65-1227 Opelo Road
808 885 6822
A great many good things have been written about Merriman's. Most, if not all, of them are true.
For years, we would drive past Merriman's in Waimea on our way to the Waipio Valley, or to Hilo and Volcanoes National Park beyond. We would always say something of the form, "Isn't that Merriman's? That's supposed to be one of the best restaurants in Hawaii." But, we never stopped to eat there.
One year, after reading a particularly good review, we finally dropped by for dinner. Now Merriman's is our favorite restaurant on the Big Island, and we can hardly wait to get back.
Merriman's is of the Alice Waters school of restaurants. They emphasize local, seasonal ingredients, intelligent preparation, and a sense of place in cuisine. Hawaii is an excellent place for this. It is surrounded by an ocean full of fish. It is in the highlands, Hawaiian cattle country. The islands have been swept by settlers, first by two waves of Polynesians, then the North Americans and Europeans, and then by the Asians, from China, the Philipines, Vietnam and elsewhere. Each group brought new ingredients, and new cooking ideas, and Merriman's has learned from them all.
The food is varied, and sometimes hard to place. The corn and shrimp fritters are new world and perfectly fried. The salmon poisson cru, raw fish, is a Polynesian ceviche with coconut. It is almost a surprise it tastes so good. Then come pork and onion quesadillas. Who brought what to this dish, and who cares, it is delicious, as is the crips, garlicky kim chi on the side.
The local lamb is exquisite. It tastes grass fed, with a fresh, lamby note. We've loved the lamb chops with asparagus and the combination plate, with a lamb shoulder chop and a tender lamb shank with corn and mashed potatoes. The cheeseburger is out of this world, juicy and sweet, made from local beef. The fish is as fresh and flavorsome as any. The opakapaka with brown butter gives skate wing a run for its money, and the onaga stood up nicely to its sweet and sour sauce.
When we have room, we eat dessert. Hawaiian desserts are as good as true Southern desserts, but they are based on different fruit flavors. Who can resist a sweet and slightly tart mango pudding cake with coconut and ripe strawberries. Tropical magno is a wild fruit and calls out for this Southern treatment, as does passion fruit, which Merriman's serves up in a pudding.
At times it seems that Hawaii is so far from everywhere. It is. But, it is also an oceanic crossroads, and at Merriman's, it seems each traveler has brought something to the table. Don't make our mistake and drive by. Arrange your day so you can stop for lunch, or even better, for dinner. It will be worth the detour.