Brunch Like You Mean It: 17 Local Dishes Worth Getting Out of Bed For
With everything from breakfast sammies and tacos to mochi pancakes and waffles, these Honolulu brunch spots are changing the game.
Photos: Steve Czerniak
Move over, bloody mary. Today’s brunch dishes and drinks are amped up—bigger, badder and better than ever, with more local ingredients, more twists on classics, more vegetarian options, more calories, more bacon. When paired with the right cocktail, these photo-worthy, late-morning indulgences are the perfect remedy for a Saturday night spent bar-hopping or watching Netflix at home. Don’t know what to order? We did the research for you. Here are our favorite brunch dishes right now. You’re welcome.
Full Aussie Breakfast
Aussies eat breakfast like the English, with eggs, toast, smoky bacon, grilled tomatoes and mushrooms. The Full Aussie brekkie at Bills Hawai‘i, though, adds local flavors. The mushrooms are cooked in miso, and the eggs, scrambled instead of sunny, are from Waimānalo. The tomatoes are roasted instead of grilled and dusted with cumin, and the pork-and-fennel sausage adds just enough heft to an already hearty dish. The Sydney-based chain, whose Kahuku sweet corn fritters with avocado salsa and stacks of ricotta hotcakes are some of its most popular dishes, also offers a somewhat healthier version of the Full Aussie, with tea-smoked salmon, poached eggs, greens, avocado and cherry tomatoes. No Vegemite, though, thankfully.
$22, 280 Beach Walk, (808) 922-1500, billshawaii.com
Porky Pork Benedict
Koa Café owner Juno Chung is the son of the owners of Koa Pancake House, and the only thing that’s the same between the two breakfast spots is the vinha d’alhos, a humble Portuguese dish of pork marinated in garlic and vinegar similar to adobo. A former employee of Koa Pancake House used to make it for employees. The workers liked it so much, it wound up as a special on the lunch menu, then the regular menu, then for breakfast with eggs. Since Koa Café opened in September 2016, the vinegary pork has been incorporated in a few dishes, including the Porky Pork Benedict topped with crispy bacon bits, spinach and classic Hollandaise sauce. It’s one of the café’s best-selling dishes, along with its butter mochi pancakes, pesto benny and guava mochi waffles. “What’s funny is we never thought vinha d’alhos would be part of our menu as much as it is now,” Chung says.
$14, multiple locations, koacafe.com
The P+J Breakfast Sammie
Pint + Jigger
It may be unexpected for a gastropub to serve weekend brunch. But after it launched in 2015, word quickly spread and tables started filling up at Pint + Jigger, full of surprising dishes including a fried green tomato sandwich with thick-cut bacon, a breakfast burger, French toast bread pudding and house-made Pop Tarts. While this dish may not sound the most exciting, the P+J Breakfast Sammie is as close to a perfect brunch sandwich you can find. Stuffed inside a buttery croissant are applewood-smoked bacon, slices of Black Forest ham, a fried egg, house-made beer cheese and garlic aioli. It’s served with waffle fries.
$10, 1936 S. King St., (808) 744-9593, pintandjigger.com
Morning Glass Coffee
Never had brunch at Morning Glass Coffee? You’re not alone. The line for its Saturday-only brunch is often long, and if you don’t get to the Mānoa coffee shop by noon, you likely won’t get seated. And that’s too bad. Owner Eric Rose is committed to simple preparations and fresh ingredients, using local, seasonal and sustainable products whenever possible. The beef and milk are from the Big Island, pork from Wai‘anae, bananas and liliko‘i from the North Shore. When he launched brunch six years ago, he wanted to have fun, stacking his menu with inventive dishes, from the mac-and-cheese pancakes to the oatmeal brûlée. “There was nobody doing some of the things we wanted to do,” Rose says. “We were always doing a light breakfast during the week. We use the weekend to let out all the stops.” The breakfast tacos are one such dish, with local eggs scrambled in a cast-iron cazuela with Yukon Gold potatoes, mild poblano peppers and caramelized onions. They’re served with corn tortilla, queso fresco, pickled red onions and pico de gallo, all made in-house. “We thought it was a great idea and wanted to try it,” he says. “We really like eating, and that’s what it’s all about. We like to eat, and that’s where our ideas come from.”
$12.50, 2955 E. Mānoa Road, (808) 673-0065, morningglasscoffee.com
Cinnamon Roll Pancakes
Huge, fluffy, cinnamony pancakes topped with a swirl of a sweet cream cheese frosting are worth the wait—sometimes more than an hour—to eat at Moena Café in Hawai‘i Kai. Chef-owner Eric Chang created this carbo masterpiece, taking the best parts of a cinnamon roll and incorporating it into a pancake mix. (He also came up with an equally decadent banana-Chantilly version that has a strong following.) This specialty pancake is also on the menu at the café’s second location at Ka Makana Ali‘i in Kapolei, which opened in November 2016.
