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Destination Kailua

Explore the shops, restaurants, schools and businesses that make Kailua an alluring piece of paradise.


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On The Menu

Kailua is known for its beautiful natural setting. But lately, something else has been drawing droves of people indoors–an exciting restaurant scene. An eclectic mix of favorite keystone eateries and new bistros feed every taste from sunrise to far after sunset.

Kalapawai Café and Deli’s auction fresh fish with lemongrass risotto, house-made potato gnocchi, and roasted beet and orange salad.

Kalapawai Market is one of the legendary businesses that has seen Kailua Town grow up around it. The famed green building on Kalaheo Avenue is the perfect place to grab a coffee, snacks and supplies while talking story with friends and neighbors. “It’s a community gathering place,” says Lindsey Dymond, who owns and manages Kalapawai with his father, Don Dymond. “People feel comfortable, welcome, and at home here.” This is probably true for Lindsey more than anyone—he began working at Kalapawai 20 years ago, when he was just 10 years old.

As Lindsey grew, so did Kalapawai Market, with the introduction of Kalapawai Cafe and Deli. During the day, the café serves up Hawaiian-roasted coffee, sandwiches, salads, pizzas, and grab-and-go meals. At night, chef Jason Iwane delivers award-winning, gourmet dishes showcasing locally-grown produce and line-caught fish whenever possible. The friendly neighborhood vibe and casual atmosphere make this a favorite local dinner spot. “I think the growing dining scene in Kailua is wonderful for the community,” Lindsey says. “It’s kept more business in Kailua, which creates more jobs for people in Kailua. And as a bonus, Kailua is now on the culinary map of the island—we’ve become a dining destination.”

The welcoming staff at Cinnamon's serves up smiles and delicious comfort food.

Buzz's original steakhouse, a kailua institution for 51 years.

Photo: courtesy Buzz's

A steady stream of diners proves one of those must-visit destinations is Cinnamon’s, a dining staple in Kailua for 28 years now. The charming eatery has a reputation for generous portions of hearty breakfasts and lunches, stellar service and welcoming staff, who keep the always-bustling mix of visitors and faithful regulars happy. This year, one thing was refreshed; the dining room received a facelift. The entire area was renovated and decorated with artwork from long-time customer Sandra Elizabeth Blazel. “We’re focused on getting even better,” says Alika Nam, vice president of operations, “but we’re conscious to not stray too far from the mainstays everyone loves and expects. We’ve improved with a new Island look and feel, but it’s the same great food and genuine aloha.” Meaning you’ll still be able to find the signature pancakes in flavors such as red velvet and guava chiffon, next to new menu items including a house-made fresh ginger ale, and new combinations of their eggs benedict, pancakes and omelets.

Another Kailua institution, Buzz’s Original Steakhouse, also has some changes in store. Now in its 51st year, the retro-style restaurant across from Kailua Beach Park is expanding its selection of great steaks, fresh seafood, strong cocktails and plentiful salad bar. General manager Mani Schneider says they’ve added a new vegetarian section to the menu, including the Kai fruit salad featuring strawberries, mandarin oranges, mango, grapes, lychee, cranberries, candied pecans, crumbled with blue cheese on Nalo greens with balsamic dressing. Carnivores will want to try the new Jack Daniels burger or the new Hawaiian ribeye, a 13-ounce serving of grass-fed, hormone-free beef from the Big Island. “We also try to keep things new and fresh with changing daily and weekly specials,” says Schneider. But like the other Kailua mainstays, they’ll always continue with their most-requested classics, such as the calamari appetizer or the Artichoke Surprise, which remain in high demand from their loyal regulars.

Choose sweet or savory creations from Crepes No Ka Oi.

Relatively new to the scene is Cactus, a casual yet upscale bistro from chef John Memering. Open less than a year now, this eatery on Kailua Road features an eclectic menu that draws from the flavors of Central and South America and incorporates locally grown ingredients. “We’re deeply committed to local agriculture, ” says Memering. He works with 15 farmers in Hawaii, sourcing ingredients like organic avocadoes from Waimānalo, pork from Shinsato Farms in Kahalu‘u, beef from Kauai and the Big Island, and sustainably sourced seafood. “Sometimes it takes longer to track those things down,” he says, “but the end result on the plate is well worth it.” Popular choices include the “croquetas” made with local squash and Big Island goat cheese, and Cactus’ signature frozen sangrias. The bright, lively interior mirrors the casual atmosphere and friendly service, making it the ideal stop for lunch, dinner and what they call “tiempo mucho gusto” (happy hour). Chef Memering says to look out for new menu items coming soon this spring.

If you’re craving a taste that’s more south-of-the-border than South America, Maui Tacos has been serving up “healthy Maui-Mex” since first opening on Maui in 1993. Chef Mark Ellman longed for the Mexican food he had while growing up in Southern California and blended the traditional fare with the tropical flavors of his new home, Hawaii. It seems to be working. All meals come with unlimited trips to the to the salsa bar, with choices like “Hula Heat” chile arbol, “Maui Firedancer” chipotle and “Pineapple Passion.” Its laid-back, beach shack vibe feels like a natural fit in Kailua.

Kailua resident Chris Tarvyd says, “We’re getting some great new restaurants in Kailua that we’re excited to eat at ourselves; different concepts with great chefs.” And he should know, as co-owner of the ever-popular Crepes No Ka Oi, along with his wife Rosario “Kakay” Tarvyd. Customers from around the island line up for their heavenly crepes and gourmet loose leaf teas. Many call in ahead just for the best-selling Ultimate Breakfast Crepe, a savory creation with melted cheddar cheese, slow-cooked potatoes, bacon, onions and rosemary with a poached egg and side of fresh Hollandaise sauce. They now offer buckwheat crepes, and look for an expanded menu, more gourmet crepes, and espresso drinks coming soon.

Left: The local squash and Big Island goat cheese “croquetas” from Cactus. Right: The Chingalinga Banana from Maui Tacos.

photos: Stephen guzman, courtesy maui tacos

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