Teshima’s (Kealakekua, Hawaii)

After several days attending conferences on the Kona Coast, we took an opportunity to break away for the evening and check out some of the local dining scene. In this case, we had a specific destination; a short distance away in Kealakekua lies a pretty subdued restaurant, that’s been serving Japanese and Hawaiian cuisine for decades. And that’s Teshima’s. As you can read in Honolulu Magazine’s most excellent writeup of Hawaii’s Oldest Restaurants, at just under 100 years old, Teshima’s has been serving up Hawaiian-Japanese food longer than just about any other place on the Big Island, opening in 1929.

Just walking up to Teshima’s, you can get some sense of the history, even though the building itself dates from the mid-1950s. When they rebuilt the restaurant in 1957, they decided to focus on Japanese and local Hawaiian cuisine, the latter of which had already formed as a rich fusion of Asian, European, and American traditions. The restaurant is primarily Japanese in design, with most of the seating being cozy booths divided by partitions, as well as a handful of special event rooms. The main dining room fills up quickly, so it’s pretty common that a long line forms outside as people wait for tables (Teshima’s doesn’t take reservations). On our visit, a 6pm arrival had us waiting only about 15 minutes for a table.

As we perused the menu, we enjoyed some local beer, a Kona Hanalei Island IPA (they’ve got a modest list of beer, wine, and cocktails, with most of the bar menu is actually on a white board above the bar in the main room). The overall menu is primarily combo dishes based on Japanese cuisine, like a set-menu Teishoku, bento box specials, sukiyaki, or teriyaki entrees, as well as the typical-for-Hawaii local specials of hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and grilled-cheese sandwiches.

For our first course, Carol and I shared a rather large bowl of Saimin. As you can read in our review of Palace Saimin (which, coincidentally, is also in the Honolulu Magazine writeup, as one of Oahu’s oldest restaurants), Saimin is a delightful ramen-like fusion from Hawaii’s plantation era: Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, Hawaiian, and Portuguese. The resulting dish is a noodle soup that bears a lot of resemblance to Chinese “mein” and Japanese “ramen”. The version at Teshima’s is quite good: the broth rich and flavorful, the noodles nice and toothsome, and the toppings (Spam and fried egg) adding nicely to the dish. This is definitely worth checking out in itself.

For the rest of our dinner, Carol and I both opted for the same item, the nightly special of a combination platter of beef teriyaki and shrimp tempura, served up with rice and a bowl of miso soup. The beef teriyaki was quite flavorful: nice crisped slices of beef with a particularly-strong soy and pineapple teriyaki sauce. But the star of the platter was the shrimp tempura; the shrimp was fresh and large, and cooked to absolute tender perfection, and the tempura batter was light and lacy, cooked to a perfect crisp without becoming overly greasy. This was one of the best tempura’s I had, and the star of the night.

Overall, we loved Teshima. The food is great, the service extremely friendly and welcoming, and it’s great to experience one of the Big Island’s old-school institutions. I’ve got no doubt that when they hit their 100th anniversary in 2029, they’ll still be going strong.

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