It’s not breakfast. It’s not lunch. It’s brunch. Five classic places to do this deed in the islands, bevvy in hand.
Text by Anna Harmon
Images by Jonas Maon
Brunch, that smarmy weekend meal, is a magical thing on the islands, the sun not yet at its zenith and the tradewinds blowing through open doors or ruffling your hair as glassware clinks around an outdoor lanai. This meal is made to order for the late sleepers, the hungover good timers, the early morning adventurers, and the generally fabulous. In Hawai‘i, brunch can be discovered at a variety of places, from beachfront patios to cozy spots in nearby neighborhoods.
Hau Tree Lanai (O‘ahu)
This is a place of first dates, anniversary meals, and treat-yourself outings. If you are looking to get a little fancy with your Hawai‘i fling, this is an excellent spot to settle in for drinks and hushed conversation. Its outdoor dining area is set beneath a broad, leafy hau tree and overlooks Sans Souci Beach, where watery blues fade from teal to sapphire next to the iconic Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial. Rest beneath the shady tree and people-watch without shame while digging into a divine eggs benedict and sipping on a Bloody Mary. (If you want booze, make a reservation after 10:30 a.m., since the bartender isn’t available until around then.) While this is one of the pricier of spots, it is well worth it for the view.
Hau Tree Lanai is located in Waikiki in the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel, 2863 Kalakaua Ave. For more information, visit kaimana.com/hautreelanai.htm
Koko Head Café (O‘ahu)
The newest of this brunch bunch, Koko Head Café exists for the foodie at heart. Founded by chef Lee Anne Wong of Top Chef fame, who can occasionally be spotted cooking as well as waiting tables, this spot is located on a humble corner in Kaimuki, an eclectic neighborhood known for its top-notch dining. Dig into savory dishes served in hefty cast-iron skillets or the sweetest brunch dish you may ever introduce your tastebuds to: a cornflake-crusted French toast with brown-sugar bacon, black-pepper maple syrup, and a dollop of Frosted Flakes gelato made by Via Gelato, just across the street. Get more than just sugar buzzed by way of the drink menu, which includes the Queen’s Mimosa, made with sparkling cava, elderflower, and a splash of guava, or the Morning Milkshake, a frothy blend of Maker’s Mark bourbon, vanilla gelato, honey maple, granola, and bacon.
Koko Head Café is located in Honolulu at 1145C 12th Ave. For more information, visit kokoheadcafe.com
Moke’s Bread and Breakfast (O‘ahu)
In the air at Moke’s, the tangy scent of liliko‘i (passionfruit) and savory smell of seared meat mingle, creating a dreamy midmorning perfume. It’s brunchtime, that rare moment of the day when diners decide between sweet sauces or rich gravies. Tables are covered with plastic gingham cloths and topped with brunch essentials: ketchup, shoyu, and Tabasco. The liliko‘i chiffon sauce for which Moke’s is renowned appears only as a side order or atop mounds of fluffy buttermilk pancakes. A better kept secret, but a revelatory one, is the restaurant’s array of loco mocos. The unofficial dish of the islands, the loco moco typically features a beef patty served over rice and topped with rich gravy. Alongside this traditional version, Moke’s offers three tasty interpretations of the dish, including one made with local Shinsato Farm rabbit. Sidewalk patio seats are available, or customers can sit inside, where the breeze intertwines with a soothing blast of A/C.
Moke’s is BYOB! Tote along your own beer, wine, or champagne (no hard liquor allowed). We recommend bringing your own bubbly and juice for DIY mimosas.
Moke’s is located in Kailua at 27 Hoolai St. For more information, visit mokeskailua.com
Art Café Hemingway (Kaua‘i)
Art Café Hemingway has an air of quirky island sophistication. A combo café-gallery, the space is surprisingly large, with an upstairs patio and outdoor garden where diners can enjoy brunch while kicking back and perusing a rotating art display. Grab pastries and an espresso to go or settle in for light fare like crepes or quiche. For a heartier option, try the For Whom the Bell Tolls plate, a European affair served with salami, Strassburger liverwurst, scrambled eggs, sliced baguette, and butter. For those who favor morning cocktails, these are also within reach. The concept of the Art Café was dreamed up by the owners, a Czech couple who sold their art gallery in Prague and relocated to their dream destination of Kaua‘i in 2010.
Art Café Hemingway is located in Kapa‘a at 4-1495 Kuhio Hwy. For more information, visit artcafehemingway.com
Market Fresh Bistro (Maui)
One of the best spots for brunch on Maui, Market Fresh Bistro is posted in sleepy Makawao, a town set apart by its cowboy crossings and yearly rodeo. The café itself is a humble scene, with a small indoor dining area, open kitchen, and outdoor courtyard set with tables and plastic chairs. It seems, at times, that the number of specials available exceeds that of actual menu items, a symptom of chef Justin Pardo’s passion for fresh produce and farm-direct ingredients. This inspiration spills over into the beverage selections—try the signature sangria, made with figs from Pardo’s backyard, or the lime ginger mimosa. Next, of course, the grub: From fresh frittatas to miniature Belgian waffles to a smoked salmon benedict, these mouthwatering meals are sure to satisfy those who believe midmorning is best spent brunching. Enjoy before a drive along the Road to Hana, or as the focal point of a mellow day on Maui.
Market Fresh Bistro is located in Makawao at 3620 Baldwin Ave., Ste. 102A. For more information, visit marketfreshbistromaui.com
TIP: Bringing your own booze (BYOB) is allowed at various restaurants in Hawai‘i. However, what you can bring will vary by island, and it’s up to individual venues to opt in. We recommend calling ahead to find out.