#Kaua’i: The Tip Top Cafe

The outside of the Tip Top gives no clue to the good food that's waiting inside

The outside of the Tip Top gives no clue to the good food that’s waiting inside

There is “local” in Hawai’i and then there is local, those places where residents like to hang out and you rarely see tourists. The Tip Top Cafe, located in Lihue, is nothing if not local. And, it’s our new favorite breakfast spot on the island.

They celebrated their 100th anniversary in 2016

They celebrated their 100th anniversary in 2016

We’d heard about the Tip Top, off and on, from different sources, but nothing that really made us want to go. One day a couple of months ago though I heard about it again and finally told Brett that we should probably check it out.

The Tip Top is located a block off the main highway in Lihue, next to the small (and I’m assuming very inexpensive) Tip Top Motel. If you didn’t know to go look for it, you would never see it, and we actually drove by it before we figured out that’s where we wanted to be.

The dining room has a very 60s vibe. It's always crowded.

The dining room has a very 60s vibe. It’s always crowded.

Step inside and it feels like you’ve been whisked right back to the 1960s. After passing through the lobby/bakery/shop, there’s a large room filled with lots of booths. Waitresses wearing colorful hospital scrubs move through the dining room pushing carts carrying coffee and water, cups, glassware, cutlery, and napkins on top and either food to be delivered or dirty dishes (never at the same time) on the bottom shelves.

The Tip Top's awsome, plate-sized banana pancakes

The Tip Top’s awesome, plate-sized banana-macademia nut pancakes

Service at the Tip Top is brisk and very friendly, and both the breakfast and lunch menus are filled with both traditional items as well as Hawaiian favorites like loco moco, saimin, and fried noodles. The portions are generous. Their banana pancakes are legendary, and their oxtail soup is locally famous. Everything we’ve ever had there has been delicious, including the coffee, and it’s all very affordable. Depending on the time of day you go, you may have to wait in line to be seated, but we’ve also been when there was a sign up for us seat ourselves (even though the place looked packed).

The Tip Top's oxtail soup is legendary. It comes in three sizes - this is a small!

The Tip Top is famous for their oxtail soup. It comes in three sizes – this is a small, and WenYu almost couldn’t finish it!

The Tip Top celebrated its 100th anniversary last year, and after dining there a few times we get why it’s been a favorite with locals all these years. We’ve also been there for lunch, and again the food was terrific and affordable.

The girls were happy to find fried rice and fried noodles on the menu - both were delicious.

The girls were happy to find fried rice and fried noodles on the menu – both were delicious.

The Tip Top is probably not even considered by many tourists to the island because it isn’t marketed to tourists – it’s definitely a local place. Still, while it may be off the beaten path, the Tip Top is well worth taking the time to find. You’ll be greeted warmly and have some terrific food at an affordable price, no matter whether you live here or are just visiting.

The Tip Top Cafe is located at 3173 Akahi Street, Lihue. It’s open daily from 6:30 a.m. until 2:00 p.m.

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12 thoughts on “#Kaua’i: The Tip Top Cafe

  1. JJ says:

    I remember passing this place and agree it doesn’t look like a restaurant at all from the outside. We had a guide book that gave it lukewarm reviews so we didn’t stop there, but we’ll definitely try it next time.

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    • Laura says:

      It really isn’t a tourist spot at all, which is probably why it didn’t get a great write-up in the guide book. If you read the reviews on Yelp and TripAdvisor though, it gets rated pretty highly. It’s rated #9 out of all Kaua’i restaurants on TripAdvisor! They only do breakfast and lunch though.

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      • JJ says:

        We fell in love with Pono Market and ended up eating quite a few meals there so I guess that didn’t leave much time to explore other places. When I travel I try to experience where the locals eat as much as possible, but it’s tough when you’re a tourist and only have a week or so to try to cram everything in. I noticed there are quite a few restaurants that only do breakfast and lunch and some that were only open on certain days at certain times. There was another restaurant we tried and really liked, but when we went back the next day, they were closed, even though the sign said they were supposed to be open that day, lol.

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  2. David says:

    Hi, I ‘m glad that I discovered the blog. I was looking for Makaleha Falls and some tips on good meal. We certainly try the Tip Top. Because my girlfriend and I are flying to Kauai in 14 days. Thanks

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  3. Rowena says:

    I so regret not stopping in at Tip Top while we were on Kauai. The oxtail soup is my favorite! Perhaps next year, budget willing, we’ll be tucking into pancakes and that wonderful soup!

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    • Laura says:

      The girls are completely smitten with the oxtail soup – it’s their favorite thing there, although they also love the fried noodles and fried rice. YaYu always orders an extra bowl of noodles when she gets the soup. I love their pancakes for breakfast, and the saimin at lunch! OK, now I’m hungry . . . .

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