Kailua Eats: Kalapawai Cafe

Other than the Mokulua Islands off of Lanikai Beach, there is probably no more prolific spot in Kailua than the Kalapawai Market. Located on South Kalaheo Avenue, and a short hop from Kailua Beach and Beach Park, the Kalapawai Market has been serving patrons since 1932. It’s owner, Don Dymond, has definitely done the market & deli concept right, making this convenience stop one frequented by both tourists and locals, for many years.


In 2007, Dymond opened his sister business, the Kalapawai Cafe. A deli and restuarant, the Kalapwai Cafe is located in the heart of Kailua Town, just off the main drag from the Pali Highway. In the former site of a used car lot, you will recognize the signature evergreen paint, red roof and white trim of the plantation-style building. The Kalapawai Cafe’s deli case is choc full of delicious looking, gourmet dishes, many of which would make even Ina Garten’s mouth water. Sandwiches and fresh pizzas are a speciality. They make espresso & coffee, and serve several breakfast items, made to order, such as bagels with lox or hummus, and breakfast burritos, with Andy’s Salsa.
After 5pm, the cafe starts its sit-down service, with a pretty darn good menu & wine list. The restaurant favors local produce and uses the freshest ingredients possible. I’ve eaten there several times now, and will continue to go back and try new things.
If appetizers are your thing, they have a few simple items like Bruschetta with toppings such as salmon and tomatoes, and pitas with spreads: Tuscan White Bean, Hummus, and Lemon-Artichoke Pesto ($9). Bacon-Wrapped Figs are also a yummy-sounding delight, which I have not yet sampled. Pair one or two of these treats with a flight of wine, 3 samples in tasting-size portions, $10, for a relaxing pau hana.
Last night, I had the special: Braised Beef Brisket in a Port Wine-Prune Reduction, served with Tuscan Broccoli and Polenta ($25). The sauce on the meat was very good, but I should have known better than to order an inferior cut of meat. This dish would have been perfection had it been made will the fall-apart goodness of shortribs, rather than slightly chewy brisket. In any event, the taste of the entire dish was superb. The broccoli was wonderfully sauteed in olive oil, with garlic, raisins and pine nuts. And the rich and creamy polenta was a great complement to brisket’s savory juices and sauce.
My companion had the Harris Ranch Pupu Steak, Over Greens and Hau’ula Aparagus, with Gorgonzola Dressing ($18). This was delicious, as well. The sliced steak over the bed of greens and grilled local asparagus, was cooked just right — though the meat, each time I’ve had this dish, has been slightly overseasoned with salt. Chopped tomatoes and a light, milky cheese dressing over top, made the overall combination of ingredients taste fresh and lovely.

My “favorite ever” dish there was a special: Grilled Opakapaka (Pink Snapper) Over a Spicy Sausage Stuffing, and Topped with Shrimp, with a Red Pepper and Pesto Drizzle. This was so different and so delicious. I haven’t seen them offer this again, but would order it in a flash.

Grilled Opakapaka Special

The ambiance of the cafe is a bit, well, rustic, which adds to the Cafe’s appeal. Just don’t sit right in front of the Deli case on a warm day, as it tends to emit a quite hot exhaust, making this seating uncomfortable at times. And the kitchen needs some better form of ventilation for its smoke, for sure. I hope some of these things will improve over time. Service is always friendly and adequate.
While the Kalapawai Cafe has a very casual setting, it has the most original and inspired food in Kailua. I can only hope that it will continue to provide fresh local ingredients and improve upon food quality. This is what will make this establishment stand out from places like the Formaggio Grill which, though it has a chic ambiance & good wine list, is both overly expensive & mediocre as to the food.
Kalapawai Cafe & Deli. 750 Kailua Road Kailua, HI 808-262-3354.

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