HONOKOHAU HARBOR, KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii, July 8, 2014 — Bite Me Fish Market Bar and Grill is without exception the most fabulous place in all of Kona for fresh fish. Tucked away in Honokohau Harbor, this unpretentious but exceptional dockside restaurant serves the best of what the large sport fishing fleet has caught that day, literally right off the boat. Whether it’s fresh Hawaiian Ono, Ahi, or Opah, Bite Me is spectacularly built around the concept that if the fish was any fresher, it would still be swimming.
The Hawaiian waters are a cornucopia of game fish and seafood, a culinary class by itself for sheer variety. Honokohau Harbor is the center of the sport fishing industry in Kona, largely due to the legendary world class giant Marlin and other big game deep sea fishing off its shores. A fleet of over 45 sport fishing charter boats serve the big game fishing industry and the tourist trade year round, and at the end of each day there is a bountiful variety of precious game fish to eat.
Bite Me began as a simple dockside fish market where the public could come and buy fresh fish right off the boat before it got to the supermarkets and restaurants. An endless variety of daily catches had livened up dinners in family homes throughout Kona for years. The back patio open air restaurant extending to the water was a welcome and natural complement, framed by a lively bar built around the remnants of a boat transom.
The focus is purely on the fish, and the atmosphere is relaxingly casual and comfortable. Red picnic tables are set up across the patio, which backs up right to the dock and a flotilla of sleek fishing boats awaiting the next day’s foray into the Pacific Ocean. Bite Me has its own fleet of 6 charter fishing boats which provide exhilarating deep sea fishing adventures for tourists and an abundance of fish for the restaurant.
The market is still a big part of their business, and locals flock to buy the plethora of exotic fish available each day, but it is the restaurant that has transformed Bite Me into a kind of private clubhouse by the sea. A steady crowd of regulars keeps the bar and tables busy with the simple pleasure of wonderful cooking at a great price. The fish is so good, so simply prepared and memorably brilliant that it is easy to imagine eating here multiple nights in a week.
Ahi Tuna Poke is a wonderful start, a version of Hawaiian spicy sashimi. Large chunks of fresh Ahi are marinated in soy sauce and spices and served raw, a local delicacy and quite excellent. A dozen locally harvested Keohole Point oysters are sweet and delightful, a raw bar appetizer so tasty it’s tempting to get two dozen.
The fresh catch of the day might be Opah, Ono, Monchong, Ahi, A’u or Marlin, Mahi Mahi, Aku, or Hebi, or a choice between any or all of them. The fish is basically cooked in one of three ways: seasoned and grilled, steamed in a foil packet, or panko crusted with a macadamia nut pesto sauce.
All fish is served with a fresh tartar sauce and accompanied by two scoops of sticky rice, which is both beautiful in its clean simplicity and also the culturally necessary way to properly eat this stunning sumptuous feast of oceanic joy.
Tender and precisely cooked, the grilled Opah is a wonder of perfection, an exercise in moments growing elongated as sensory buds explode with each ecstatic bite. Steamed Ono is an absolute brilliant taste sensation, firm and juicy, with beautiful texture and the undiluted rich flavor of ridiculously fresh Ono. Panko crusted Monchong is a revelation, a tasty, firm Hawaiian fish with a delicate flavor perfectly matched with a macadamia nut pesto.
Be sure to wash down your dinner with plenty of ice cold beer, and delight in the contrast between the brilliant seafood and the unpretentious surroundings. They also have fantastic bountifully stuffed fish tacos, outstanding ceviche, and a whole array of fish sandwiches. Entrées are around $20, portions are generous, the atmosphere is priceless, and the overall experience is simply wonderful.
Honokohau Harbor is a serene backdrop, a busy full service marina, and the home to the granddaddy of all sport fishing events, the Big Island Invitational Marlin Tournament. Most diving charters, whale watching cruises, sailing charters and especially sport fishing boats in Kona originate from here. Bite Me Sport Fishing operates six sport fishing boats available for charter, and they are all appropriately named Bite Me I through VI.
Joel Berliner is a travel writer who lives in Los Angeles.
All photos by Alison Reynolds.