Hidden Gem: Ma’ona Lunch Counter in Keaau, Hawaii

The menu items in this post were provided by Ma’ona Lunch Counter but the opinions expressed here are my own. 
As you drive from Hilo on Hawaii Belt Road/Mamalahoa Highway, Keaau is a small commercial/industrial area just south of the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo and the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory. In the W.H. Shipman Business Park, Ma’ona Lunch Counter is definitely a hidden gem that is open for breakfast and lunch. Ma’ona Lunch Counter started back in 2008 in the Hilo Farmers’ Market, but in July 2015, made a move to Keaau. The kitchen is run by Chef David Vera, graduate of the Culinary Institute who began his career as a private chef on Lanai. But the Big Island is his home now and you won’t believe what kind of food is coming out of this kitchen. His clientele is mostly construction/industrial workers and employees of companies in the business park, but I got to say, “These buggahs eat good!” from the amazing burgers to the plate lunches.

  • Travel tip: If you are coming from Hilo, it is an easy right turn on to Kipimana Street. But if you are coming from the south (Kurtistown or Hawaii Volcanoes National Park), making a left from Mamalahoa Highway can be tricky. You have to time it just right and basically “burn rubbah” to get across, so be careful.

Da Bomb Burger ($10.95) is a ½ lb. burger with a spice rub topped with bacon, mushrooms, and bleu cheese served with French fries. This burger is well named. It is definitely “da bomb”! The homemade beef patty is what makes this burger so thick and juicy. I love when a burger is topped with bacon and bleu cheese! The bacon adds a salty, smoky flavor. The bleu cheese adds a creamy, punchy, zingy flavor. The mushrooms are an added bonus with their earthy flavor and meaty texture. The fries are crinkle cut and fried to perfection, crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Rating: 5/5

Oyster Chicken Plate ($9.95) is their famous OC sauce marinated chicken and served with rice and salad. The chicken is tender and the OC sauce seasons the chicken just right for the grill. The sauce on top reminds me of a creamy Russian dressing with sweet and tangy flavors. Rating: 4.5/5

Loco Moco ($9.95) starts with rice topped with a handmade beef patty, brown onion gravy, and over-easy eggs with more rice and salad on the side. This is the best loco moco I have ever had! It sticks to its roots with the main ingredients of rice, hamburger patty, gravy, and egg. Being from Hilo and a profound “loco moco” connoisseur, there are two things that make this loco moco great: handmade seasoned beef patty and homemade brown gravy. You can taste the love that Chef David has for his ingredients. The handmade beef patty is locally-sourced and tastes like a juicy steak. The gravy just has a richness to it that is just miles away from the typical brown gravy. “Dis loco moco wen broke da mouth!”  Rating: 5/5

Blackened Ono ($9.95) is a daily special that you might find on a day you visit. Chef David only uses fresh, local-caught fish. The fish is seasoned and blackened to perfection with a great sear on the outside for a succulent, delicate fish on the inside. Sometimes a blackened technique means spicy, but not in this case. Restaurant quality fish dish at a lunch counter! Who knew! Rating: 5/5

If you live in Hilo/Keaau or are road-tripping through our beautiful Big Island, stop by Ma’ona Lunch Counter to fuel up with some onolicious food! Hidden gem indeed!

Atmosphere: 4 out of 5 stars
Décor: 3 out of 5 stars
Service: 5 out of 5 stars
Food: 5 out of 5 stars

For more information:
Ma’ona Lunch Counter
16-203 Williama Pl.
Keaau, HI 96749
Hours: Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Closed on Saturdays and Sundays
Parking: Free parking in very small lot
Seating: Limited seating inside

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