The Big Island of Hawai'i Part III: Waimea
Waimea is an inland town on the Big Island of Hawai’i. It is known for its cattle and is the site of the largest privately-owned cattle ranch in America. The town has a quaint feeling to it, with a humble farmer’s market and exciting new local businesses. Being a farming town, Waimea is rightfully the home to the best restaurant in Hawaii.
The Parker Ranch is a large part of Waimea. This ranch, gifted to John Parker by King Kamehameha I, is still used by grazing cattle. Parker came to the island and solved a feral cow problem after longhorn cows were introduced to the island by Captain Vancouver, who gave the cow’s to Kamehameha as a gift. Parker took his new-age gun and cut the cow population down to size, which made Kamehameha ever grateful to the gunslinger. The property of Parker Ranch is beautiful, lush, and green. The cow’s look happy on their ever-expansive grazing land. Egrets sit on their back, blindingly white in the sunshine, and pick bugs out of the cows hide. It’s a nice part of town, peaceful too.
Within the living center of Waimea, there is a farmer’s market every Saturday. It is in the courtyard of Parker School, across the street from a park where children play organized sports. The bakery stall usually has a lineup of at least fifteen people until everything is picked over. The Lebanese food stand has fantastic falafels. Take some of those home, or back to the hotel, for a snack later in the day or week; you will not be disappointed by their flavour. You can also buy Indian food, BBQ, lemonade, acai bowls, and bratwursts. They have cheap orchid flowers, abundant produce, and some interesting local art for sale. You can even buy Alaskan salmon and a jarred pickled concoction whose vendor swears it reverses aging.
If you are cooking dinner at home one night, be sure to pick up your main course from Waimea Butcher Shop. This locally owned store has wonderful cuts of locally sourced meats. When I was there in January, they were battling the local slaughterhouse, owned by Kulana Foods, who were no longer slaughtering pigs. This was hurting business because this slaughterhouse is the only one on the island. Pork, being a known special of the Hawaiian Islands, was a top seller before the stoppage at the slaughterhouse. I can only hope that they have since resolved the issue.
For more on the slaughterhouse issue, here is a Full Page recommended read: https://www.civilbeat.org/2019/02/big-island-loss-of-slaughterhouse-cripples-specialty-meat-industry/
Waimea is also home to the original Merriman’s restaurant, the best restaurant on the islands. With five locations in Hawai’i now, the Waimea location is the original. It is small and upscale. You can see into the kitchen where the chef’s work as a diligent team. The staff are very friendly and knowledgeable. The atmosphere is warm, almost family-like. There are not many tables, but it is loud all the same. It feels like you are dining in an old Hawaiian plantation home. Cocktails are very special at Merriman’s. They are well done, liberally poured, and a sure-fire way to get conversation going at the table. Their menu tries its best to source everything from local farmers. The salads are fresh, flavourful, and correctly portioned for an appetizer. One salad of note is the Lettuce from Hirabara Farms.
Their mains are amazing. One of the best on the menu is the wok-charred ahi tuna. The tuna was perfectly cooked, with an outside rub that hits the tongue’s palate in so many special ways. Their grass-fed filet of beef with jalapeno whipped potatoes is better then it sounds. A bite with the steak and potato is rich in texture, with the jalapeno adding the subtlest heat that lingers on your tongue.
For dessert, I must go with the chocolate purse. With ice cream, it is too good to pass up.