Cafe Pesto Hilo Bay

Cafe Pesto Hilo Bay - Popular Downtown Eatery With Wood Oven-Fired Pizza
Local Expert's Rating:
4 / 5
The Bottom Line:

Once a small pizza joint in a quiet harbor town, Café Pesto Hilo Bay is now an incredibly popular restaurant located in bustling downtown Hilo. Go here to enjoy wood-fired pizzas and Italian-inspired dishes made from fresh Hawaiian ingredients. 

- The HawaiianIslands.com Local Expert Team

Cafe Pesto Hilo Bay is a cozy family-owned and operated restaurant that serves up delicious food for a great price. You also can’t beat its location within a historic building overlooking the park wrapping around Hilo Bay. Charm, history, beauty, and fantastic food — what’s there not to love?

You’ll find Cafe Pesto Hilo Bay in the restored S. Hata building that sits across from the Mooheau Bandstand at Russel Carrol Mooheau County Park. Of course, this wasn’t the restaurant’s original location. Cafe Pesto began in 1988 as a small take-out pizzeria in the much smaller fishing town of Kawaihae. But their pizza got more and more popular until the family behind the food opted to expand and find a more bustling location to serve from. Hello, downtown Hilo!

Cafe Pesto Hilo Bay remains best well-known for its innovative and delicious pizzas (although their menu has expanded quite a bit since their inception). A necessary part of the building renovation done to bring in the restaurant was to add in an ohia wood-fired pizza oven within a brass detailed exhibition kitchen. Every pie served here thus has that nice crispy, smoky flavor resultant from wood firing. All pizzas here are made and prepared as personal pizzas, not by the slice. But you do have a lot of options! Choose from one of their specialty pizzas like the Smoked Salmon pizza that comes drizzled with rosemary gorgonzola sauce, or build your own with delicious Hawaiian ingredients like chili shrimp, grilled pineapple, and Kahlua pork.

Pizza remains the big star at Cafe Pesto Hilo Bay, but there are plenty of other great options. Most of what you find on the menu is Italian-inspired with heavy Hawaiian influences. 

Take the following non-pizza menu favorites for example:

Hibachi Chicken Saffron Rissotto 
Available both on the lunch and dinner menu, this dish features a seared hibachi chicken breast served atop a bed of creamy saffron rice and rosemary grilled oyster mushrooms.

Heritage Pork Bolognese 
This is a pretty heavy meal, an ideal choice after a busy day running around the island. The counterpoint is Kaunamano pork served within an island beef red wine marinara and tossed together with basil linguine. 

Good food is naturally going to be the leading reason why anyone would choose any restaurant. But a good atmosphere matters too! Cafe Pesto Hilo Bay shines here too. The restored interior of this historic building comes with its own natural beauty for starters, featuring tall ceilings classic tiling, but then there’s also the nice accents the restaurant itself has added. Such accents include freshly cut flowers decorating the tables that are paired with posters and paintings of tropical themes. Other furnishings are likewise decidedly Hawaiian, and the restaurant is typically playing upbeat folksy and Hawaiian tunes. 

Cafe Pesto Hilo Bay is open for lunch and dinner, every day throughout the week. By lunch, they do mean lunch and not brunch, with hours every opened day starting at 11 am. Lunch does tend to be busier than dinner, with reservations strongly recommended unless you’re there at opening. This midday popularity is both due to its location being easy for workday lunches and their slightly cheaper, but same high quality, lunch menu over the dinner menu. 

Note, that this restaurant is vegan-friendly. The marinara sauce does not include cheese, but you can add it if you’d like. There is also a vegan risotto available for those with special or restricted diets.

Insider Tips:
-Not traveling by car? No problem. The Hele-On Mooheau Bus Terminal is located just across the street from the restaurant. 
-If you do wind up having to wait around for a table, the good news is there is plenty of window shopping to do in the area. Make sure to check out the aptly and interestingly named gift store The Most Irresistible Shop in Hilo located just one block north.