Island Lava Java: Come for the Food, Stay for the View

September 17, 2019, 11:15 AM HST (Updated September 10, 2019, 8:07 AM)
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    Try having lunch at Island Lava Java on a Wednesday and you’re sure to compete with cruise ship passengers for a table. Ever since Chef Josh Ratigan and his Guava BBQ Ribs from Island Lava Java were featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” he gets over a dozen guests from the ship who request the dish. One bite of a tender sous vide rib and you’ll see why folks are lining up for a taste.

    As a child growing up in Las Vegas, Nevada, Ratigan woke up early every morning and tuned into PBS to watch Julia Child and “Yan Can Cook.” His mother would fill the home with the aroma of freshly baked treats during the day and make dinner every night. Cooking shows and mom’s creations were two motivating factors in his decision to pursue a career in culinary arts.

    “In the early ’90s, my uncle owned 10 food trucks in Las Vegas—way before they were cool,” he said. “When I was about 10 years old, I started working for him pouring sodas. On the weekends, we’d go to the speedway and set up two trucks in the grandstands, and one truck in the pits to feed the drivers. Then when I was about 14 or 15, I started working as a short order cook in the trucks. This is how I first started cooking and I did this all through high school.”

    As a boy, Chef Ratigan dreamed of becoming a firefighter like his father, so after high school, he signed up for the academy. It didn’t take long for him to realize it wasn’t the career he wanted.

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    “I trained to be a firefighter for about a year, and when I participated in my first clinical, I saw a kid that had gone through a window and I knew right then I couldn’t do it,” he said. “I’m not a blood and guts person. So, my dad suggested I think about going to culinary school.”

    As it turned out, Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School had just opened up in Las Vegas, so Ratigan decided to enroll. After graduating in 2003, he completed an externship at Rosemary’s Restaurant, which was rated the No. 1 restaurant on the Las Vegas strip. He eventually was hired and ultimately became the sous chef, beginning his career in fine dining.

    Eventually, Ratigan’s career path led him to help open the restaurant Lo Tia, Enoteca and Cucina at Green Valley Ranch with his new culinary mentor, Chef Patrick Muster. After about a year, he helped Chef Patrick open the new MMB Steakhouse at the Hard Rock, where he stayed for about two years. After spending his entire life in Las Vegas, the now-experienced chef was ready for a new adventure.

    “I was kind of over the Vegas scene, so I started looking around and was offered the job as executive chef at Island Lava Java in 2017,” he said. “Even though I’d never been to the Big Island, I feel like it was meant to be. My grandma was actually born in Hilo.”

    Some of his grandma’s Big Island roots rubbed off on Ratigan when it came to food. When asked what his favorite meal was, he didn’t hesitate to answer.

    “If I had a last meal request, it would be spam, eggs, rice and kimchi,” said Chef. “It’s what I grew up eating, and what my grandma and mom always used to make. I’ve had tons of filet, truffles and foie gras, but spam, eggs and kimchi is what speaks to my heart and my soul.”

    Some outstanding menu items at Island Lava Java are, of course, the infamous Guava BBQ Ribs, made with house made, guava-lilkoi barbecue sauce on baby back pork ribs, served with island slaw.

    The Ahi Poke, a perfect light meal, is made with fresh ahi, soy sauce, sesame oil, red onion, avocado, sesame seeds, kukui nut and wasabi aioli. Fresh veggies are featured on the Big Island Beet Salad made with oven-roasted beets, organic greens, baby tomatoes, goat cheese, avocado and spiced walnuts tossed in lemon vinaigrette.

    Hungry diners will enjoy the South Point Pork Chop—a pan-seared bone-in pork chop served with garlic and herb mashed potatoes, bourbon-jalapeno local corn, sour cherry and macadamia nut relish.

    Fish lovers will savor the Chef’s Fresh Catch, prepared with macadamia-coconut crust, with ginger jasmine rice, pineapple beurre blanc and local veggies with charred tomato butter.

    Save room for one of the many outstanding desserts, like the Passion Meringue Tart made with a macadamia nut shortbread crust, house-made lilikoi curd and fluffy meringue. It’s as beautiful as it is delicious.

    “Island Lava Java is a local and friendly restaurant with a great view,” said the chef. “We really care
    about our customers and the food. We have a full bar and bake all our bread, pizza dough and pastries. Everything is made in house and we only bake for the day. We ever sell day old breads and pastries.”

    Located at 75-5799 Aliʻi Drive in Kailua-Kona, Island Lava Java is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

    Ahi Poki at Island Lava Java. PC: Karen Rose

    Big Island Beet Salad at Island Lava Java. PC: Karen Rose

    Chefs Fresh Catch at Island Lava Java. PC: Karen Rose

    Guava BBQ Ribs at Island Lava Java. PC: Karen Rose

    Passion Meringue Tart at Island Lava Java. PC: Karen Rose

    South Point Pork Chop at Island Lava Java. PC: Karen Rose

    Karen Rose
    Karen Rose is a writer and journalist living on the Big Island of Hawai‘i. Her writing focuses on food, wine, travel, arts and entertainment. She never met a food she didn't like—except black licorice.
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