Plenty of people are drawn to the high-rise hotels and shopping options in Waikiki, but on Oahu’s northeast shore, Kailua is a welcome alternative. The small town that spans two bays offers pristine beaches, some of the island’s best hiking trails, and plenty of enticing local food and drink. Even President Obama is a believer, since that’s where he and his family choose to spend their Christmas vacation each year. I recently stayed in Kailua for a week with my family. Learn about 10 of my favorite food and drink options in town.
Numbers on the map correspond to listings below and appear in alphabetical order instead of order of preference.
1. Agnes’ Portuguese Bake Shop [CLOSED]
Agnes is clearly confident. After all, Non De Mello’s nearly 50-year-old side street bakery with yellow sign, overhead menus and limited seating advertises “Hawaii’s best malasadas.” I don’t know about that, but these sugar-dusted donuts (with holes) are fried to order, served piping hot and very tasty. The bakery also sells a wealth of pastries, not all Hawaiian-influenced, including bacon maple fritters, Macau manapua and pie. Their loaves of Portuguese sweet bread are great thick-sliced, toasted and slathered with butter.
MUST ORDER DISHES: Malasadas, Portuguese Sweet Bread
Kailua is home to three farmers markets, including this Thursday night party, which runs from 5pm – 7:30pm near the parking structure behind Whole Foods. Expect live music (possibly a rendition of Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel), a smattering of produce vendors, and a wider variety of prepared food vendors than Sunday’s KailuaTown Farmers Market. There’s some overlap with the legendary KCC Farmers Market, including tomato pesto pizza, OnoPops, and The Pig & The Lady, which serves noodle soups like bun rieu, plus bun noodle bowls with either lemongrass tofu, Laotian chicken, lemongrass pork or meatballs. Other promising vendors included The Habachi (poke and grilled opakapaka and ono), Guava Smoked grill, Andy’s Bueno Salsa (including Freakin’ Dill Pickle) and Madre Chocolate.
MUST ORDER DISHES: Madre Chocolate, OnoPops, The Pig & The Lady, Produce, Tomato Pesto Pizza
Sundays from 8:30am to 12 noon, a different complement of food vendors, and a more laid back vibe, descend on Kailua Elementary School. You’ll find a higher proportion of produce stalls. Chef Bob McGee, who helmed Kakaako’s bygone Whole Ox Deli, has resurfaced with Link, which sells cured meats and fish, including maple bourbon bacon, andouille sausage, and smoked marlin. Other options include Ahualoa Farms Mac nuts, Hi Mauahi Farms poi, Salty Wahine sea salts, and Wicked Hi Slush honey slush. SamSha provides sweet relief with sugar cane juices flavored with either ginger, lemon lime, or passion fruit.
MUST ORDER DISHES: Fields of Aloha produce, Link sausage, SamSha sugar cane juice, Wicked Hi Slush honey slush
Kalapawai Market debuted by Lanikai back in 1932 and later spawned this downtown restaurant and bakery. This green building with a peaked roof features a trellis-topped patio, wood tables, prepared food counter, and the food stylings of Chef Jason Iwane. Kalapawai serves three meals daily. Dinner is most ambitious. They feature several seasonal salads, including a chopped salad with avocado, Big Island heart of palm, bacon, vine ripe tomato, snap peas, cornbread, Kula romaine, Nalo Farms greens, and creamy dressing. From there, look to the sea. My Fish of the Day starred Walu, aka escolar, aka “oil fish,” plated with white shrimp and crab in a tomato broth with onions, snap peas, and mushrooms. Their spicy seafood & Andouille sausage gumbo is also popular, pairing local fish with scallops and Kauai tiger prawns.
MUST ORDER DISHES: Fish of the Day, Spicy Seafood & Andouille Sausage Gumbo, Spring Chop Salad
Brewmaster Steve Haumschild, Brandon Cody, Dan Frerich and Al Darling operate a 10-barrel brewhouse near downtown Kailua, complete with a weekend only tasting room that houses three barstools and green walls. So far, Lanikai Brewing Company produces only two beers, but they’re both crafty winners. 808 Imperial IPA is brewed with pikake, an aromatic flower. Pillbox Porter is crafted with both Tahitian and Hawaiian vanilla. They sell bottles if you’d like to take a Pillbox Porter with you to nearby Pillbox Trail.
MUST ORDER DRINKS: 808 Imperial IPA, Pillbox Porter