Story by Julia Steele
Photo by Jack Wolford
Edwin Goto grew up loving hamburgers. He ate them at Like Like Drive Inn on Ke‘eaumoku Street and at Jon’s Restaurant at Ala Moana Center. He still remembers the day in the late ’60s when McDonald’s opened in Hawai‘i, and he and his family drove all the way from their home in Pearl City to ‘Aina Haina—though he was drawn more by the Golden Arches’ shtick, he says, than by its food.
These days Goto is still a burger fanatic — though you won’t find any gimmickry at his place. Goto owns and runs Village Burger, and he’s a purist through and through. His burger joint sits in the Big Island town of Waimea, smack-dab in the middle of cattle country, and that is the whole point. “Village Burger is all about tracing the food to the source,” he says as he slings freshly ground patties of Big Island red veal and Wagyu beef on the grill. On the wall across from him is the legend “The best foods are found close to home …,” along with a list of where the food is from and how far it has traveled: “Nakano Farms two miles, Kahua Ranch twelve miles, Holy’s Bakery twenty-two miles …” In all, there are fourteen names on the wall.
Village Burger serves six different burgers: three made from pasture-raised cattle, one from locally caught ‘ahi, one from Waipi‘o kalo and one from Hamakua mushrooms. Toppings include tomato marmalade and chipotle goat cheese from goats who live just down the road in Ahualoa. Goto is a serious cook: He spent decades working as a chef in some of Hawai‘i’s ritziest hotels. He seems very happy with where he finds himself now, able to give all comers a chance to sample truly local food. And the burgers themselves? “People say they are juicy, not fatty or greasy,” Goto smiles. So what’s his favorite meal on the menu? Either a red veal burger or a mushroom one, he says, paired with a vanilla shake that’s made from thick, rich ice cream produced just a mile and a half away.