Why I Love the New Hapa Kaua‘i’s Tonkotsu Ramen

At $29, it’s a heartier-than-usual bowl with roasted pork belly and a perfect egg.


the bar at Hapa Kauai photo by James Nakamura

Photo: James Nakamura


Kaua‘i is a ramen desert. Imagine dune after dune of sand crunching under your feet—the pulverized crumbles of instant ramen. Off in the distance, you see a ramen shop. You run toward it, but it evaporates. A mirage. Yes, there’s Naruto Noodles in Old Kōloa Town—a food truck that slings out a variety of specialty 18-hour-broth ramens to go, and Hanapepe’s Japanese Grandma Cafe that serves an 18-hour pork and chicken broth on weekends. Craft ramen? That’s it.


Well, Hapa Kaua‘i has finally opened in Po‘ipū. It’s one of the few places that specialize in the mysterious art of simmering decadent pork bone broths for hours upon hours. And it’s the only full-service dine-in restaurant with pork bones, ramen noodles and whiskey bottles in its maw.


SEE ALSO: Is Kamukura the Best Food Court Ramen in Honolulu?


Hapa Kaua‘i is the second location of owners Micheal and Sara Littman, a surfer couple married on Hapa Road in Po‘ipū 20 years ago who ended up riding life’s current to Portland, Oregon. There they started Hapa Ramen as a humble food cart and grew into a brick-and-mortar 45-seater. The couple left it in capable hands to return to Kaua‘i. The noodle has threaded the needle. Welcome home.


The name Hapa has an additional relevance. Somewhere along the centuries-old noodle’s history through China, Japan and the world’s college dorms, its path intersected with the Littmans and Sun Noodle, who collaborated to create Hapa’s proprietary “Mana Wave” noodle. The wavy noodles are thicker, denser and eggier, somewhere between ramen and saimin. This was to accommodate the PDX cycling community, many of whom ordered ramen to-go and biked home, only to find that the noodles had gone soft.


Hapa Kauai Tonkotsu James Nakamura

Photo: James Nakamura


The difference in Hapa Kaua‘i’s tonkotsu ramen is apparent. Traditional tonkotsu sports a thinner noodle and milkier, creamier broth. Here the noodles are thicker and the broth darker, with savory soy notes. The roasted pork belly is thick and fatty. It’s not like the tender slices of braised and rolled chashu we know from places like Goma Tei, but it adds great texture and substance. It’s not a garnish. And although a small detail, the egg has a perfect consistency with a delicate, translucent yellow gem of a yolk. Other establishments I’ve been to present a cold, overcooked egg with pale, chalky yolk encased in a green/grey sulfuric ring. Here it’s treated respectfully, with attention to timing. Which you want in a bowl that costs $29.


Hapa Kauai Karaage James Nakamura

Photo: James Nakamura


Also enjoyable is the soy-and-ginger marinated karaage with a light and crispy batter coating tender, juicy morsels of dark meat chicken ($15). It’s better than most at ramen joints I’ve been to on O‘ahu, where the karaage is a gnarled fist. Other appetizers include a slow-roasted pork belly with garlic-shio koji with a rice ball ($12), and ‘ahi poke nachos with house-made taro chips, sweet onions, avocado, tomatoes and black tobiko ($28). Alcohol includes local twists on classic cocktails, bourbon cocktails, sake cocktails and a sake list.


SEE ALSO: 6 Places to Get Chicken on the South Side of Kaua‘i


The restaurant is an open-air establishment at the Shops at Kukui‘ula in Po‘ipū, on the second floor facing Roy’s Eating House 1849 and the open fields beyond. Sunsets and ramen—brilliant. At 120 seats, Hapa Kaua‘i is nearly triple the size of Hapa PDX.


Hapa Kaua‘i restaurant James Nakamura

Photo: James Nakamura


The prices are on the higher side for ramen, though a 15% kama‘aina discount helps. The signature specialty, the Hapa G-Special Ramen, tops the list at a whopping $33 for a broth of pork belly and chicken, with pork belly nuggets, pickled shiitake, spicy sprouts, spinach, nori, negi and egg. The Shoyu and Veggie Miso ramen is $27. I suspect the prices are as much a reflection of the location in a high-end visitor shopping mall as a symptom of our times. But here on Kaua‘i, I’d say it’s a miracle anytime a ramen restaurant opens—a thing to be celebrated. It’s like seeing a new flower, glistening with dew, blooming in a parched desert.


Open Tuesday to Saturday from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m., happy hour from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., 2829 Ala Kalanikaumaka Rd., (503) 560-0523, hapakauai.com, @hapakauai