$10 for one pancake, $13 for two, multiple locations, moenacafe.com
Dutch babies, a hybrid of a pancake, crepe and popover collapsed in a hot skillet, may not sound—or even look—like anything special. But that’s exactly why these are so craveworthy: The result is a delicious pancake with the tender texture of a crepe and the egginess of a popover with golden-brown edges. And, of course, the creative minds at Piggy Smalls, which launched weekend brunch last year, took this traditional breakfast dish to another tasty level. A recent version of the sweet Dutch baby featured the interesting combination of miso and butterscotch in the apple filling, topped with fresh ricotta cheese and toasted almonds. The savory one mixed duck sausage and a subtle lavender gravy, crispy potatoes, scallions and a fried egg.
$14, 1200 Ala Moana Blvd., (808) 777-3588, thepigandthelady.com/piggysmalls
Ray Ray Pancakes
There are so many standout dishes on Herringbone’s weekend brunch menu—a food-porn eggs Benedict topped with uni and king crab, or house-made buttermilk biscuits with local porchetta drenched in black-pepper pork gravy—it’s hard to pick just one. But the Ray Ray Pancakes are something you should order every time you dine here. Three thick, chewy mochi-based pancakes are served with a slightly tart liliko‘i butter and seasonal fruits. There’s orange and coconut oil in the batter, which give the pancakes a lighter texture. It’s a cross between pancakes and the Filipino dessert bibingka. “I didn’t want to serve just regular pancakes,” says executive sous chef Ray Locquiao, who created this dish. Hence the name.
$14, 2330 Kalākaua Ave., (808) 797-2435, herringboneeats.com
Open-Face Gravlax Sandwich
Tango Contemporary Café
This signature dish, one that’s heavily influenced by chef-owner Goran Streng’s Finnish roots, makes those avocado toasts you see on Instagram look like school lunch. Layers of house-cured salmon, slices of hard-boiled eggs, cucumbers and tomatoes are perfectly arranged on a slice of Finnish rye bread smeared with a house-made garlic-herb cheese spread and mustard dill sauce. Good luck getting this open-face sandwich, only available during weekend brunch service, to fit in your mouth.
$13, 1288 Ala Moana Blvd., #120, (808) 593-7288, tangocafehawaii.com
Scones and Gravy
The Nook Neighborhood Bistro
The Nook opened in 2014, the same year five other breakfast-centric restaurants opened. From the start, it was up against stiff competition from the likes of Koko Head Café and Scratch Kitchen in Chinatown. So, instead of serving boring pancakes or basic eggs, The Nook took a playful approach to brunch, offering mochiko chicken with mochi waffles and a breakfast risotto with bacon, caramelized onions, roasted local mushrooms, Parmigiano Reggiano and two poached eggs. The most recent addition to its menu is quickly becoming one of its most popular: The Scones and Gravy combo puts together cheddar and rosemary scones with house-made sausages using 2 Lady Farmers pork. This is all topped with a bacon-cream gravy, Sriracha-maple syrup and two local eggs. What’s not to love?
$15, 1035 University Ave., #105, (808) 942-2222, thenookhonolulu.com
Owners Jennifer and Nik Lobendahn didn’t think people would get this dish. (It really should come with instructions.) An oversize bowl is loaded with two soft-boiled local eggs, a dollop of tomato jam; chilled house-made yogurt; slices of avocado, spinach, candied bacon and ‘Aiea-grown microgreens; and toasted slices of sourdough bread made from Jennifer’s personal starter. You’re supposed to mix it all up and eat it with the toast. Since servers started explaining how to eat this dish, more people have been ordering it. In fact, there’s a sort of Brunch Bowl cult now, Jennifer says. “It was so misunderstood at first,” she says. “It really is its own special thing.”
$13, 418 Ku‘ulei Road, Kailua, (808) 260-1732, overeasyhi.com
Dark Chocolate Butter Mochi Waffles
Mahina & Sun’s
Glutinous mochi flour is finding its way into all sorts of treats, from doughnuts to sandwich breads to waffles. But the dark chocolate butter mochi waffles served at Sunday brunch at Mahina & Sun’s are not just showing off. Not only does the waffle have that chewy, satisfying texture, but it’s buttery and chocolatey and comes with locally made jam and a scoop of black sesame gelato. It’s more dessert than brunch, but that’s fine with us. Turns out, this dish was a “well-placed accident,” explains executive chef Erik Leong. He had been playing with the waffle iron in the kitchen at work, throwing all sorts of excess ingredients into it for fun. After several unsuccessful creations—including Parmesan cheese and a fold-up pizza—Leong casually tried dark-chocolate mochi and found that the iron gave it crispy edges while maintaining a soft center. You can also get an old-fashioned malted waffle with maple syrup—but why?
