A Review of Kanaka Kava: The restaurants around Big Island’s Kona Town serve up something for everyone, from prime rib to hamburgers, Asian noodles to Indian curry, fish tacos to pizza. There are plenty of eateries offering contemporary Hawaiian cuisine, too — a mix of different foods from multiple continents, sometimes combined in strange and curious ways, that at times incorporates staples from traditional Hawaiian cooking.
But those visiting Kona town preferring a traditional Hawaiian plate to a contemporary one can be hard-pressed to find a truly authentic experience. This is because the simple, humble dishes of Hawaii’s old days are overshadowed by more popular ethnic and continental cuisine, and in some cases can be an acquired taste.
There is one eatery in Kona, though, that specializes in the islands’ traditional foods: Kanaka Kava. It’s a small open-air, no-frills eatery set back from Ali’i Drive along the town’s commercial waterfront strip open for late-lunch and dinner serving local plates and coconut-shell cups full of “kava”. Otherwise known as “awa”, this is a traditional Polynesian drink made with the roots of an indigenous pepper plant grown throughout the Pacific Ocean for its mild sedative and relaxing effects.
A typical dinner course from the open-air diner includes a sectioned wooden bowl with rounds of baked Hawaiian sweet potato (uala), a generous helping of kalua pork, a serving of squid luau (squid meat cooked with coconut milk and taro leaves), a mound of seasoned diced raw fish (poke) and a bowl of fermented taro (poi). It’s a meal traditionally eaten with fingers, although western utensils are available.
Kanaka Kava also makes poi bowls, which are helpings of fresh Big Island-made poi topped with bananas, blueberries, coconut flakes, goji and acai berries, granola and almonds, all covered with a healthy drizzle of honey. Hemp seeds, cacao nibs, papaya fruit and chia seeds are all available as add-ons.
Besides bowls of kava, the restaurant serves fresh coconut water, kombucha, gingerade, yerba mate, hot cacao and its own homemade version of POG (blended passionfruit, orange and guava juices).
Seating in the outdoor patio is limited; there’s only enough tables for a few groups of diners at at time. Even so, the place never seems to get too busy and its wait staff are always laid back and friendly, and the food comes out surprisingly fast. There’s open mic nights and musical events throughout the week, catering to a local bohemian hippie crowd.
How To Get There
Kanaka Kava is located between Kuakini Highway and Ali’i Drive along the waterfront of downtown Kona, near the well-known and easy-to-spot volleyball court. It’s part of a complex of other bars, restaurants and shopping centers comprising the northern end of the seaside commercial thoroughfare.
The restaurant and kava bar opens every day of the week at 3:00pm and closes at 10:00pm on Monday through Thursday and on Sundays, and at 11:00pm on Fridays and Saturdays. A menu of food and drink items with prices included can be found at https://www.kanakakava.bar/bar-1