Restaurant History

The origins of Café Pesto lay in the quaint harbor town of Kawaihae where a small take-out pizzeria that began in 1988 quickly evolved into an award winning dining establishment on the resort coast of South Kohala.  Our inception coincided with the birth of Hawaii Regional Cuisine with which we became notably associated. Despite growing world-class competition on the South Kohala coast, we continue to be the benchmark for consistency, quality and innovation.

Following this growth and success we sought out a more locally based market for our concept in the lush surroundings of Hilo, a city where the best of old Hawaii remained in an era otherwise forgotten. Here, turn of the century buildings – survivors of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, devastating tsunamis and economic depressions – have stood poised against the ravages of time. These timeless structures are now the foundation of what has become the renaissance of downtown Hilo.

On July 10, 1992 the newly restored S. Hata building, originally constructed in 1912 by the Hata family and known as the Grande Dame of Hilo, became the new home of Cafe Pesto, Hilo Bay. With its rattan chairs, tall ceilings, brass detailed exhibition kitchen and ohia wood-fired pizza oven, diners are now able to drift back in time awakened to the present only by the colorful and provocative meal presentations


Our Commitment

In offering the Big Island two quality dining destinations, we have sought to preserve the historic charm of our locale while at the same time bringing our customers the latest and best of local Hawaiian Regional foods. We seek to be at the leading edge of South Kohala’s culinary adventure and at the forefront of Hilo’s renaissance. It is our hope that our diners enjoy both this journey in time and the ethnic diversity of our fresh Island cuisine. Please let us know how we’re doing…

P.S. I owe a special thanks to my original partners, Dave Levenson and
Jim Williams without whom none of this would have been possible.

David Palmer – Proprietor



Our Chefs

Our Chefs have been with us for years and are the backbone of what makes Cafe Pesto successful.

Chef Casey Halpern Biography

Café Pesto, Hilo Bay

Chef Halpern’s inspiration for his creative and eclectic cuisine comes from the ethnic bounty of his home town of Hilo, a town of true Hawaiian authenticity. Everything possible comes from the local farms, ranches and ocean before him. Frequently, he can be found shopping at the neighboring Farmer’s Market for the freshest of produce for his nightly specials. Items like Ohelo berries and Hon Shimejii Mushrooms, Heirloom tomatoes and Okinawan sweet potatoes, freshly caught Ahi and local Spiny Lobster, will often find a welcome home on his menu.

As Executive Chef, Casey has won a great many awards throughout the Islands from critics and locals alike. However, he says his true joy “is in the smiles of satisfaction and appreciation from our many returning customers. That’s what keeps me passionate about cooking”.


Chef Moses Tavares Biography

Café Pesto, Kawaihae Harbor

Chef Moses “Moki” Tavares honed his culinary skills at the 5 Diamond Mauna Lani Bay Hotel, working under famed Chefs Alan Wong, Trey Foshee and Edwin Goto before settling in to make Café Pesto his home. Like many great Chefs, Chef Moki draws his inspiration from his early childhood experiences growing up in Waimea on the Big Island where large extended family cookouts were the norm. Those experiences immersed him in the culturally diverse culinary bounty that is the foundation of our Island cuisine – experiences that drive the creative passion in all the colorful dishes he prepares. Perhaps his greatest gift to Café Pesto, however, and one that we all truly cherish, is the smile and Aloha he shares with us each and every day.


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