$9, 412 Lewers St., (808) 924-5810, mahinaandsuns.com
Brunch Sausage Sandwich
For a brief moment, Fête served a New York-style Sunday brunch, complete with libations and leisurely conversations. After the restaurant stopped Sunday service, chef-owner Robynne Mai‘i, who lived in New York City and indulged in its languid brunches, decided to put brunchy dishes on Fête’s lunch menu, including this sandwich. Piled into a toasted brioche bun are a house-made Italian sausage, a sunny-side-up local egg and melted cheddar cheese with a light drizzle of maple syrup. It comes with a side of field greens and thick-cut, skin-on fries with house-made ketchup.
$15, 2 N. Hotel St., (808) 369-1390, fetehawaii.com
Papas Con Chorizo
Scratch Kitchen & Meatery
This Mexican-style dish of chorizo and potatoes is bold and satisfying, the kind of meal you want to have on the morning after a really late night out. This version, inspired by chef-owner Brian Chan’s trips to California and New York, features a mound of chorizo and refried beans piled on a crispy tortilla and dressed in super-thin radish slices, crumbled queso fresco, fresh cilantro, halved cherry tomatoes and a poached egg. It’s got a ton of flavor and just enough punch to cure any hangover. Or inspire one.
$14, 1170 Auahi St., (808) 589-1669, scratch-hawaii.com
Sweet E’s Café
When Ethel Matthews would cook breakfast for her friends—usually after a night of drinking—she’d throw together eggs, hash browns, bacon, sausage, ham, bell peppers, onions, cheese, whatever she had. “If I had to customize every dish for every person, I’d be in my kitchen the whole time,” she reasons. “So I would make one dish with everything you could imagine. It was always a hit.” So, when Matthews opened Sweet E’s Café in 2011, she put this dish—aptly named Extreme Mess—on the menu. And it’s exactly that: a mess of eggs, breakfast meats, hash browns, cheese. “It’s a great hangover cure,” she says. “And it’s one of our heartiest dishes. It’s a dish that could leave you with a food coma. Most people can’t finish it.”
$13.25, 1006 Kapahulu Ave., (808) 737-7771
Chef’s “Egg Slut”
Bread & Butter
There are a lot of choices at Bread & Butter, from the breakfast pizza with pesto and eggs to the taro-and-banana pancakes. But the most intriguing, if in name only, is the Chef’s “Egg Slut,” a play on the signature dish of the California-based Eggslut restaurant. A local egg is coddled—ever-so-gently cooked—in a glass jar with smoked mashed potatoes and served with slices of French baguette, a side of dressed arugula and a hint of truffle oil. (The original version at Eggslut uses a smooth potato purée, gray salt and chives. No truffle oil.) Stir the egg and potatoes together, scoop them out with a crunchy toasted baguette and you’ll totally get it.
$8.95, 1585 Kapi‘olani Blvd., #110, (808) 949-3430, breadandbutter.com
Koko Head Café
Brunch dishes should cleverly combine classic breakfast fare with lunchtime swag, not just slap an egg on something and call it brunch. “It’s breakfast! It’s lunch! You can have coffee and a cocktail,” says Lee Anne Wong, executive chef at Koko Head Café, O‘ahu’s quintessential brunch spot, about why she loves brunch. “Because you deserve it!” Enter the Breakfast Bibimbap. This dish combines the ingredients and flavors of the Korean mashup—crispy garlic rice, soy-mirin shiitake mushrooms, ong choy, sesame carrots, bean sprouts, kim chee—with traditional breakfast meats—bacon, Portuguese sausage, heritage ham—all in a sexy-hot skillet. And yeah, there’s an egg on it. “We sell a crazy number of bibimbaps,” Wong says. “It’s never ever leaving the menu.”
$16, 1145C 12th Ave., (808) 732-8920, kokoheadcafe.com
The Brew Breakfast
Morning Brew Coffee & Bistro
You know it’s a good plate of food when you realize you’ve eaten the entire thing and you weren’t even hungry. That’s the Brew Breakfast, a stealthily delicious dish that’s really an upgraded egg in the basket. Instead of plain white bread, this features naan, with two eggs fried into it and topped with salty, crispy prosciutto, grilled onions, minced garlic, cherry tomatoes, spinach and a mound of goat cheese. The yolks add the right amount of richness, and the chewy naan is a nice change. Finishing this entire plate is a lot easier than it looks.
$8.95, multiple locations, morningbrewhawaii.com