Breakfast is big on Hawaii. Nearly every restaurant we encountered served breakfast - even at some of the more fancy places we dined. On the recommendation of Rick, a concierge at the Hilton Waikoloa Village resort, he directed us up into the "hill" country on the north side of the Big Island for breakfast one morning at Hawaiian Style Cafe in Waimea. He said, "Be prepared, the portions are huge!"
As we were leaving the hotel, one of the valets brought our car around and he asked, "Where are you headed today?" I told him we were going up to Waimea to go have breakfast. "The Hawaiian Style Cafe," he excitedly replied. "Oh, man. The pancakes up there are the size of hubcaps! And they're really good! I'm so jealous!"
It's about a 20 mile drive up to Waimea from the Hilton resort (see map). And up is the operative term here. After driving along the shoreline up to the intersection, you turn right and immediately begin a gradual ascent into the hills. After a couple miles a sign along the side of the road informed we were at an elevation of 500 feet. A couple more miles we came across a sign that said we were at 1000 feet. This went on until we got on the outskirts of Waimea where a sign told us that we were at 2500 feet, nearly a half mile above sea level. And the temperature had changed, as well. We had the top down on the way up - the temperature was in the lower 80's when we left the hotel. But when we got to Waimea, it was a cool 69 degrees. Cindy had turned on the heat as we pulled into town.
We found the Hawaiian Style Cafe on the main road coming into Waimea (see map) in a small old-style strip mall that featured a travel agency and a motorcycle shop. We were able to find one of the few parking spots in front of the restaurant, but we also found out later that there was parking in the rear of the building.
The restaurant is owned by Guy and Gina Kao'o, who also have second jobs in the area. Guy oversees the food for lu'aus at a couple local hotels, including the Marriott Waikoloa Village resort next to the Hilton; while Gina is a local realtor in Waimea. The restaurant opens at 7 a.m. and serves breakfast and then lunch until 2 p.m. - or when they run out of food.
It was a short wait (we had to put our name on a list just inside the door) while we got a booth in the corner in the front area of the restaurant. The place is truly a hole-in-the-wall joint with a three-sided bar, small back eating area, one bathroom for the restaurant (it also serves as a laundry room), and a number of local pictures and magazine covers adorning the wall. The waitress gave us our menus and pointed out the specials on the wall near the kitchen. The place was a flurry of activity with people coming and going and large portions of food on plates being brought out from the kitchen. It was almost dizzying.
We weren't overly certain what to get. They had a number of Hawaiian dishes for breakfast including something called a Loco Moco. We found that most Hawaiian breakfast places had their own style of a Loco Moco. The legend of the Loco Moco began in the late 40's at the Lincoln Grill in Hilo. A bunch of hungry young men came into the restaurant one day, but told the owner, Nancy Inouye, that they didn't have a lot of money. She had a lot of rice left over and fried up some hamburger patties. She put the hamburgers on the rice, then a fried egg on top and, for good measure she put brown gravy on top of all that. It was a hit and immediately became a great "pig-out" food whether it be at 7:30 in the morning or at 1:30 in the morning when the bars were closing up.
Another thing that was on the menu that I wasn't familiar with was Portuguese sausage. It's sort of like chorizo, seasoned with onions, garlic and paprika. It's rather mild and somewhat bland compared to the pork sausage I'm used to back in the Midwest. They featured a number of items on the menu paired with Portuguese sausage.
Spam is also huge in Hawaii. I don't quite understand why, but it is. Spam is a staple on the breakfast menu of many restaurants. I thought, "Well, while we're in Hawaii I have to try SOMETHING with Spam in it." And the Hawaiian Style Cafe featured a Spam, mushroom, grilled onions and cheese omelet. I ordered that. With it came a side of hash browns and then I got my pick of an additional side of either pancakes or fried rice. I took the pancakes. Oh, and I also got a side of whole wheat toast. I knew this was going to be a lot of food just from what I was seeing coming out from the kitchen.
