Hidden away in an unlikely spot of a nondescript strip mall on Makaala Street is one of Hilo’s finest restaurants: Hilo Bay Café. The restaurant is next to another café, an arcade, and a food court. It was quite small inside with several tables and a bar. Despite the location, they made good use of their space and decorated it nicely with black and red. It had a quiet atmosphere around 6 p.m. The staff were dressed nicely and were very professional and polite.
Hilo Bay Café supports local business, especially farmers and other food producers. I liked knowing that my food was fresh and coming from Hilo and the surrounding areas of Hawaii.
The appetizer menu is quite varied. You could easily make a small meal out of a couple of the selections if you are not that hungry. Entrées are priced on average at $15 to $30, with plenty of options. Salads and meat plates (fish and pork) dominate the menu, but vegetarian selections are also available. I saw a sweet potato burger on the lunch menu and would have tried it if I came a little earlier. The other vegetarian selection was coconut-crusted tofu. The menu is posted on the window so you can peruse it before you decide if it is for you.
I ordered the pan-roasted ono (wahoo) from the specials menu. It was presented very nicely on top of tomato-caper polenta and sautéed spinach with a beurre blanc sauce and topped with olive tapenade. The olive flavor was too strong for me, but once I removed some of the tapenade I completely enjoyed my meal. The polenta was cooked to perfection, soft inside and just a tiny bit crispy on the outside. The chef recommended that the ono be cooked medium, and I took his suggestion. The portion size was more than adequate. I was not able to finish my fish before I got too full.
I also tried the parmesan crusted eggplant with farmer’s market ratatouille, tomato coulis, feta cheese, pesto, and truffle oil. (The hamakua mushrooms were replaced with more ratatouille by request.) The eggplant was very good, but the ratatouille was just diced, sautéed vegetables (including more eggplant).
My only complaints were the size of the table and that no freebies come with the dinner entrée. The bread of the day was an extra $3. The table was too small to hold bread and entrée plates for two.
I recommend the Hilo Bay Café for anyone looking for a good restaurant in Hilo, Hawaii. It is a good mix of local food with some French influences.