Hawaii’s food scene has a secret and you have to get up early to get it: breakfast. It cannot be overstated in the food scene of Hawaii. In many ways it is the unsung hero. Breakfast may not get talked about in the same way, but if you stop and talk to the local people, they all have a favorite breakfast place and the choices are infinite. Entire restaurants (and even chains of restaurants) are based in the morning meal. Whether it’s cutting edge creative, like Koko Head Café, or everday fare, like Koa Pancake House (7 locations), breakfast is a big deal and it’s all over the place.
Breakfast has long been a major tradition for the people of Hawaii and I like to think that it’s a symptom of a hardworking culture. Whether you’re looking back to the ancient times of subsistence living, or the days of the plantations, or to the modern grind, the people here work hard. Living in paradise doesn’t come cheap, and it can be a tough expensive life here. People get up and work hard every day… and hard work starts with a big, healthy (sometimes not so healthy) breakfast.
Like everything else in Hawaii, breakfast is a multicultural experience and the options are endless. If you have a sweet tooth, there are dozens of bakeries all over Oahu featuring a wide range of deliciousness—even Zippy’s has a bakery (Napoleon’s Bakery). In every neighborhood you’ll find middle America favorites, like old fashioned and glazed donuts alongside ensaymadas (Filipino butter glazed pastries), and malasadas (Portuguese yeast donuts).
The classic “2 egg” breakfast is also living its best life in Hawaii. Sure, you’ll find them with bacon, but more often it’s a wild selection of spam, Portuguese sausage (linguiça), Vienna sausage, ham, or vinha d’alhos (vinegar marinated pork, pronounced here as vin-guh doysh). More interesting options might include kalbi (Korean style marinated barbecue beef short ribs), katsu variations (panko breaded and deep-fried options), and the almighty hamburger steak. We must pause at this point because with the hamburger steak we enter special territory, the loco moco, a favorite of my wife. A scoop of rice, burger, fried egg, and brown gravy—a dish truly greater than the sum of its parts. It’s said this dish originated at the Lincoln Grill in Hilo, HI to appease a group of hungry teenagers in 1949. Almost 70 years later this dish has become a staple on Hawaii breakfast menus (coming soon: in search of Oahu’s favorite loco moco).
My favorite “2 egg” breakfast is a special local signature: Mitsu-Ken Garlic fried chicken. Jacqui has been going there for breakfast since she was in the 7thgrade—in other words, she started coming here when she started attending Kamehameha Schools (c/o 2003). And it totally makes sense why. On a cheat day, I go for the Mitsu-Ken Deluxe Combo, a lumberjack breakfast if I ever saw one with fried rice, bacon, eggs, Portuguese sausage, and their signature garlic fried chicken. And at less than $10, it’s a steal.
You can’t forget pancakes and French toast either. Even they get local flare with fresh fruit and exotic syrups like coconut, macadamia nut, lilikoi (passion fruit), guava, and more. Often they’re even included in the most popular “2 egg” plates. I remember the first time I took my wife to an IHOP in Missouri and was met with a sad grumble because “How can they not offer coconut syrup?!”.
Where can you Try Ono Oahu?
Holy moly, this is a big question and it’s going to take us a few posts to get through all the different options. We’ll start with a few of our favorites that are mentioned above. One of our family’s favorites is Koa Pancake House(also referred to as just Koa House). There are several locations scattered throughout the island. Jacqui has been eating breakfast at Koa House in Kaneohe since she was a kid. She likes it because it’s one of the few places where she can find vinha d’alhos. Their servings are on the larger size so it’s possible to share a meal (and I say this with my wife and I not being small people, so take that for what it’s worth). If you’re on the west side of the island (Koolina), check out the Kapolei location at Ka Makana Ali’i mall where there’s plenty of parking. If you’re in Waikiki, the Kaimuki location will be the closest (1139 12thAve, Honolulu). Check out their menu at koapancakehouse.com.
Kountry Style Kitchenin Ewa Beach is definitely worth the drive for any pancake lover with their medium pizza sized pancakes. The first time we ate there they had country fried steak as a special. Their cream gravy was reminiscent of my childhood—and if you ever had my grandma or mom’s cooking then you’d know that’s high praise. So, if you find yourself wanting a classic country style meal, this is the place for you. They’re located at 91-1001 Kaimalie St in the Ewa Pointe Marketplace.
Mitsu-Ken Okazu and Cateringis located in Kalihi at 2300 N King Street. It is not close to any major resorts. You’ll have to fight some Oahu traffic (which is no joke) to get to this gem, but the garlic chicken is worth it. They stop serving breakfast at 10:30 am, and close promptly at 1pm.
Times Coffee Shopis located at 47-388 Hui Iwa St in the Koolau Center. They have the honor of having the most perfectly cooked eggs of all the places we’ve tried on the island so far. They also have one of our favorite loco moco’s on the island! They serve breakfast and lunch/dinner options all day and are a perfect stop on your way to or back from Kualoa Ranch or if you’re a recent transplant looking to get your driver’s licensed transferred as it is only a couple doors down from the Koolau driver’s license office.
For pastries, donuts, and baked goods there are SO many spots. If you’re staying in Waikiki, you’ll want to check out Leonard’s Bakeryat 933 Kapahulu Ave for their malasadas. These Portuguese yeast donuts come out steaming hot and covered in sugar and are a must for any donut lover. The Kapahulu location is walkable from Waikiki, but it’s not a short walk, and there will likely be a line since Leonard’s has popped up on several tourist sites. Pro tip: if you really want to try a malasada, but don’t want to stand in line, and are willing to drive here’s my suggestion. There are 3 Leonard’s Bakery MalasadamobilesTMaround the island open 7 days a week. If you’re on the west side of the island, there are MalasadamobilesTM at Waikele Premium Outlets (near Lowe's, you can see them from the highway), and at Pearl Ridge Mall (Kamehameha Hwy side). Those coming from Waikiki are closer to the MalasadamobileTMat Koko Marina Shopping Center. Also, it’s on the way to Sea Life Park and Hanauma Bay.
For a sampling of pastries and hot dishes, Zippy’sis always a great choice. See my post about Zippy’s and where to find them.