Koko Head Cafe Adds New Dishes in a New Location in Kaimukī
With daily baked goods plus new brunch dishes, the neighborhood #brunchallday eatery is settling in nicely across the street.
With restrictions mostly lifted, the local dining scene has been going gangbusters. One meal in particular shows no signs of slowing down: brunch, baby. If you’re in the Kaimukī area, a few names are synonymous with the morning meal, and Koko Head Cafe is at the top of the list. In mid-March, the full-service cafe re-opened in the former 12th Ave Grill location—and with the new digs come new dishes.
Pro tips: You can sign into the wait list on Yelp without physically being there, as well as spock out the current wait time. Also, the daily baked goods go fast so if there’s something that catches your fancy, ask to start a tab and order one while you hang out in the waiting room.
Now, with the massive kitchen space, what was once maybe a baked good or two has expanded into at least half a dozen daily pastries on the specials menu, including a pandan ‘ulu cinnamon roll that I’ll be pining over until I can get it again. Also recently spotted: liliko‘i pastry cream filled malassada ($9), yuzu black sesame muffin ($5) and a poi doughnut with coconut glaze and macadamia nuts ($8). But by the time I sit down at 11:30 a.m. on a Thursday, all the aforementioned are sold out, so I go for the pineapple almond cinnamon roll ($10).
The almond extract flavor in the frosting is a little strong for my taste but the texture of the cinnamon roll is on point. With chunks of pineapple nestled in between its layers, it’s a prime example of a cinnamon roll but with a fun twist on flavor. The chunky spiraled dough is fluffy on the inside with golden brown edges and the lingering taste of toasted butter.
Among the new brunch items is the Morning Egg Drop Soup ($10). While it reminds me less of egg drop soup and more of a mapo tofu without the spice, it hits the same vein for me as the Dumplings All Day Wong (one of my usual go-tos): super tasty and oh-so-comforting to this local girl. Made with a rich chicken broth and chock full of local ground beef, its jiggly texture sticks to your ribs in a good way. Fresh cilantro and fried wonton chips offer herby heights and a salty crunch to finish. It’s a small bowl—something fun to share just for a taste or a cure for the now-we-can-go-to-bars hangover. There is also a new Fried Chicky Long Rice ($20) on the menu that might fulfill in the same ways.
Whenever I tuck into a warm, savory dish I like to preface it with something raw and a bit lighter. I find the daily toast towards the bottom of the specials menu. I’m burnt out on the avo-originated toast trend, but after reading the description I’m intrigued. Today’s is an arrangement of cured nairagi, salsa verde cream cheese, shaved zucchini, red jalapeños, tomato, pickled radish, cilantro and edible flowers on a swirled piece of double-toasted rye ($22). This baby is a flavor and texture bomb while still feeling light. The cured nairagi is plentiful and delicious, delightfully salty and meaty, balancing nicely with the earthy rye. The herbs in the salsa verde cream cheese provide a flavorful backdrop to the fresh veggies. It’ll be a duel from now on between dumplings and toast.
Also new: Lū‘au and Eggs ($20), with an option to add miso pork, five spice pork belly (both $10) or the daily catch (market price). Below is a layer of crispy garlic rice that forms a crust inside the cast iron pan. The lū‘au is creamy and rich, balanced between savory and coconutty. Spooned on top is lomi tomato strewn with ogo, a sprinkling of green onion and bubu arare. My favorite part besides the hidden-treasure crispy rice? The light and crunchy tempura sweet onion petals.
With double the seating capacity of original Koko Head Cafe, including covered outdoor tables, it feels (and tastes) like the neighborhood staple is settling in quite nicely—thriving, even. You’ll find your favorite Koko Head dishes alive and well (hello, Donburi Chen), but with a chance to mix it up and try something new.