
We visited this popular, airy spot in Kailua-Kona at the beginning of our trip and we would’ve gone again if we weren’t staying a good 45-minute drive away. Although the menu doesn’t have the gluten-free items listed, our waiter was well-informed on which dishes could be made gluten-free. I ended up ordering the Mochiko Crusted Butterfish and I was very happy with my decision.
This Italian restaurant in Waikoloa was Ollie’s favorite restaurant, hands-down. He’s a big fan of noodles and he gobbled up the bolognese served over gluten-free pasta in record speed both times we ate here.
The menu has lots of gluten-free options besides pasta; in fact, anything breaded can be made gluten-free. As a result, I ordered a gluten-free Chicken Milanese one night…
…and a delicious salmon and risotto special on our next visit.
The portions at Pueo’s Osteria are generous and the service is warm and friendly. Definitely call ahead to make a reservation and check out the celebrity wall behind the hostess to see who’s dined here in the past!
Merriman’s in Waimea was my favorite splurge dinner on the Big Island. We’ve been to the Merriman’s on Maui several times and it was nice to visit the OG restaurant on the Big Island.
It has a more casual vibe than the Maui location and there were lots of families dining on the night we went, but the food, service, and prices are still exceptional. Best of all, there are lots of gluten-free options so I didn’t feel deprived or limited in my choices. I ended up ordering the crudo of the day…
…and the lamb special (lamb chops, braised lamb, and local veggies).
If you’re wondering if Merriman’s is worth the drive from wherever you are on the island, the answer is YES.
Sweets and Treats with gluten free options
My kids love shave ice and ice cream and these sweet shops were the favorite ones we tried!
We almost left the Big Island without getting shave ice because all the locations near our rental house were closed on the day we went. As a result, we drove all the way to Kailua-Kona to get some at Scandinavian Shave Ice. Is it the best shave ice on Hawaii? I have no idea because it was the only spot we tried, but the kiddos were certainly happy with it!
I don’t eat cow dairy often, so when I do, it has to be worth it. The lilikoi gelato at Gypsea Gelato is 100% worth it (despite the long line to order).
Sweet Journey’s Soft Serve
Dairy-free folks, I have you covered! Sweet Journey’s Soft Serve is made with macadamia milk!
Hawaiian Licks lilikoi flavor vegan ice cream may be my favorite dairy-free ice cream on the planet. It’s made with coconut milk and with just the right amount of tang—and I made sure I had a carton (or two) in our freezer the whole time we were at our vacation rental. Hawaiian Licks has a scoop shop in Hilo, but we never made it out that far. On the Kona side, the local KTA Superstore in Waikoloa stocks many cartons of this flavor.
That’s it for now! Mahalo for reading my recommendations! Please let me know in the comments if I missed any of your favorites!
Visiting Maui? Check out my Guide to Eating Gluten Free on Maui!
Looking for more recipe ideas? Head on over to my Recipe Index. You’ll also find exclusive recipes on my iPhone and iPad app, and in my cookbooks, Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2013), Ready or Not! (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2017), and Nom Nom Paleo: Let’s Go! (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2021).