Cindy ordered more simple - she got a couple eggs over easy, but then she also got a side of kalua pork hash. Kalua is a slow-roasting method that is indigenous to Hawaii. Usually, the pork butt is seasoned with salt and wrapped in leafs from a ti plant. It's placed in the ground, usually over lava rocks, and slow-cooked until it's tender and the meat begins to fall apart. Kalua pork has sort of a fruity taste to it, probably from the ti leaves. And it's served at lu'aus. But it was difficult to find at many restaurants in Hawaii. The waitress at the Hawaiian Style Cafe told us that they'll have a Kalua pork special from time to time, but they didn't have any that day, other than in the hash. Cindy also got a side of fried rice that had ham and egg in it.
It didn't take long before our food came out to the table. And I'm sure the expression on our faces when the waitress set our plates down in front of us wasn't the first time she'd seen the bulging eyes and heard the "Oh, my GOD!!" expression. The portions WERE huge! The pancakes were as advertised - almost a foot in diameter. I knew immediately there was no way in hell that I'd ever finish even HALF of what they served me.
I tried some of Cindy's Kalua pork hash. It was very good. The Kalua pork had sort of a sweet and fruity taste to it. The pork was tender and excellent. (I found out later on that they make Kalua pork omelets. I was kicking myself for not getting one of those.)
We did make a significant dent into the food. The Spam omelet was, well, interesting. It wasn't bad, but I can't say that I'm a huge fan of Spam. But when in Hawaii, do as the Hawaiians, I guess. They fried the Spam and chunked it up when they put it in the omelet, sort of like how they'd do it with sausage. But it was an interesting combination in the omelet along with the mushrooms and onions.
The pancakes weren't bad, either. They were a little more thick that what I like, but they were still pretty darn good. In addition to maple syrup, they also had lilikoi syrup. Lilikoi is sort of a Hawaiian passion fruit that I fell in love with while we were there. They put lilikoi in everything from syrups, juices, jellies, and even a mixer in drinks. We had some awesome desserts with lilikoi while we were in Hawaii, as well. On the pancakes, the lilikoi syrup was sort of sweet and fruity. I should have gone to a store to look for some to take back home with us.
And quite unintentionally, we made it back to the Hawaiian Style Cafe on the day we were evacuated from our hotel during the tsunami warning that I talked about earlier. We were looking for this other restaurant we were told about by Rick at the Hilton, but with the traffic in and around Waimea that day, we just decided to cut our losses and go back to the Hawaiian Style Cafe. This time, in keeping with my "do as the Hawaiians do" theme, I ordered a Loco Moco.
I can see why some people like the Loco Moco. It's definitely a "stick to your ribs" type of meal. I can't say that it was my favorite, but it was interesting. The hamburger patties were a little overcooked and dry, but the gravy helped get them down. The Loco Moco sort of reminded me of something that is served at Ross' Restaurant in the Quad Cities - the Magic Mountain. They take a couple pieces of Texas Toast, top it with loose hamburger meat, then top it with French fries or hash browns (your choice), then they top it with cheddar cheese. And if you want a snow-capped Magic Mountain, order onions on the top. For the truly adventurous - like me - you can get a Volcano at Ross'. Instead of topping the plate with cheese, they top it with their spicy chili. But Ross' is another story for another time.
This time, Cindy went to the "specials" board they had on the wall and ordered the 12 oz. Rib Eye steak. She said, "I don't know if we'll get back to the hotel tonight and a lot of places may be closed up if the waves do hit this islands. This may be my last meal until sometime tomorrow." True to form, she couldn't eat all of her steak along with the two eggs and fried rice on the side. This time they boxed up Cindy's steak. We figured we may have to share what was left later on, but thankfully, we didn't have to.
All in all, the Hawaiian Style Cafe was very good and very interesting. I really wanted to try the Spaghetti omelet, but figured that would be a little weird. It was probably the most authentic Hawaiian restaurant we ate at when we were visiting the state. Overall, the service was great, the food was interesting and if you don't mind a little wait from time to time, it's an excellent place to get breakfast on the Big Island. The Hawaiian Style Cafe was one of our favorite places while we were in Hawaii and more than once since we've been back we've remarked how cool it would be if we could go to Hawaiian Style Cafe for a quick breakfast. But we'd have to be in Hawaii to do that. Ah, the memories...
By the way, bring cash if you go to the Hawaiian Style Cafe. They don't take credit cards, but they do have an ATM machine in the restaurant.