The Fish Hopper (Kailua-Kona, HI)

After several years of having my work travel severely curtailed by the pandemic, 2023 has been a whirlwind of travel. While my usual work travel concentrates on some particularly non-exotic locations (I’m lookin’ at you, Lakehurst NJ and El Segundo, CA!), this year had a few plum trips. Just two and half weeks after returning from a week-long work trip to France, I found myself heading off to the Big Island in Hawaii for a week-long conference, and between the travel and a few extra days tacked on to the end of the trip, Carol and I had a few days to explore the island. But with any trip to Hawaii from the East Coast, it’s a bit of a marathon getting there. Our voyage started at 6am from Boston Logan (meaning departing our house a bit after midnight), connecting in Phoenix, and arriving late afternoon at the Kona airport. By that point we were starving, so after procuring the rental car, we headed down to central Kailua-Kona to a spot recommended to us by the rental car shuttle driver: The Fish Hopper.

The Fish Hopper is easy to find, it’s pretty much in the dead center of Kailua-Kona’s downtown harbor area, on Ali‘i Drive (which on our arrival was sporting one of its weekend Farmers Markets). One of the delightful things about Hawaii’s climate is that pretty much all year either outdoor dining, or at least open-air dining, is viable if you’ve got some good ventilation in the warmer months, so The Fish Hopper has a nice open dining room with good views out into Kailua-Kona’s harbor, with quite a few spacious tables and some nice tropical-themed decor.

After our long travel, it was nice to kick back, relax, enjoy the views… and have a cocktail. Carol started out with their “Big Island Mai Tai”. We’re both actually pretty picky when it comes to “Mai Tais” (a proper Mai Tai really needs to be rum, orgeat, lime, and orange liqueur), so I’d only call this drink “Mai Tai inspired”; it was rum, pineapple, orange, and lilikoi. But the combination really worked; “Mai Tai” or not, this was a tasty cocktail, with a high quality lilikoi syrup kicking it up a notch. We’d get this again.

Myself, I went for the toasted coconut pina colada, and was quite happy with it. A very coconut-forward pina colada made with fresh coconut and fresh pineapple juice, rimmed with freshly-toasted coconut, this was basically just a perfectly-executed pina colada. I’d happily get this again as well.

If there’s one item that I could pretty much expect at any Kona restaurant that served seafood, it was the Ahi Tower; I think just about every restaurant had a variant. Here at The Fish Hopper, it was seasoned fresh Mango, fresh avocado, a nice generous layer of ahi lightly seasoned with soy and sesama, and some seaweed to top it. Along with the soy and wasabi garnish, this was basically everything I like with a poke bowl, but better-composed and perfectly executed.

For my main coarse, I stuck with the ahi theme and went with the sesame-crusted ahi. This was somewhat of a strategic error, since this is really similar to the ahi tower appetizer, but in the end, I was quite satisfied. The ahi was absolute top notch, and served up how I really like it, with a perfect light sear, and the inside being just slightly warm. A bit of fresh seared asparagus (hard to see in the photo), rice, and a good mango-papaya relish tied everything together here. This was pretty much exactly what I look for a in good Ahi tuna dish.

Carol, meanwhile, went for the mahi mahi, and the version at The Fish Hopper was served up crusted with macadamia nuts, served on a bed of molokai sweet potatoes, the same mango-papaya relish as my Ahi, and a nice citrus cream sauce. The fish itself was perfectly cooked, extremely tender with just the right amount of flakiness. Again, a thoroughly-enjoyable dish.

Overall, we really liked The Fish Hopper. The staff was warm and welcoming, the ambiance pleasant, and the food and cocktails enjoyable. Especially for a place right in Kailua-Kona, it was quite a nice overall experience, and we’d happily return on a future visit.

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