Thursday, March 12, 2015

Must visit: Koko Head Cafe in Honolulu

I stayed for a week in Honolulu for my vacation in January. In that week I went to Koko Head Cafe three times for breakfast.  It's that good.

Located a few miles from Waikiki in the Waialea neighborhood, Koko Head Cafe  calls itself an "Island Style Brunch House". It's become one of the most popular breakfast destinations on the island for the locals and word has spread enough to attract tourists as well. In fact, while I was there I watched Japanese media filming the place. It's tucked in just off of Waialea Avenue in a nondescript building, but inside it's bright and cheerful with a number of booths and counter seating. The staff are just as bright and cheerful too.

I went three times because the menu is so diverse and so enticing. It also demonstrates what I love most about Hawaiian cuisine, true fusion of American and Asian in a way that only the islands can achieve. Like our own Bacon & ButterKoko Head Cafe only serves brunch from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. While you can find pancakes and eggs on the menu, they will be treated with a Hawaiian touch. For instance, Hawaiian style pancakes are made with a ricotta batter and don't need any syrup because they are sweet enough with their topping of chopped island fruits of pineapple, mango, and/or whatever is in season.




Or how about a traditional Chinese breakfast of congee?  It's a savory rice porridge and the one here has bacon, Portuguese sausage, heritage ham, soft poached egg, cheddar cheese, scallions, cinnamon-bacon croutons. I had always wanted to try a really good congee and this one did not disappoint. It was salty, spicy, and rich.


My second visit I was in the mood to switch from savory to sweet and went for the Cornflake French Toast with billionaire’s bacon, creamy black pepper maple, and frosted flake gelato. My only disappointment was that the two cuts of brioche were small, I wanted more.

The chef here has quite a resume. Chef Lee Anne Wong was seen on the very first season of Top Chef where she made it to number 4. It's the years after that she continued working for Top Chef as a Supervising Culinary Producer for through season 7. She continued working on a lot of food television and also being recognized in publications. Her background includes stints at The French Laundry, Charlie Trotter's, and many other fine restaurants as well as lots of travel around the world experiencing all sorts of cuisines.  In 2013 she moved to Hawaii and Koko Head Cafe is a place where you can see all these influences.


This is a picture of the Volcano Eggs – baked eggs, spicy tomato based sauce, cheddar cheese, choice of daily north shore vegetables or diced Portugese sausage.  It was a favorite of a regular who sat down the counter from me.

My final meal was a switch back to savory when I went for another Asian item that I'm unlikely to find at home. The Don Buri Chen – Miso smoked pork, five spice pork belly, French-style scrambled eggs, house-made pickles, chicharron, sushi rice. All of that pork and eggs was pretty rich, but the pickles that topped it were the perfect thing to cut the fattiness.

I made some friends of the Koko staff while I was there because they are so friendly. The owners also own the 12th Ave Grill down the street and are about to open a noodle house this summer. I wish them well and can't wait to someday return to Koko Head Cafe again in the future.



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